Tove Jansson is best known as the creator of the Moomins, and her writing for adults has the same blend of simplicity and wonder that marks those works. Written shortly after her mother died, and about a little girl whose mother has similarly passed away, The Summer Book is a series of vignettes that follow a grandmother and her granddaughter through a summer spent in the Finnish archipelago. Little Sophia, with the cheerful tyranny of the very young, herds her stoic grandmother all over their island as they observe the fleeting beauty of the Scandinavian summer, look for adventures, and speak with the frankness of the very young and the very old about life, death, God, and the foibles of other people. As the narrative passes back and forth between these two, one at the beginning of her life and one at the end, Jansson's clear prose — capable of sentiment without being sentimental — contains multitudes. The Summer Book is bright but dense; it is slim enough to read in a day but holds a whole world between its covers. Recommended By Patrick D., Powells.com
Synopses & Reviews
In The Summer Book
Tove Jansson distills the essence of the summer — its sunlight and storms — into twenty-two crystalline vignettes.
This brief novel tells the story of Sophia, a six-year-old girl awakening to existence, and Sophia's grandmother, nearing the end of hers, as they spend the summer on a tiny unspoiled island in the Gulf of Finland. The grandmother is unsentimental and wise, if a little cranky; Sophia is impetuous and volatile, but she tends to her grandmother with the care of a new parent. Together they amble over coastline and forest in easy companionship, build boats from bark, create a miniature Venice, write a fanciful study of local bugs. They discuss things that matter to young and old alike: life, death, the nature of God and of love. "On an island," thinks the grandmother, "everything is complete." In The Summer Book, Jansson creates her own complete world, full of the varied joys and sorrows of life.
Tove Jansson, whose Moomintroll comic strip and books brought her international acclaim, lived for much of her life on an island like the one described in The Summer Book, and the work can be enjoyed as her closely observed journal of the sounds, sights, and feel of a summer spent in intimate contact with the natural world.
The Summer Book is translated from the Swedish by Thomas Teal.
"Poetic understatement, dry humor and a deep love for nature are obvious throughout her oeuvre.... The book is as lovely, as evocative as a film by Hayao Miyazaki." Time Out New York
“Tove Jansson was a genius. This is a marvelous, beautiful, wise novel, which is also very funny.” Philip Pullman
“The Summer Book manages to make you feel good as well as wise, without having to make too much effort...[it] says so much that we want to hear in such an accessible form, without ever really saying anything at all.” The Independent (London)
"Few books since Robinson Crusoe have evoked the joys of island living so powerfully as this Finnish novella." The Observer
"The Summer Book is a marvelously uplifting read, full of gentle humour and wisdom." Daily Telegraph
"A...beautiful novel which blends humour and poetry with detailed observation of tiny things." Daily Mail (UK)
“Responses, conversations, and observations yield quietly reflective and funny ruminations on life and death.” The Age (Australia)
“This is a wonderful, life-affirming, spirited book. Reading it was a tonic.” Chris Stewart, author, Driving Over Lemons
"It's hard to describe the astonishing achievement of Jansson's artistry...a perfection of the small, quiet read." The Guardian (London)
"Originally published in 1972, The Summer Book
features seventeen of Jansson's instantly recognizable illustrations. Jansson is the author of the world-popular Moomin series about a family of loveable, stubborn creatures who resemble chubby hippopotamuses — a series Jansson rendered in both children's books and comic strips. She grew up in a Swedish-speaking family, spending winters in a cabin on an island off the coast of Finland, and she lived much of her adult life on a small island in the Finnish archipelago." Erin M. Bertram, Rain Taxi
(Read the entire Rain Taxi review
About the Author
Tove Jansson (1914-2001) was born in Helsinki into Finland's Swedish-speaking minority. Her father was a sculptor and her mother a graphic designer and illustrator. Winters were spent in the family's art-filled studio and summers in a fisherman's cottage on the shore of the Gulf of Finland, a setting that would later figure in Jansson's writing for adults and children. Jansson loved books as a child, and set out from an early age to be an artist; her first illustration was published when she was fifteen years old; four years later a picture book appeared under a pseudonym. After attending art schools in both Stockholm and Paris, she returned to Helsinki, where in 1940s and 50s she won acclaim for her paintings and murals. From 1929 until 1953 Jansson drew humorous illustrations and political cartoons for the left-leaning anti-Fascist Finnish-Swedish magazine Garm
, and it was there that what was to become Jansson's most famous creation, Moomintroll, a hippopotamus-like character with a dreamy disposition, made his first appearance. Jansson went on to write about the adventures of Moomintroll, the Moomin family, and their curious friends in a long-running comic strip and in a series of books for children that have been translated throughout the world, inspiring films, several television series, an opera, and theme parks in Finland and Japan. Jansson also wrote novels and short stories for adults, of which Sculptors Daughter
, The Summer Book
, Sun City
, The Winter Book
, and Fair Play
have been translated into English. In 1994 she was awarded the Prize of the Swedish Academy. Tove Jansson and her companion, the artist Tuulikki Pietilä, continued to live part-time in a cottage on the remote outer edge of the Finnish archipelago until 1991.
Kathryn Davis has received the Janet Heidinger Kafka Prize, the Morton Dauwen Zabel Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, and a Guggenheim Fellowship. She is the author of many novels, including Labrador, The Girl Who Trod on a Loaf, Hell, The Walking Tour, The Thin Place, and Versailles. In 2006 she received the Lannan Literary Award for Fiction. She teaches at Washington University in St. Louis and lives in Vermont.