Posted in Book review, Books, Finland, Reading Challenge

Book Review: Westend by Suvi Vaarla

Westend is a book that caught my attention because it’s a story about a bad time that I barely remember: the depression that shook Finland in the 90s. I was just a child back then and have just vague memories of these grown-up worries, so it was really interesting to pick up this book and dive into the time that affected so many in our country.

There are days that draw a line: before and after. Time is cut in two. What we’re left with are two stories: story of loss and story of surviving.

(Freely translated from Finnish.)

I was pleasantly surprised how quickly I read through Westend and how many nostalgic thoughts it brought out.

Westend is a story of a Finnish girl and her memories of her childhood in the 80s and the 90s and how the depression affected her ordinary, middle-class family. The girl’s father has taken all the advantage of the easy loans the banks gave in the 80s to build a set of holiday cottages to Lapland in the northern Finland. Life is good for a while: the family moves to a better area, buys lovely things and makes friends from the wealthier circles. And then the depression hits and there is no more money, work or even friends. Eventually it seems like only debt and desperation remains, and in the end the girl’s father commits suicide.

The story explores how a child remembers those happy and unhappy years, how selective memory can be and how a young person is still affected by childhood trauma as an adult. The book is fiction but it was still a very realistic description of an ordinary family and their plight. The characters feel very real and the atmosphere of anxiety is almost touchable.

The book takes place in my home city so it was also full of very familiar places too. It was really touching to remember flashes from my own childhood that were prompted by the memories of the main character. I was impressed about how the relationship of the girl and her father was described and when the story focuses on the reality of losing a parent, it felt very familiar. I lost my father in the late 90s, not to suicide but still very suddenly to complications of undiagnosed diabetes. So reading about the pain the girl felt when she came home just to hear her father had died, it really brought out familiar memories. Which means that the way the book described the girls feelings and how she experienced guilt, anger and numbness afterwards, were well written. At least they were described pretty closely to the range of feelings I had after my father passed away.

So all in all I enjoyed the book very much, especially the bits from 80s and 90s. The chapters from the main character’s adulthood were a bit stalling at times, but still provided an interesting view to the insecurity and anxiety my generation can still feel after witnessing the effects the 90s depression had on our parents.

Westend gets it’s place in my Reading Challenges, filling these prompts:

The era in which the book is set plays a key role in the book (Helmet Reading Challenge)
Because the book was all about the 80s and 90s

A book you picked because the title caught your attention (Popsugar Reading Challenge)
Because Westend is an area of my home city

Author:

I love books, games and the coziness of our house (currently it's the kingdom of me and my husband). My work in a game studio as a Senior HR Specialist keeps me busy and social, but I am an introvert in my core. Navigating life between my very social work and my introvert, less social personality can be tricky and it goes hand in hand with my interest in overall personal well-being.

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