The subdued art-work on the cover matches the plain title of this book, but first impressions in a book-shop can be safely ignored – Diego Marani’s New Finnish Grammar is a very inventive and unusual book, which I would place in my top two books read this year.
The book opens in Trieste in September 1943 when a sailor wakes from a coma in a German hospital-ship moored in the port of Trieste. He is heavily wounded and does not know who he is or what happened to him. Red Cross nurses attend to him and a doctor appears from time to time to shine a light into his eyes and to try to obtain some information about what happened to him.
The doctor’s new patient has no documents or anything else that can identify him and when he regains consciousness we learn that he has lost his memory and cannot even remember what language he speaks.
One morning Doctor Friari arrives with a bundle under his arm. He unwraps his parcel to reveal a Finnish sailor’s jacket with the name Sampo Karjalainen on a cotton label inside the collar. In one of the pockets is a handkerchief with the initials S.K. embroidered on it. The doctor speaks the name and shows the unknown soldier the handkerchief in the hope that it will reawaken memories. The doctor himself is Finnish and begins to speak his native language but the patient shows no response other than mild bewilderment.