by Roy Blomstrom
Publisher: Shuniah House Books (Nov. 23, 2017)
Paperback: 269 pages
Silences begins with the discovery of a man’s body dangling from a hanging tree on the outskirts of Port Arthur in 1955. One shoe on. One off.
The story shifts back to northwest Finland in the early 1900s. We meet two rural families, one Finnish speaking and the other Swedish speaking Finns. Things get complicated when a small shop owner is killed in what at first glance seems like a senseless attack. One marauder loses a boot in the process. The violence turns out to be a precursor to a civil war between the reds and whites, imported in part from Russia.
War envelopes both families in conflict, leaving some dead and others damaged irreparably by what they’ve lived through. It’s particularly cruel to a 15-year-old boy who volunteers for the white army as a cook. His older brother is killed in a brutal battle for Tampere. When his body is found, he’s missing one boot.
The trauma follows the survivors across the sea when they migrate to Canada. During the hot summer of ’55, two mismatched boots appear in the window of a local shoe repair shop. Appears the killer is in Port Arthur. The hanging is the culmination of the journey for one combatant.
Silences uncovers a devastating period in Finnish history. The magnitude of the tragedy is staggering. People who had lived in peace for years suddenly commit terrible atrocities in the name of ideology. The impact of external powers like Russia and Germany shows how smaller nations can be treated as pawns in greater geopolitical conflicts to terrible effect.
The story also gives a clear depiction of posttraumatic stress disorder. Long before such a diagnosis existed, the characters have to learn not to judge others or their behaviour. It’s a lesson that’s as true now as in 1955.
Silences kept me intrigued. I love a good mystery. It also appealed to my historical curiosity. But more so, it made me think of the human condition, the terrible consequences of war, and the incredible ability of people to cope with the unimaginable. The story made me think and feel. What more can you ask of a novel?
Welcome to our NOWW Blog, made up of a collection of stories, reviews and articles written by our NOWW Members.