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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction



Seven Brothers

by
Aleksis Kivi


general information | review summaries | our review | links | about the author

To purchase Seven Brothers



Title: Seven Brothers
Author: Aleksis Kivi
Genre: Novel
Written: 1870 (Eng. 1929)
Length: 348 pages
Original in: Finnish
Availability: Seven Brothers - US
Seven Brothers - UK
Seven Brothers - Canada
Les sept frères - France
Die sieben Brüder - Deutschland
  • Finnish title: Seitsemän veljestä
  • Translated by Alex Matson
  • Also translated by Richard Impola (Aspasia Books, 2005; Amazon links to this edition)

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Our Assessment:

B : fun if (in this rendition) somewhat limited tale

See our review for fuller assessment.




Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The Nation . 13/2/1929 Edna Kenton
New Republic . 13/3/1929 B.G.
NY Herald Trib. . 10/2/1929 Rose Strunsky
The NY Times Book Rev. . 10/2/1929 Louis Kronenberger
Saturday Rev. of Lit. . 2/2/1929 P.D.Carleton


  From the Reviews:
  • "One feels much of what Seven Brothers is in Mr. Matson's translation, but one feels also the impossibility of quite catching the real spirit of the book. For this is not a book which should merely satisfy the natural curiosity one has about other civilizations; it is something, rather, which to be genuinely appreciated must be a blood-tie, a part of one's self. It is the Robinson Crusoe of another race; and in that sense nothing can really put it in our hands." - Louis Kronenberger, The New York Times Book Review

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

(Note that this review refers to the Alex Matson's 1929 translation. The considerably newer and presumably more readily accessible Richard Impola translation (Aspasia Books, 2005) may well differ markedly stylistically from it.)

       Seven Brothers is perhaps the classic Finnish novel. No grand, god-littered, myth-tainted national epic, this is down-to-earth and down-and-dirty, the story of seven pretty hapless brothers whose best qualities are a fierce streak of independence (or is it stubbornness ?) and remarkable resiliency.
       The oldest of the seven brothers are in early adulthood when their mother dies (their father having lost a head-to-head confrontation with a bear a few years earlier) and they inherit the rather run-down family farm. Responsibility is not really their thing, and the idea of getting the farm in working order and paying taxes like everyone else doesn't appeal to them too much. (There's also the problem of there being so many of them, making for the potential for land disputes.)
       They also have a more serious (in their minds) problem: the new local Vicar is particularly strict, and:

Especially towards backward readers was he without mercy, harrying them in every way, even confining them in the stocks.
       Yes, there's a big literacy campaign going on in the Finland of the time. The brothers have managed to evade school-learning for most of their lives, and they don't really see how they can do anything but continue: the ABCs seem completely beyond them. Much of the novel involves their struggle to learn how to read, as they occasionally do give it a try, but it's certainly an uphill battle.
       As far as women goes the oldest brother, Juhani, admits: "I am ruthlessly in love with Granny Pinewood's Venla" -- but it turns out most of his siblings are similarly smitten. Venla, on the other hand, isn't quite as enthusiastic (at least originally).
       It isn't easy for them. As Juhani complains at one point:
Here we sit, battered, scabby and one-eyed like tom-cats in March. Is this jolly ? Marry, this world is the daftest thing under the sun !
       Indeed, they don't appear to be made for this world -- barely modernizing though it is at this time. The solution is obvious -- make a run for it, escaping and eluding civilisation. Yes, even though they already pretty much live in the backwoods, the call to absolute nature wins out: "The forest draws us."
       So they crawl away even farther from civilisation (renting out the farm and lands in the meantime) -- and, of course, have a variety of adventures there.
       They are fairly hapless, managing to burn down their sauna and then their whole, newly-built cabin, for example -- and they don't stick it out entirely in the forest, trying to make do and get by in a variety of ways. They even try to learn to read .....
       From childhood on the brothers have a bad reputation, but any prank usually winds up with them getting the worst of things . All this is fairly comic, but it hasn't dated or translated exceptionally well (here), making for a work that drags on occasion.
       The tales interspersed in the novel, and the various adventures the boys have liven things up, but there's too much sameness to it -- and the droning quality of the presentation accentuates that. Most of the dialogue is presented in straight dialogue form, as in a play, and doesn't always read particularly smoothly:
Juhani: Away out of my way, thou, and away out of this accursed life ! My knife !
Simeoni: Hold him !
Aapo : To me, brothers !
Juhani: Out of my way !
Tuomas: Steady, my lad !
Juhani: Let go, brother Tuomas !
Tuomas: Thou sittest down quietly.
Juhani: What good will quietness do us when all is lost ? Art though minded to take forty brace of fresh birch-rods quietly ?
Tuomas: I'm not.
Juhani: What wilt thou do ?
Tuomas: I'll hang myself, but not before.
       Matson's translation-approach is interesting, but ultimately overwhelms appreciation for Kivi's finer art (suggested, but harder to make out here). Perhaps the translation does capture the 19th century feel, but it seems more hindrance than key now, with expressions such as:
Ay, let us push on to the very end like a spawning shoal of roach into the farthest corner of the seine. Let's go now before our guests tire of our mighty spasm of joy.
       Energetic, almost ebullient, the novel is held down by the (translated) language; one hopes the new Richard Impola translation manages better.
       More arduous than it should be -- in this version --, Seven Brothers probably is considerably more impressive in the original. Still, there's enough that's slyly amusing -- and brutally funny -- to make it worth a look even in this version.

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Links:

Seven Brothers: Aleksis Kivi: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Finnish author Aleksis Kivi (originally: Alexis Stenvall) lived 1834 to 1872.

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© 2006-2000 the complete review

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