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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Compelling Narrative, 1 April 2013
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This review is from: Coffee and Vodka (Kindle Edition)
This is a fascinating story of immigration and how an already unstable family begins to disintegrate under its pressure. It's also a story of healing a long estrangement.

What is remarkable about this narrative is that it contains both; it unflinchingly looks at the complexity of family relationships. In the first half of the story, the terrifying father with his uncontrollable rages becomes, in the second half, a much smaller and grief-stricken man, who has clearly suffered from guilt all his life. Like coffee and vodka, the two things aren't meant to go together. Most writers would portray one or the other...the richness in this book is that we get both, that more is asked of us, as readers, than simple condemnation or pity.

The result is a rich story that stays with us and continues asking its questions in our own families, as well.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Change is the only constant in life, 28 Mar 2013
This review is from: Coffee and Vodka (Kindle Edition)
Set between Finland and Sweden, between the 1970s and the present millenium, 'Coffee and Vodka' reveals what it was like for a young girl to be uprooted from her home and transplanted to another country. One where she doesn't speak the language and is despised for her nationality. I'm not ashamed to say this novel made me cry, but it also made me smile.

At one point, Eeva sums up her predicament, "I looked fairly normal again, as normal as you can with a treacherous sister, estranged father and dying Grandmother. And a love affair with a married Polish dentist!" Well, hasn't everyone been there? But even if these things are as foreign to you as they are to me, along with the settings in this novel, Eeva's story will still strike a chord. Its descriptions of the difficulties of childhood, sisterhood, relationships and parenthood transcend national borders. Because families are universal, even if they sometimes aren't simple. This is a novel about displacement and family separation but it is also a story of hope.
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5.0 out of 5 stars One of my favourites, 21 May 2014
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This review is from: Coffee and Vodka (Kindle Edition)
I really love this story. Eeva is a young girl from Tampere, Finland who moves with her dysfunctional family to Stockholm, Sweden. Away from her friends, grandmother and native language, she and her family struggle to find their new place in Swedish society. Helena Halme is good writer; her writing is not overly-embellished and I think her strengths lie in the smaller details. To anybody new to Finnish and Swedish cultures, you can learn a surprising amount from this book. Halme beautifully weaves Eeva's story backwards and forwards in time, from being a scared ten year old girl to being in her forties ready to return to Tampere. The characterisation is rich with each character having their own specific quirks and voice and I felt the family dynamics were done especially well; I felt tension when reading about Eeva's koskenkorva-loving, unpredictable father and I could almost feel the strain of the family unit. All in all, a fantastic novel. I wouldn't be surprised if it stayed with you, as it did with me.
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5.0 out of 5 stars The dislocation and displacement of a young immigrant Finn in a crumbling home, 30 Mar 2014
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Christina (London) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Coffee and Vodka (Kindle Edition)
This is a superb piece of writing. The narrative flits from past to present seamlessly, and put me in mind of Toni Morrison in its non-linearity. The narrator, Eeva, speaks authentically in the voice of a child, describing her family's move from Finland to Sweden in early childhood. It tells of displacement, dislocation and the sense of alienation felt by the immigrant. Finns were - and are - a sizeable immigrant population in Sweden, and Halme portrays the difficulties and, dare we say it, the shame of being a foreigner and speaking a strange language, in the land of one's old imperial, masters (Finland was in Swedish domain for 700 years, up to 1812, when it became an autonomous duchy of monarchistic Russia). There is the attempt to "pass" by Eeva's older sister, Anja, not to be heard speaking Finnish in public.

The young Eeva in Stockholm in turn views Finnish gypsies with the same loathing and suspicion she and her fellow Finns are viewed by the Swedes, and again, older, at Tampere station. The two mustalaiset (gypsies) are suspected of carrying knives; showing the irrationality and psychology of race prejudice as it is a constitutional right for all Finnish men to carry a puukko (a type of hunting dagger with a curved point), so we see the mustalaiset taking on the role of an under-class to be shunned by conventional Finns, insofar as to say, they might be Finnish, but they are not one of us.

Halme writes in a plain straightforward style, which is something I appreciate, and reminds me of Jean Rhys in its lack of any literary embellishment.

