Saturday, 3 December 2016

The Midwife by Katja Kettu

The Midwife by Katja Kettu
First published as Katilo in Finnish in Finland by Werner Soderstrom in 2011. English translation by David Hackston published by AmazonCrossing in October 2016.

Featured in Cover Characteristics: Barbed Wire and WorldReads: Finland

Where to buy this book:

How I got this book:
Received a review copy from the publisher via NetGalley

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Orphaned into an unforgiving foster home and raised as an outsider, Weird-Eye shoulders her unflattering nickname. She relies on her vivid imagination to sustain her work as a midwife bringing newborns into the world while World War II overruns her native Finland, desecrating life. She finds herself drawn to the handsome, otherworldly Johannes Angelhurst, a war photographer working for the SS. To be near him, Weird-Eye—whom Johannes lovingly calls Wild-Eye—volunteers to serve as a nurse at the prison camp where he has been assigned. From the brutality of the camps to the splendor of the aurora borealis above the Arctic Sea, The Midwife tells of a stormy romance, the desolate beauty of a protective fjord, and the deeply personal battles waged as World War II came to an end.

The Midwife is an incredibly passionate novel. A young Finnish woman who has been excluded by practically everyone in her community because of her parents' lack of marriage and her own odd-looking eye suddenly finds that WW2 not only brings her midwifery and natural healing skills into demand, but also allows her a chance to catch herself a stunningly handsome German SS officer, Johannes. This is no light-read romantic war story though. The book is written as a series of letters and radio communications and truths are hidden as much behind the Arctic fog as in the secrecy of everyone in Finland at the time. I loved how Kettu slowly reveals horrific details of what exactly Wild-Eye has gotten herself into a the isolated prison camp and also just how psychologically damaged her Johannes is.

I didn't previously know anything about 1940s Finland so have learned quite a lot by reading The Midwife. It seems that from having allied with Germany initially, Finland then turned against The Reich as Soviet troops got closer to their borders in 1944. In this time of extreme violence and confusion, Kettu has woven an almost magical tale of treachery and desperation. I don't think anyone could condone what Wild-Eye does to attract and keep her man, but thanks to Kettu's insightful writing, I could always understand her actions. I am completely taken by the beauty of Finland too. Kettu vividly describes the nature of her country, its wildness and harsh environment. I found this combination of horror, love story, magical language and wild nature utterly compelling to read. I have since read other reviews from readers who could not get on with the book at all, some of whom even gave up, but I loved every minute!

Search Lit Flits for more:
Books by Katja Kettu / Historical fiction / Books from Finland

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