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New Finnish Grammar

3.45  ·  Rating details ·  1,238 ratings  ·  201 reviews
One night at Trieste in September 1943 a seriously wounded soldier is found on the quay. The doctor, of a newly arrived German hospital ship, Pietri Friari gives the unconscious soldier medical assistance. His new patient has no documents or anything that can identifying him. When he regains consciousness he has lost his memory and cannot even remember what language he spe ...more
Paperback, 187 pages
Published September 1st 2011 by Dedalus (first published May 2000)
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3.45  · 
Rating details
 ·  1,238 ratings  ·  201 reviews

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Jim Elkins
Oct 09, 2012 rated it it was ok
Shelves: italian
How to Write About Translation in a Monolingual Book

This book has a really tremendous idea: a man is badly injured; he can't remember who he is, and he has lost his capacity for language. His doctor decides the man is Finnish, because he has a Finnish name embroidered inside his shirt collar. The doctor is passionately Finnish himself, and some of the book is taken up the doctor's lessons in Finnish language and culture. The patient imagines that the words he is learning have resonance somewhere
Emma Glaisher
Feb 13, 2012 rated it did not like it
Didn't actually finish it, so my partner briefed me on the denouement. Good ending to a desperately tedious book. I wanted to like it. I love language, I'm interested in grammar, anyone with amnesia is potentially an interesting story. But... Sorry. I kept losing the will to live.
Dec 16, 2016 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2016
‘You use words nicely, too,’ she said. ‘Now that you know it better, what is it that you most like about our language?’

‘What do I like about it most?’

‘Yes. A word, a phrase …’

‘Well, I know this may strike you as strange, but what I like is the abessive!’ I answered hesitantly.

‘The abessive? But that’s a case, a declension!’ she shot back in amusement.

