Friday 12 April 2013

A-Z Challenge: K is for Karelia

My theme: writing and the business of writing

"Karelia: a region of NE Europe, formerly Finland but annexed in several stages by the former Soviet Union."

Picture from Paradox

In Finnish history, Karelia is a contentious issue. It's not mentioned in the above quote, (from Collins dictionary 2003) but Finland still has a region called Karelia. Many Karelian Finns also consider the area now belonging to Russia as their rightful homeland, because during the 2nd World War many people lost their land and property during bitter battles fought between Finns and Russians.

What has Karelia got to do with writing?

For a writer, historically dramatic events and regions are important, and you ignore them at your peril. Even if your book is set in modern times, there are always characters whose lives, or whose relatives' lives, have been affected by a historical event. This is true especially for Finland, whose short history has seen many wars and tragedies.

In my latest spy novel, The Red King of Helsinki, the main protagonist's Karelian family lost their home in the Winter War. This tragedy has repercussions when Pia's mother Maija decides to study the Russian language in the 1950's.

Maija’s degree in Russian language had always been a problem. First her mother was against it. Maija’s grandfather fought the Reds in the Civil War in 1917, and her father the Russians twenty-five years later in the Winter War. His family were from Karelia.

Maija’s aunt talked often about the two evacuations from Karelia, where 400,000 had to leave their homes and livelihoods. Her home as well as the childhood home was near Viipuri, now beyond the border in the Soviet Union. Auntie Eija's husband had died in the war; how, Maija wasn’t ever quite sure. She had visions of Uncle Kaarlo in a fist fight with a tall Russian while their large farmhouse with beautifully carved porches was in flames in the background. Aunt Eija carried pictures of the farmhouse they had lost as well as a black-and-white portrait of her dead husband in her purse. She never passed an opportunity to take the pictures out and decry the Soviet state.

‘We lost our homeland, but Finland kept her independence, unlike those poor Baltic states.’

Even though I don't have any close family connections with Karelia, I've always been fascinated by the Karelian people and its history, which has so coloured Finnish life. I guess that's why Karelian characters often seep into my fiction.

The Red King of Helsinki came out 30 March is now available on Kindle as well as iBooks and other e-reading devices


Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Helena .. that was interesting and an area I knew nothing about .. nor the various annexations.

Having just had a quick squizz over at Wiki - I can see a little more - understand the geography a little ..

I am sure if you're writing about your part of the world at any given time .. it must be near accurate ... very interesting - thanks for posting .. cheers Hilary

Maria said...

Thank you for sharing, I too knew nothing about this area.

I think if something fascinates us we are more interested in writing about it.

Good post.