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The Summer Book - Tove Jansson

July 10, 2019

Once you meet six-year old Sophia and her Grandmother for Summer adventures on a tiny island in the gulf of Finland, you won't want the season to end. Luckily this short novel is written with an understated clarity, sharp wit and beauty that make each return anew. You will find a collection of 22 chapter vingettes that combined, gather the essence of growing and aging at both sides of life. Each chapter stands on its own, but first, read them all to appreciate the entirety of the artful message in this small masterpiece.

 

The Summer Book holds a literary category of its own as it is an adult book, yet also could have an appeal to children. All ages will find themselves in the stories. Together the grandmother and grandaughter discuss and explore what matters to young and old.

 

They explore their thoughts on human nature, God, life, death, and love. Author, Tove Jansson, expertly guides their conversations without overstated sentimentality. As in any close and loving relationship you'll find humor, disagreements, persuation and the love that underlies it all.

 

Under the island's cloudy skies, sunlight and storms explore the meaning of true companionship. Here are excerpts from two vingettes. 

 

Sophia's Storm

 

A bored Sophia prays for something to break her monotony -

 

"Dear God, let something happen." "God, if you love me. I'm bored to death. Amen."

 

After the island is hit with a devastating storm, Sophia prayed,

 

"Oh God, I didn't realize I was so important. It was awfully nice of You. Thank You very much. Amen."

 

When Sophia is confronted with devastation the storm created for others, she was distraught.

Grandmother reassured her by saying that she prayed for a storm earlier than Sophia.

 

Sophia sighed. "Yes, she said. "That's just like you. Did you take your medicine?"

"Yes, I did."

"Good. Then you can go to sleep and stop worrying about all the trouble you've caused. I won't tell anyone." 

"That's nice of you," Grandmother said.

 

 

The Tent

 

Grandmother encouraged Sophia to try and sleep in a tent all night. Years ago when the grandmother was a scout leader, she sewed together material to make tents and made it possible for young girls to be scouts.

 

Sophia tried to sleep alone in  tent and in the middle of the night, lost her nerve. The sounds outside the tent grew louder and seemed to be inside. She became terrified of the noise and walked the few feet to knock on her Grandmother's door. Too proud to admit her fear, she waited for Grandmother to start a conversation.

 

Grandmother:

"I couldn't sleep," "and I got to thinking about sad things."

". . . when you're as old as I am, there are a lot of things you can't do anymore"

". . . I have the feeling everything's gliding away from me, and I don't remember and I don't care . . ."

 

Sophia

"What don't you remember?"

 

Grandmother

"What it's like to sleep in a tent!"

 

Sophia

"Well, I'll tell you what it's like."

"You can hear everything much clearer, and the tent is very small. It makes you feel very safe. And it's nice that you can hear everything."

 

Grandmother

"Yes. You can hear everything outside."

 

Sophia

". . . so I think I'll go back now."

 

Grandmother

"Do."

 

Grandmother found that now she could remember much better. The images came back to her and she fell asleep.

 

The illustration below beautifully captures the quality of Sophia and Grandmother's relationship. It comes from this edition of The Summer Book, which was originally published without illustrations. Tove Jansson wanted to distinguish this as an adult book and separate it from her extensive Moomin stories. They too are worth the read! 

"Sophia followed along right behind her and saw how Grandmother carried the moon on her head, and the night became utterly serene."

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