A short history of Finland, by Fred Singleton, is exactly that, a brief account of the national history of Finland. The text was a labour of love and throughout the book the reader is reminded of the passion the author had for his subject, although I was left wondering for whom the book was written.
The Swedish and Finnish within the book is often not translated fully and is often, therefore, too confusing for a person with no knowledge of the country, but the nature of country and its people is that there are few people in the world who would look at such a book, and battle through the sometimes very confusing political account, without already sharing that same kind of passion. Yet, in the preface there is suggestion that the author was trying to instil the passion into others that he himself possessed, in which case, the use of Finnish and Swedish (in descriptions) causes unnecessary confusion.
The preface itself is another source of confusion. I was lead to believe that the history accounted for in the work was briefly geographical, briefly political, but with a strong cultural overtone. Instead the vast majority of the work is the political history and the movement in political stance and geographical borders. The structure of the text was representative of the times throughout. During the somewhat chaotic mediaeval times of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, the structure of the text also seemed chaotic as the author tried to follow events through time. However, during the more formal and documented times of recent history, and the account of the political situation in post-Independence times was clear and easy to read. It amazed me that the entire Finnish political system has been shaped by less than ten people, even though there are 200 people sitting in the Eduskunta at any one time.
The cultural history of Finland was very much crammed into only one chapter. It is this area that I think Finland has the most to offer the Western world. This has not allowed the author to capture the full character of the nation or her people. The chapter 'The spirit of Finland' gave a run down on the main cultural identities of today, but little of how and where they have come from. Why are Finns viewed as alcoholics? What is so good about their standard of living? Why are there no class barriers? The Finnish language is not related to Swedish, so why do they use their alphabet?
I found A Short history of Finland to be an enjoyable and challenging read. I have strong ties to the country and her people, as does the author, and I feel that the cultural identity was not fully explored. It seemed to stop short of any explanation of why Finland is what it is today.