The adult Eeva returns to the town of her birth, Tampere in Finland, to visit her dying beloved grandmother, whom she left behind, all those years ago.

There are all sorts of unclosed issues, not only with her father, but with her sister and mother, too. A shocking family secret is revealed.

The deceptively sparse style of writing hides many layers of emotions and complex relationships, all beautifully crafted to leave the reader with a sense of ruefulness and headnodding identification with Eeva's family dynamics.

Outstanding is the depiction of the nervous breakdown of a neighbouring Finn in childhood Stockholm and the uncomfortable realisation of how close to home this is to Eeva, herself, together with the accompanying shame that it is a Finn and that she, too, is one, amongst the unspoken, disapproving eyes of the Swedish residents in the block.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Interesting story.., 13 Sep 2013
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jaffareadstoo (England) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Coffee and Vodka (Kindle Edition)
In 1974, Eeva and her family move from Finland to Stockholm. In many respects this should have been an easy transition but the cultural differences between the two countries play an important role in the early part of the story. Evva is still a child and isn't fully aware of the undercurrents of emotion which affect both of her parents, and whilst her elder sibling, Anja is close enough in age, there doesn't seem to be a strong emotional bond between the sisters. Thirty years later in 2004, Eeva returns to Finland, ostensibly to visit her sick grandmother, but this visit is also a disturbing return to the country of her birth and stirs up long buried secrets and stifled emotions.

Overall, the story of Eeva and her family really took me by surprise. There are some clever observations which really make you sit up and take notice, and the dissection of family values is particularly well done. It is interesting to observe the changes that time imposes on all of the characters, as Eeva, Anja and their parents are very different people thirty years on. Part of the appeal of the story is observing how these changes affect the future happiness of all the family.

In the past my own personal knowledge of Scandinavian writing has been confined to the crime fiction genre of scandi-noir. It is always refreshing to try something different, and Coffee and Vodka with its subtle shades of light and dark is a perfectly good place to start.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Page turner, 4 May 2013
This review is from: Coffee and Vodka (Kindle Edition)
After reading The Englishman I wasn't sure I would enjoy this book, no particular reason other than the fact I had enjoyed the first one so much! Yet I was gripped from the beginning most particularly by the central character and her emotions and awakening. The Abba moment was a brilliant touch in a story that was simple and heartfelt. Another wonderful dip into Scandinavian life. And just when I thought I'd escape the use of the tissue box, the tears fell. Helena Halme has a knack of pulling you in and tugging on your heart strings
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5.0 out of 5 stars Great read, 27 April 2013
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This review is from: Coffee and Vodka (Kindle Edition)
Coffee and Vodka is a story of family from Finland who emigrate to Sweden in the 1970's. It's a beautifully written story about a family in turmoil, caused partly by the displacement, but also partly due to the cracks in family dynamics which were already evident before the move to Stockholm. I really liked the voice of Eeva as a 11-year-old full of hope and fear, and then 30 years later as a grown woman who's unable to commit to a loving relationship. This is not a genre that I usually read, so it was a nice surprise for me.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Totally hooked!, 19 Mar 2013
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This review is from: Coffee and Vodka (Kindle Edition)
March 11, 2013

As I have lived in Finland, Sweden, Denmark and UK I found this book really interesting and had really hard time putting it down before I could finish it.I have also read the Englishman by the same author and truly admire how the author can relate to different countries and take me back in time.
Cannot wait for her next book to come out!
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fabulous reading, 2 April 2013
This review is from: Coffee and Vodka (Kindle Edition)
This is the second book I have read from the same author. As in the Englishman I could easily relate to the characters of this finnish family struggling with difficulties. I think many other readers have had experience of disaster striking in a family. The author is very talented in giving life and face to these difficult issues and she is at her best portraying the feelings of the different family members. I truly liked the structure of the story, beeing built up in two different time zones. Seen through a young innocent girls' eyes and then the grown- up phase. It gave perscpective to the story. I grew especially fond of the young Eeva - her innocence and vulnerability. Actually to the extent that I would have wanted to hold on to her a lot longer. I was almost disappointed that the story came to an end. I am glad there was a happy ending. It gives you hope and reminds you that you can always move on. I can truly recommend this book with all my heart, it touched me deep.
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Coffee and Vodka by Helena Halme
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