It is WWII, a man wakes up in a hospital bed in the Italian port city of Trieste, with no idea of who he is or how he got there. He has no language, no identity, no idea about anything at all. His doctor, an exiled Finnish neurosurgeon, thinks that he is Finnish, based on a jacket the man is wearing with the label Sampo Karjalainen in it. So the doctor assumes, understandably that the name matches the man. As part of Sampo's therapy, the doctor starts to teach him Finnish, and eventually the patient is shipped out to Helsinki where it is assumed he is from. It is not hard to feel sorry for Sampo as he spends the rest of the book trying to figure out who or what he is, and he finds his solace in learning the Finnish language, believing this is the key to a future. All of this in 186 pages.
Unfortunately however for me, this excellent plot line never reached its full potential. Poor old Sampo never figures out what is going on around him, he never really understands the language, his life never gets underway again, and all that we read about are the ravings of a Finnish priest who takes it upon himself to teach Sampo the language through the telling of Finnish myths and legends which is all tied up somehow in a symbolic way with the war, the Russians invading, and the conflicts within Finland. With all this in mind, the ending when it comes is hardly a surprise - just more confusion on top of an already confusing landscape. Yes, the writing is exquisite, but it is just not enough for me.