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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

Canal Grande

Hannu Raittila

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Title: Canal Grande
Author: Hannu Raittila
Genre: Novel
Written: 2001
Length: 328 pages
Original in: Finnish
Availability: Canal Grande - Deutschland
  • Canal Grande has not yet been translated into English
  • Awarded the Finlandia Prize, 2001

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Our Assessment:

B+ : amusing cross-cultural confusion

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
FASz . 13/3/2005 Dirk Schümer
World Literature Today . 3/2002 Margareta Martin

  From the Reviews:
  • "Aus diesem clash of civilizations bezieht Raittila reichlich finnischen Humor, der -- wie wir aus den Kaurismäki-Filmen wissen -- auf Sturheit und Methodik beruht. (...) Seine profunde Selbst- und Fremdironie macht Canal Grande zu einem wahrhaft europäischen Roman, denn im Kuddelmuddel des kontinentalen Alltags bekommt Wahrheit nur als Relation zwischen stammestypischen Mißverständnissen Gestalt." - Dirk Schümer, Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung

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:

       In Canal Grande a small group of Finnish experts travel to Venice as part of a UNESCO project to try to save the palazzos on the Canal Grande. When they arrive in Venice in the dead of winter the city is shrouded in fog, making it impossible to see anything, and while the fog eventually lifts the Finns don't really find much clarity. They remain for the most part fish out of water, the book an almost non-stop confusion and clash of cultures.
       From the historical expert who doesn't know Italian but speaks Latin (and grandly declaims to his fellow Finns about the glorious palazzos they are floating by upon their arrival until he is shut up by the chauffeur who reveals he doesn't know what he is talking about: "Non è Canal Grande") to the overly-exacting engineer, most of this group have trouble adapting to the Italian way of doing things. The Finns expect bureaucratic precision, detailed plans and budgets, solid preparation. The Italians offer a shrug of the shoulders and, while generally trying to be accommodating to the Finns' strange ways, toss together solutions that the Finns can hardly deal with. It takes weeks until the promised office-space is ready, and then the bits of electronic infrastructure turn out to incompatible with each other. The self-reliant Finns, used to doing almost everything themselves, can't fathom the Italian systems of favours, helping each other out, and, especially, looking the other way -- especially given the inevitable resulting mess. Naturally, the Italian attitude towards building-preservation (and building in the first place, with no care for how the foundations are laid, much less how things are built up and added to) isn't something the Finns can appreciate either.
       Their project goes nowhere fast, but that does leave time for all sorts of (mis)adventures and cultural confusion. Some locals they befriend, and a rather driven American military man (or at least former military man), add to the mix and messes. Toss in that it is carnival time -- and then have a deep-freeze cold wave, freezing over the canals for the first time in almost a thousand years -- and there's a decent amount of fun to be had.
       The frozen canals at least put the Finns on more familiar ground, but by that time there's only so much left to be salvaged
       The novel is recounted in the different voices of the Finns, each with a different attitude and take. Almost all have trouble really fitting in and understanding their hosts, and Raittila doesn't ever let up with contrasting Finnish ways with those of the rest of the world -- and especially these Italians. The book suffers a bit from the characters' almost single-minded determination and devotion: they're so sure they (and the Finnish way) are right that after a while their stubbornness can be wearing. Yes, there are some amusing insights -- such as the contrast between the very straightforward Finnish language and the others, with all their excesses (a character suggesting it's obvious that all will eventually come to their senses and tend towards the stripped-down Finnish approach, where you say what you mean and basta). The characters are a bit cartoonish -- a Latin-speaking academic ... --, but the switches in perspective keep things lively enough. And while the plot chugs along slowly in part, Raittila does spice things up a bit, juggling quite a few balls, intrigues, and nefarious undertakings as well as offering the odd bits of actual action.
       Fairly amusing, Canal Grande has a distinctly Finnish flavour, especially in its humour (though Raittila does offer a variety of comedic approaches). Too often too obvious, it nevertheless makes for a fairly entertaining read -- and does offer an amusing vision of the Finn in the larger world.

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Canal Grande:
  • btb publicity page
Reviews: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Hannu Raittila is a leading Finnish author. He was born in 1956.

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