I enjoyed the build-up to the reveal in this book. It was full of emotion and intensity. Helena brought in culture, family, lovers, and so many other dynamics to give the idea depth and a sense of reality. It was one I couldn't put down.
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.
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.
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.
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.
This has been on my kindle for sometime and I have finally read it! It was an exceptional pleasant read with the story focussing on Eeva and Anji two sisters who are uprooted by there parents when they move them from Finland to Sweden. It’s set in 1974 and the book goes between that year and 2004 when Eeva travels back to Finland for her Grandmother’s funeral. Something has happened between the family move to Stockholm in 1974 and the present day, but it is not until almost at the end of the story you find out (and I won’t spoilt it for other readers) Helena Halme’s book Coffee and Vodka is a remarkable read and once I started I couldn’t put it down. The book focuses on families, relationships and cultural changes. I look forward to reading some more of Helena’s books.
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
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.
The story isn't littered with shocking revelations or suspense, yet it's hard to put down. You are drawn into the lives of Eeva and her family as it switches between key moments in her childhood and the present day. Perhaps it's because there are themes here that unite us all: family problems, unspoken issues, secrets, growing pains... Most of all, it's written with a clear, clean kind of grace - rather Scandanavian, in fact - that neatly draws you in and tells a story that feels incredibly real.