‘A Masterpiece’: Why Tov Johnson’s The Summer time Ebook is as related as ever at 50 Books

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TeaHere’s a line from Tov Johnson’s The Summer time Ebook the place the narrator describes Kai’s fragility. Residents of the small Finnish island the place the novel is about are cautious to keep away from strolling on the plant, and it’s “solely farmers and summer season friends” who stroll on it.

It is because (“and it will probably’t be repeated fairly often”) Kai is “too weak”. “Step on it as soon as and the subsequent time it rains, it rises up. The second time, it does not rise again. And the third time you step on moss, it dies.”

The fiftieth Anniversary Version of Tov Johnson’s The Summer time Ebook. {Photograph}: Classification of Books

Such a deep respect for nature characterizes Jansson’s writing from the books Moomin, which focuses on a household of trolls who stay in concord with their environment, The Summer time Ebook, and 9 different novels written by him. and grownup to short-story collections.

The Summer time Ebook, which celebrates its fiftieth anniversary this yr, now has a big British fanbase, largely as a result of unbiased press Kind of Books reissued the title in 2003. It is not arduous to see why it is beloved a lot: the novel is, as writer Ali Smith wrote on the time of its reprint, “a masterpiece of the microcosm, the perfection of quick, quiet studying”.

It additionally appears, as we navigate the local weather disaster and generational tradition wars, to be extremely related. The slim quantity tells the story of a grandmother and granddaughter who discover, debate and play collectively through the summer season on the island. As Smith places it: “It will be straightforward to be sentimental right here. Johnson is rarely. As an alternative, she makes use of this inter-generational relationship to spotlight the significance of respect: for one another, for differing views, and for the planet. This can be a notably open-minded ebook, maybe reflecting the open-minded life that Jensen and his household lived.

Sophia Jansson, the late writer’s niece and the inspiration for the character’s granddaughter within the novel, tells me about Zoom that she by no means felt like her household wasn’t “regular” rising up (“no matter is regular”). Jansson was adventurous, exploring the uninhabited islands on which he spent each summer season and campaigning in Sweden to permit ladies to camp exterior. After the loss of life of her mom when she was six years previous, Sofia’s “native household” was made up of her father, her grandmother, her aunt Tov, and Tov’s companion, the artist Tuliki Pietila.

In The Summer time Ebook, a pal from the mainland named Berenice visits the fictional Sofia. Berenice, described as “very well-born and really calm”, is scared of becoming a member of Grandmother and Sofia’s traditional adventures, and rapidly turns into the thing of Sofia’s admiration for a hopeless burden. Is.

Sophia Johnson.
Sophia Johnson. {Photograph}: Graeme Robertson / The Guardian

Sophia now says, “Tove’s joke is, in a way, what individuals may suppose is regular.” The island was a spot for the characters and real-life household to create a brand new sort of “normality” away from the conventions of the mainland. This was very true for Tov himself, who might stay independently each as an artist and as a wierd particular person on the island.

Inside the household, Sophia says, “there was a obscure however self-evident tolerance for anybody”. As a baby, she was by no means explicitly instructed the character of Tov and Tuliki’s relationship – homosexuality would nonetheless have been categorized as a illness in Finland on the time – however she might see That they beloved one another, and that different members of his household accepted them.

Sophia has “no understanding for individuals who have these very inflexible opinions about who they select to be with”. This echoes the sentiment of The Summer time Ebook’s grandmother, who, after an argument together with her grandson concerning the existence of Devil, asserts to her younger relative: “You possibly can imagine what you want. However you should study to be tolerant.”

When Sophia now steps on Moss, she nonetheless thinks about The Summer time Ebook’s warning, saying to herself “Properly, you may step on it as soon as, possibly even twice, however the third time actually I am unhealthy”. This perspective of care and safety is on the coronary heart of The Summer time Ebook: it proposes that each plant, each insect—and, certainly, each particular person—has a proper to exist and be cared for. And, 50 years later, that message is extra necessary than ever.

  • The fiftieth anniversary version of The Summer time Ebook, together with an afterword by Sofia Jansen, is revealed by Kind of Books (£9.99). Sofia will discuss concerning the ebook in a digital occasion on September 1st at 7pm organized by Bookshop.org.

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