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The Best of the Rune Singers [Copertina flessibile]

Paula Ivaska Robbins

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Descrizione del libro

16 ottobre 2012
The Best of the Rune-Singers: based on the life of Elias Lönnrot, the Compiler of the Finnish National Epic, The Kalevala Paula Ivaska Robbins The book begins with a prologue explaining the significance of The Kalevala to the development of Finnish as a literary language, the eventual independence of Finland from the Russian Empire, and the emergence of Finland in the twenty-first century as one of the most prosperous and successful countries in the world, the homeland of four Nobel prize winners, and an acknowledged leader in technology and education. This work of creative nonfiction follows the life of Elias Lönnrot from his childhood as a son of a poor country tailor, his education in Åbo and Helsinki supported by many scholarships, and his relationship with the wealthy and cosmopolitan Törngren family who encouraged and supported his dream of collecting the ancient Finnish folk poetry. The story focuses on the period from 1828 to 1845, when Lönnrot traveled to eastern and northern Finland, Lapland, and Russian Karelia on foot, on skis, by rowboat, on horseback, and by sledge searching out the singers and wise men, possessors of magical powers, who would sing the ancient folk poetry of the Finnish people. One scholar has estimated that his travels over fifteen years took him a distance equivalent to that from Helsinki to the South Pole. Lönnrot became the District Medical Officer for a large area based in rural Kaajani, near the border of Russian Karelia, fighting epidemics of cholera and typhoid. The post enabled him to combine his medical work with the goal of collecting the poems of the peasants whom he served. An epidemic of typhoid raged through the region for which Lönnrot was responsible, and, overworked, he too contracts the disease. His landlady, a middle-aged widow, nurses him back to health. She becomes his faithful housekeeper, and he grows dependent upon her for many of his physical needs, including sexual. Lönnrot was encouraged and financially supported in his travels and writing by a group of intellectuals in Helsinki that became, in 1831, the Finnish Literature Society (Suomen Kansallis Seura). Its aim was “’to propagate more exact notions of the country and its history, to work for the cultivation of the Finnish language and to bring to birth in this language a literature for both the educated classes and the people.’” “Language being the foundation of nationality, a national literature is not possible without a national language.” During his travels Lönnrot met many fascinating characters and had several frightening adventures. The reader will learn much about the customs and religious beliefs of the rural Karelian peasants. Aarne Anttila, Lönnrot’s first biographer, tells us that, as a student and during the period of his travels, Lönnrot was opposed to religion, drank alcohol often to excess, gambled, and carried on several affairs with women. Yet, at age 47, in 1849, Lönnrot married the 26-year-old Maria Piponius, an uneducated housekeeper who was a fervent Pietist. They raised a family and he spent his later years writing hymns. This abrupt change in his life is accounted for by a fictional dramatic episode in which Lönnrot breaks the vow that he made when he became a physician. Because of his guilt, he experiences a deep depression during an extended unsuccessful collecting trip to Lapland. After a fictional meeting with the Pietist pastor, Lars Levi Laestadius, during his journey, he returns to beg forgiveness from his friend Carl Saxa, a Lutheran clergyman, and converts to Pietism. Dr. Raija Maijamaa, Senior Research Associate at The Finnish Literature Society and the current biographer of Lönnrot, read and critiqued my manuscript and writes, “You have written a fascinating work of creative writing, not only a wonderful piece of documentation, still. Thank you! Be proud of the work, which shows American readers such an imaginative story from Finnish history.”

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L'autore

Paula Ivaska Robbins’s parents were born in Finland, and Finnish was her first language. A leather-bound edition of the Kalevala, illustrated by Akseli Gallen-Kallela, had a respected place in their bookcase—although it was never read. Dr. Robbins taught adult education at the University of Helsinki in 1982 under a grant from the Finnish Academy. Among her six published books are two historical novels based on the life of her grandmothers: Nights of Summer, Nights of Autumn, in Finland from the 1890s through World War I, and Below Rollstone Hill in the Finnish immigrant community of Fitchburg, Massachusetts. She is the author of two books on botanical history published by Purple Mountain Press: Jane Colden: America’s First Woman Botanist (2009) and The Travels of Peter Kalm: Finnish-Swedish Naturalist, Through Colonial North America, 1748-1751 (2007). A Wall Street Journal reviewer wrote, “So we must be grateful to Paula Ivaska Robbins for the first general-interest biography of Kalm in English.” “Ms. Robbins neatly describes the intellectual milieu of the time, when everyone who wrote on science seemed to know everyone else. It was a time of astonishing scientific breakthroughs, as she notes, and also lingering ignorance.” Robbins lived in Concord, Massachusetts, for twenty years, conducted a walking tour of historic Concord, and is the author of The Royal Family of Concord: Samuel, Elizabeth and Rockwood Hoar and their Friendship with Ralph Waldo Emerson. She holds degrees from Vassar College, Boston University and the University of Connecticut and retired as the Assistant Dean of the Graduate School at the University of Massachusetts at Lowell. Her Ph.D. dissertation resulted in her first book, Successful Midlife Career Change (AMACOM, 1978). Raija Majamaa, Senior Research Associate Emerita of the Finnish Literature Society (Suomalaisen Kirjallisuuden Seura) wrote after reading the manuscript of The Best of the Rune Singers, “Finally, I send you my notes about your fascinating manuscript. You have written a work of creative writing, fiction, not only a non-fiction and documentary collection of facts. The manuscript is a wonderful piece of documentation, still. Thank you! Be proud of the work, which shows American readers such an imaginative story from Finnish history.” The mother of two sons and grandmother of four, Dr. Robbins lives in a retirement community in Asheville, North Carolina. Reach her at Kalmia13@bellsouth.net.

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