Author: Veijo Meri
Beneath the Polar Star: Glimpses of Finnish History, provides the reader with an easily accessible and entertaining look at Finnish history. The range is comprehensive: from pre-history; through the reformation and the so-called civilized eighteenth century; to industrialization; the turbulent twentieth century; and ending with the Russian / Finnish Winter War of 1939-40. The last chapter takes the reader from the mid-twentieth century to today in just 3 pages.
This is a very thoughtful and far-ranging work, not only over time, but also over the topics covered. There is a chapter each on Church reform, the Finnish cavalry in the seventeenth century, the collection of Finnish epic poetry in the nineteenth, but this slightly skittish approach to historical narrative is no doubt due to the fact that the material in Beneath the Polar Star is compiled from a number of Veijo Meriís works. The narrative in Beneath the Polar Star proceeds in chronological order, so the book reads as a general history, which has as its theme the almost "natural" development of independent Finland. The last half of the work, which deals with the first half of the twentieth century, settles on a more unified thematic course - the territorial negotiations between Finland and Russia that led to Russiaís attack in 1939.
Veijo Meri brings the negotiations to life with his vivid account of the people involved. Juho Kusti Paasikivi, who led the Finnish negotiators, and Vaino Tanner, who had the reputation of being a bolder man than Passikivi, (p. 133), faced Stalin and Molotov in a number of historical meetings. Meri reports the negotiations as conversations between the protagonists, thus providing the reader with an intimate portrayal of the events.
Beneath the Polar Star thus provides the reader with a very lucid and entertaining introduction to Finnish history in general, and especially the events leading to war with Russia in 1939. One drawback to the book is the lack of a bibliography or footnotes, perhaps reducing its usefulness to students. Nevertheless, the text on its own does provide a very valuable introduction to Finnish history.