Hello! I hope you’re all enjoying the summer. Here’s a book that may make it more enjoyable:
The Brothers Seven, by Aleksis Kivi
[Upon encountering an evil spirit in the woods]:
“SIMEONI. But let us first try to cast it out with spells.
JUHANI. Well said! First a spell or twain. But what should we say to him? Whisper to me, Simeoni; for at this moment I find myself stupefy’d. You whisper the words to me, and I ’ll hurl them in his face so the weald resounds.
SIMEONI. Follow my exact words, then. ‘Here we stand.’
JUHANI. Here we stand!
SIMEONI. ‘Like God ’s holy crusaders, fiery swords in hand.’
JUHANI. Like God ’s holy crusaders, fiery swords in hand.
SIMEONI. ‘Go thy way.’
JUHANI. Go to hell!
SIMEONI. ‘We are Christ’s soldiers, baptiz’d in the Blood of the Lamb.’
JUHANI. We are Christ’s soldiers, God ’s gallow-glasses, baptiz’d in the Blood of the Lamb.
SIMEONI. ‘Tho’ we can ’t read.’
JUHANI. Tho’ we can ’t read.
SIMEONI. ‘But we still believe.’
JUHANI. But we still believe and place our full trust in Him.
SIMEONI. ‘Go now.’
JUHANI. Go now!
SIMEONI. ‘Afore the cock crows.’
JUHANI. Afore the cock crows!
SIMEONI. ‘And hails the light of the Lord.’
JUHANI. And hails the light of the Lord of Hosts!
SIMEONI. But he pays us no mind.
JUHANI. But he pays us—aye, he ’ld not care tho’ I skrik’d at him with the tongue of a angel. Gorblimey, brothers! Naught else for it now but: now, boys!”
[They attack the spirit only to discover that it is their horse.]
There are many unexpected things about Aleksis Kivi’s The Brothers Seven, but the fact that it has seven brothers is not one of them. Before getting into the unexpectedness, here’s an overview of what it’s about:
Once upon a time in Finland, you had to know how to read to receive church confirmation and thus officially become an adult and get married. In the book, seven orphaned brothers—Juhani, Aapo, Tuomas, Simeoni, Timo, Lauri, and Eero—refuse to learn how to read. The person trying to teach them treats them badly, and so they run away from home and go into the woods. There, they build houses, burn things down, get chased by things, argue, go hunting, play hockey, get chased by more things, and so on. They also get redeemed.
One unexpected thing: the book was published in 1870, but it’s the first Finnish novel ever written. Why? It’s the first one written in Finnish and not in Swedish, which was the main language in Finland at the time. So people had probably been writing novels before that point, just not in Finnish.
Another unexpected thing: in its day, Finnish people wanted to be portrayed as idealized hard-working people. Kivi’s book portrays them as being reckless and head-strong mischief makers.
At first, the book was criticized for this unexpected approach. Then people began calling it the greatest Finnish novel ever written.
Here’s the most unexpected thing about The Brothers Seven: you hear the words, “greatest Finnish novel ever written,” and maybe you’d go on to expect it to be something like The Brothers Karamazov, with a tremendous page-count and somewhat-developed characters and lots of angst.
It has very little of that. The book’s only 300-something pages, the characters are flat, and the book reads more like a Shakespearian comedy than it does an “Epic Novel.” Literally—not just in content, but in language and format. The prose parts are written as prose, but the archaic-sounding dialogue is written out as in a play.
So it’s not the traditional type of “greatness.” That’s okay, though, because Kivi’s book has its own kind of greatness. It’s vivid and hilarious. Some of the comedy may seem cheesy, but that doesn’t stop parts of it from being funny.
In any case, it seems the unexpectedness of Kivi’s book makes it great. The beginning and middle are very funny and unexpected, but the ending is expected and actually disappointing.
For that reason, I would recommend reading up to the aftermath of the brothers’ encounter with bulls (Chapter 9—you’ll see what I mean), and then skipping to the final chapter (Chapter 14). That’s just my take, though.
Another unexpected thing may happen, which is that you enjoy chapters 10 to 13 even more than this review leads you to suppose.
Until next time! Meanwhile, I hope you’re all healthy and safe and enjoying the summer.