The Summer Book

Long considered a classic in Scandinavia, Tove Jansson's The Summer Book is not a children's novel, though she is best known and loved for her Moomin books.

First published in Finland in 1972, it is a small, exquisite treasure of a book, like a pebble picked up on a beach. The tiny island in the gulf of Finland where the family spend their summers may be small, but it forms a whole world for six-year old Sophia, her Papa (largely in the background) and her grandmother. Sophia's mother is dead (we learn this almost as an aside, and it is never spoken of again), but Sophia's unspoken fears and longings are woven into the tapestry of the book along with Grandmother's quiet, dry reflections and memories of her own long life. Grandmother and Sophia don't always get along; there are quarrels and storms, misunderstandings and awkwardness. But there are small shared joys, too, when they construct a model Venice together or find hiding places in the bushes.

Based on Jansson's own mother and niece, and her own island experiences, the book proceeds through twenty-odd short chapters, each self-contained, like seashells arranged on a windowsill; but together, they tell the story of a summer, or several summers -- it doesn't really matter. The rhythms of life and death, growing older, work and leisure, sigh in and out through the pages like the tides. This is a beautiful, wise, tender book, never sentimental, and frequently funny.

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