First published in Finnish as Oranssi Maa by Otava in Finland in 2015. English language translation by Kristian London published by AmazonCrossing today, the 7th March 2017.
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How I got this book:
Received a review copy from the publisher via NetGalley
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
In the Outback gold-mining camps of Kalgoorlie, Australia, life is as gritty and harsh as the orange sand blasted from the pitted, scorched earth. For men, it can be lonely, but for women, in a land where little is protected, danger lurks in every leering glance.
And Sanna is terrified. A graduate student researching gender equality in the mines while attempting to hide her pregnancy, she left her abusive boyfriend and her unstable family far behind in Finland, hoping to find inner peace in a new environment—only to find crude, scary men and tragic stories.
Amid the parched, hostile surroundings, Sanna impossibly starts to feel love when she meets middle-aged miner Martti—another Finn, another restless soul with emotional scars. As their relationship deepens and her pregnancy progresses, Sanna’s unfulfilled desire for healing draws her to a charismatic spiritual guide who promises enlightenment. When Sanna follows her guide on an extended walkabout into the barren yet magical Australian desert, she discovers new connections with nature and herself. But will her quest lead her to happiness and peace, or could this trek be far more dangerous than she ever imagined?
Set firstly in an Australian goldmine and then in the searing barren heat of the Outback, Burnt Land is a powerful evocation of these environments which Harno contrasts with flashbacks to her characters lives back in their cold Finnish homeland. I really felt for Sanna, especially in the early mine scenes, as she is such a complete fish out of water. Her naivete stands out against the overtly masculine culture surrounding her and I wondered how she would cope long enough to research her thesis. Despite Sanna being thirty years old, for me this book is a coming of age novel. The collapse of her abusive relationship left Sanna alone for the first time in her life, plus she is coming to terms with her imminent responsibility for a baby. We see her learning to trust herself and others, overcoming depression and finding her place in the world. I liked how Harno depicts Sanna's personal growth and the descriptions of the Outback trek are beautiful.
Harno leaves aspects of her story open, not I think with any thoughts of a potential sequel, but as an illustration of their spirituality and timelessness. At the time of reading I wasn't sure that the storylines gaps worked, but thinking back now to write this review I believe that this was the right choice. I appreciated the slow build and nervous approach to Sanna and Martii's friendship-relationship. There are deeply emotional and romantic moments, but Burnt Land delves far deeper into Sanna's psyche than a romance novel could. Themes of family bonds, trust and emotional scars are reflected in the expansive Australian landscapes which, for me, resulted in a strangely profound reading experience.
Search Lit Flits for more:
Books by Tua Harno / Contemporary fiction / Books from Finland