‘Yes, a declension for things we haven’t got: koskenkorvatta, toivatta, no koskenkorva, no hope, both are declined in the abessive. It’s beaut
Aditya Kelekar
Jun 22, 2012 rated it it was amazing
~~~ Since language is our mother, try and find yourself a woman ~~~


It was on the flight during my first visit to Finland that I had first brush with Finnish, thanks to the announcements in Finn Air. Now what was that? The words that had just been spoken.. some were so long drawn out, some expressed in such a sing-song way, it was amusing to listen to them. Now, more than a year later, and having practiced some basic Finnish phrases, these lines
Mar 11, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: italy
It’s taken far too long for this seductive book to be translated into English, and I’m not surprised that it has been shortlisted for the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize almost as soon as it hit the shelves in the English-speaking world. (What other treasures lie in store for us, I wonder, now that at last readers can source the kind of books they like from everywhere, not just limited to what local booksellers think they might like? Publishers are starting to realise that there is a world-wid ...more
James Folan
Mar 18, 2012 rated it did not like it
oh, look. here's a letter from that pretty nurse I met recently in wartime Helsinki after losing my memory:

'Do you remember my tree in Kaivopusto Park? There are many ways of seeing it: you can regard it as a network of lymph vessels, of veins, of roots teeming with sap, linked up to a living nucleus which, through the breathing leaves, establishes and maintains a flow of matter between earth and sky, between inert matter and air. But you can also reduce it to a pure number, make it into a law o
I recently finished a Booker Award finalist, Snowdrops by A. D. Miller. On the surface these two novels would seem to have little in common (other than they both take place in snowy regions), but in fact they're similar in that they both are most of all about place: Finland in this case; Moscow in Miller's novel. Place (as well as the Finnish language in this novel) is the central character and any story line is secondary to the place(s) described. Miller's novel has more narrative pull than thi ...more
This reads more like a man's desperate attempt to make sense of a language, a culture, and a history behind them that is wholly different from his own, than it reads like a novel about an amnesiac man searching for an identity through a new language.

I appreciated the historical accuracy, but can only hope that the mispelled Finnish words are the translator's fault rather than the original author's. As I said in one of my status updates, it's good for linguistic laughs.
Jan 13, 2017 rated it it was ok
More like a 2.5 ... the prose (even in translation) is very good, but the plot (and plodding climax) never lives up to the intriguing premise. Mainly I was bored and should have abandoned this early on, as I was sorely tempted to do. Might have worked much better as a short story than a bloated 187 pages.
Feb 2014.
[4.5] A powerful little book (under 200 pages), intelligent, emotional and contemplative all at once in a very Continental way, that would have been best read in a few long sittings rather than in countless snippets between watching Olympic events on TV or whilst half asleep.

I've had this for about three years, vacillating: although I very much wanted to read another book about Finland, would an Italian author really give anywhere near so true a sense of the country as a local would?

Feb 19, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: finnish-authors
A few years ago I got into a rather intense discussion along the lines of whether there is any association between the currency used by a country and their population's feeling of national pride and identity. It was prompted by comments from someone in the British government who was arguing vehemently in favour of Britain keeping the pound sterling as its national currency. Part of the politician's argument seemed to be that if Britain adopted the Euro, like other members of the European Communi ...more
Annabel Smith
Jan 17, 2013 rated it it was ok
This book had many things to recommend it, but ultimately was not for me, which I'm a little disappointed about because it's the first book I chose for the Translation challenge I'm taking part in and I didn't make it to the end. #fail But anyway, I think life's too short to spend it finishing a book you're not enjoying and this was the case for me here.

On a positive note it is very-well written. There is a precision to the writing, and there were many beautiful descriptions of both landscapes a
Aug 14, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: scandinavian
This was a fast and exiting read, and no knowledge of Finnish was required.
If one ever wondered how language is related to identity, this is a good start to get the thoughts coming. Tragic, yes, but insightful.
Laura Edwards
Apr 21, 2014 rated it liked it
An interesting idea for a story but overall I found this quite dull
Feb 05, 2017 rated it really liked it
It's not often that a person of Finnish heritage comes across a novel that bears a title of this sort. So of course, I had to read it. The premise is that a man is found with serious head wounds in Trieste, Italy during WWII. He has no memory and no language, but he is wearing a Finnish sailor's uniform with the name Sampo Karjalainen sewn into it. A doctor on a German troop ship, who was born in Finland, treats him and begins to teach him Finnish, assuming that it is his native language and wil ...more
Jan 01, 2013 rated it really liked it
As I was browsing through the fiction section of a bookshop in Dublin, the title of this book leapt off the shelf at me: it was not misclassified but is a novel by an Italian who works as a 'senior linguist' for the European Union. It is set first in Trieste and then in Helsinki during the Second World War and has a simple but brilliant plot. The text consists of three interwoven 'voices': the notebooks of a badly wounded man who has become totally amnesic and aphasic as a result of his injuries ...more
Oct 25, 2018 rated it really liked it
Surprisingly moving and deeply felt for a novel about learning a language, this is also about cultural identity, belonging and meaning. Beautifully written and informative about Finnish mythology.
Sep 19, 2014 rated it really liked it
This book was a book club selection and, totally at random, I had volunteered to present it to the group.

It turns out that it was an amazing and ideal choice for me, as the novel is very much an excuse for the author to meditate on questions of language and how it relates to memory, individual identity, and national identity/culture. I had in mind my own experience of speaking a foreign language daily as I was reading, and I think this author has a great deal of generosity for people like me wh
