Sunday, January 29, 2012

BOOK: House of Orphans by Helen Dunmore

House of Orphans by Helen Dunmore, 329 pages

Orange January: Longlist 2006; 2nds Reading Challenge

Setting: Finland, the Grand Duchy of Finland under Russian rule, 1901. The first half of the book was in the northern countryside; the second half in the bustling, volatile Helsinki

Characters: Thomas, widowed country doctor; Eeva, the orphaned daughter of a revolutionist/communist; Lauri, Eeva's childhood friend, still idealistic; Lotta, old friend of Thomas, married but unhappy; Sashi, Russian rabble-rouser

What I Liked: The characters were complex and likable. Eeva was a child who had a bad experience being sent to the orphanage, but recognized her true self, and wouldn't compromise. Really, a modern confident woman of uncompromising principles. Thomas was very sad, but also very kind, trying to find some happiness but no clue how to get there. In situations of unrest, people can often take advantage, and I expected terrible things to happen, but Thomas and Eeva never did. Some of the minor characters, like Lotta and Sashi made sketchier choices.
The Historical Context at the end was very helpful to understanding what Dunmore was writing about, and why.
The food was also well described, and the nature and traditions. The sense of Finland really came through.

What I Didn't Like: the ending! After developing all these characters, describing the history of 1900s Finland and the conditions leading up to the Russian revolution and the Finnish civil war, the ending was way too vague. Ninety percent of the book was clear and so well done, but I would have liked a more explicit ending.

Would I Recommend It? I think so, especially if you are okay with endings that are more up in the air. I did enjoy the whole bit, up to the 'ending'.