Wednesday, 7 August 2013

The Manila Rope / Manillarepet av Veijo Meri (3.5/5)

First published: 1957
Original title:
Original language: Finish
Translation to Swedish by: Bertil Kihlman
Page count: 130

The back says: In The Manilla Rope we meet a man who, during the war, just before he is to return home, finds a manila rope. He decides to take it home as "the only useful thing he had found during the war." In order not to have military police on the train discover the rope and take it away from him, he winds it next to his body. But every move he makes tightens the rope until he gets harder and harder to breathe.
I say: I read this in Swedish because it was available at the library, but the review will be in English since it had been translated (although appears to be rather hard to find).

Anyhoo, as the synopsis above tells, Joose finds a rope and decides to have his fellow soldiers tie it tightly around his torso. Once he gets on the train we are told different stories of war by the soldiers – each one more absurd and both humorous and tragic than the other. We hear about a man who wound a rope around his torso and died (how ominous); a soldier that had a knack for sawing off dead enemy soldiers’ legs in order to steal their boots (this takes place in Finland, so the bodies are frozen and he has to take the legs inside and let them thaw); the first air bomb to be dropped in Finland, and much more.
The novel is made up of these short stories where Joose’s trip home acts as a framework, which was both annoying and entertaining. Annoying because during the train ride home I wanted to know what was going on with Joose, but entertaining because most of the stories were pleasantly peculiar with a little morality thrown in for good measure.

All in all, it worked.
This was translation is from 1962, which means that it was full of archaic Swedish (which I love). Now, I can never be sure how exact the translation is, but the prose was straightforward and the conversations between the soldiers felt genuine, with a lot of distinctly different voices. I especially liked the grumpiness of Joose’s father and his friend when the latter was telling his stories.

3.5/5 because of the humour and absurd short stories.

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