Ruth Bonetti
Nov 12, 2012 rated it really liked it
This is the sort of book that one thinks 'I must reread this to absorb its depths of meaning.' As one keeps turning pages. The insights into language are especially deep for we're talking that most difficult tongue, Finnish. The complexity, the umlauts, cases, declensions... having learned a few basic phrases of Finnish I have a hearty respect for anyone who can not only learn it (as did our hero, the supposed Sampo) but write about it in such a perceptive manner:

'...For us Finns knowledge is a
Apr 22, 2013 rated it liked it
Shelves: italy
Trieste, 1943: A man is found with his head bashed in, almost dead, severely brain damaged, and completely amnesiac - even his language is completely forgotten. The only clue to his identity is a Finnish navy uniform and a name sewn onto it. He's taken on board a German ambulance ship, where the doctor just happens to be a Finnish expat, who takes it upon himself to save his unfortunate countryman. He starts re-teaching him Finnish, that weird language of dozens of cases and almost no prepositio ...more
Craig Rowland
Feb 05, 2019 rated it it was amazing
I found New Finnish Grammar in a second-hand bookstore in Helsinki in 2017. I thought it was about a supposed Finnish language reform that I had never heard of before, yet when I read the blurb on the back I discovered that this was a novel translated from the Italian. I was puzzled by the title; I am sure that readers who may very well have been intrigued by the story within would be immediately put off if they discovered the title, versus the contents, first. Browsers of books do not pick up t ...more
A.E. Shaw
Feb 24, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2012

I have a feeling that this book will be one to grow on me even more, now I've finished reading it. The first third, I struggled with. I put it aside a few times and picked it up again only because this year I fully intend to finish all the books I start! But then around the halfway point, I found I was quite entranced by the very dense, yet piecemeal prose.

This is easily the best novel I have read in terms of talking about what it is like to learn a language you don't know. It helps, perhaps, th
Dec 28, 2012 rated it liked it
I think I would have enjoyed this more if I hadn't read an over-hyped review on the Guardian first (but then of course I wouldn't have come across the book at all...)

I enjoyed reading the book and am glad that I read it, but I'm not sure I would recommend it or pass it on. It was quite a gloomy read and the ending wasn't as tragic as it was set up to be (unless I'm just getting jaded in my old age) - this left a feeling of anti-climax (although in part that flows from the sense of inevitability
Robert Wechsler
Jul 23, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: italian-lit
This is an extraordinary novel. It’s a novel of language, memory, and identity but, most of all, it seems, of nationalism and how arbitrary, and yet important, it is. The novel also goes into religion and myth, guilt and redemption, and the national differences regarding these.

However, what most characterizes this rather dry novel as one reads it — with its flat prose and attention to uninteresting details — are its odd, lovely imagery and its many moments of wonder, especially concerning the Fi
Jim Coughenour
Jun 08, 2011 rated it liked it
Shelves: bleakfiction
An almost-beautiful book — a man who has lost his memory and language is recreated (with the best of intentions) as a Finn and sent back to Helsinki toward the end of World War II. He's sustained by a couple more interesting characters, a Lutheran pastor/shaman and a poetic nurse. The book is suffused with an abstract sense of sadness, darkness, cold and longing. Yet it's more of a tone poem than a novel. The writing is far too fine for a person just learning the language and the emotions too di ...more
A lovely title, admitting myriad possibilities, and all in all, what emerges doesn't entirely disappoint. But the general theme, which, without spoiling anything because it's clear early on, is identity through language, does seem a bit thin compared to the riches possible from the characters involved, who end up primarily acting out the theme and somewhat failing to have lives of their own. Along the way there are nice insights into what it means to have a large, powerful, and typically predato ...more
Feb 25, 2013 rated it liked it
This Italian author has received much praise for this prize-winning novel, only recently translated into English (2011), despite being originally published in 2000. My mother is Finnish, and I know and love Helsinki and Finland. Without this interest, I do not think I would have read this book or even have found it particularly interesting. I just didn't 'get' it. It's certainly an unusual story. I would give it two stars, but it gets an extra star for being about Finland - which does not featur ...more
Jun 24, 2014 rated it it was amazing
One of those books whose title makes it irresistible. Marani's background as a translator specialising in Finnish shines through this rather strange tale of an amnesiac found wearing a Finnish uniform who is adopted by Finns - it is really more about the uniqueness of the language than anything else, which makes for a fascinating modern parable.
May 28, 2013 rated it liked it
Shelves: fiction
A novel that explored some interesting ideas, with a linguistic theme prevalently running throughout, to some degree couldn't help but be reminded of the Wittgenstein quote -

"The limits of my language are the limits of my mind. All I know is what I have words for."
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Diego Marani works as a senior linguist for the European Union in Brussels.
Every week he writes a column for a Swiss newspaper in Europanto, a language he has invented. He also published a collection of short stories in Europanto, in France.
In Italian he has published six novels, the most recent being l'Amico della Donna.
“Una lingua imparata non è che una maschera, un’identità presa a prestito. La si dovrebbe avvicinare con il dovuto distacco e mai cedere alla lusinga di mimetizzarsi, rinnegando i propri suoni per imitarne altri. Chi si abbandona a questa tentazione rischia di perdere la sua memoria, il suo passato, senza averne in cambio un altro.” 1 likes
“Non avevo capito l'ultima frase. L'avevo guardata uscire dalla sua bocca, ne avevo inseguito brevemente il suono. Poi, senza accorgermene, il mio sguardo si era avventurato nel suo. Allora sentii allentarsi i muscoli del viso. Tutto dentro di me cedeva.” 0 likes
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