Before traveling, I always recommend travelers look beyond the Top 10 Lists or bucket list items and read books from another culture to better immerse yourself into the culture and traditions of that place. While guidebooks and travel blogs provide valuable insight into the practice aspects of travel, they often fail to capture the essence of a culture. Reading the local literature, whether it’s fiction, non-fiction, or even poetry, diving into the literary works of a country before visiting can offer an unparalleled understanding of its history, people, customs, and beliefs.
By exploring the pages written by authors deeply rooted in their cultural heritage, travelers can enrich their experiences and forge deeper connections with the places they visit. If you’re planning a trip to Finland, immersing yourself in literary traditions and its history can provide valuable insights into its society, customs, and values.
Whether you’re an avid reader, or simply interested in learning about your journey before it begins, here is a curated list of books that will transport you to Finland’s past and present while enriching your visit with knowledge and a deeper appreciation for all you see and do.
If you want to bring your books on vacation with you, a Kindle is essential. With a Kindle Unlimited Subscription, you could get the majority of these titles at a much lower price than buying them individually.
Check out my Finland Travel page to see more info on visiting this great country.
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The Adventurer is a Fictional tale of a young Finnish man, Mikael Karvajalka, set in 16th century medieval Europe. Mikael is portrayed as an intellectual but rather naive person. Beginning life as an orphan bastard, he pursues a better social position with help of friendly people and by means of theological studies, but ends up drifting along through historical events across Europe rather than being able to steer his life himself.
The Kalevala is the great Finnish epic, which like the Iliad and the Odyssey, grew out of a rich oral tradition with prehistoric roots. During the first millennium of our era, speakers of Uralic languages (those outside the Indo-European group) who had settled in the Baltic region of Karelia, that straddles the border of eastern Finland and north-west Russia, developed an oral poetry that was to last into the nineteenth century. This poetry provided the basis of the Kalevala. It was assembled in the 1840s by the Finnish scholar Elias Lönnrot, who took `dictation’ from the performance of a folk singer, in much the same way as our great collections from the past, from Homeric poems to medieval songs and epics, have probably been set down. Published in 1849, it played a central role in the march towards Finnish independence and inspired some of Sibelius’s greatest works.
Unknown Soldiers follows the fates of a ramshackle troupe of machine-gunners in the Second World War, as they argue, joke, swear, cadge a loaf of bread or a cigarette, combat both boredom and horror in the swamps and pine forests – and discover that war will make or break them. One of Finland’s best-loved books, this gritty and unromantic depiction of battle honors the dogged determination of a country and the bonds of brotherhood forged between men at war, as they fight for their lives.
Seitsemän veljestä (The Brothers Seven), the 1870 Finnish novel by Aleksis Kivi (1834-1872), is one of the most (in)famously unknown classics of world literature—unknown not only because so few people in the world can read Finnish, but also because the novel is so incredibly difficult to translate, the Mount Everest of translating from Finnish. It is difficult to translate not only because it blends a saturation in Homer, Shakespeare, Dante, Cervantes, and the Bible with a brilliantly stylized form of local dialect, but because it is wild, grotesque, carnivalistic, and laugh-out-loud funny on every page. It has been translated 58 times into 34 languages—but somehow the translations always seem to fall short of their flamboyant original.
Far from being just “wild, barbaric, axe-wielding pirates,” the Vikings created complex social institutions, oversaw the coming of Christianity to Scandinavia, and made a major impact on European history through trade, travel, and far-flung consolidation. This encyclopedic study brings together the latest research on Viking art, burial customs, class divisions, jewelry, kingship, poetry, and family life. The result is a rich and compelling picture of an extraordinary civilization.
A man with dark thoughts on his mind is racing along the remote snowy roads of Hurmevaara in Finland when there is flash in the sky and something crashes into the car. That something turns out to be a highly valuable meteorite. With euro signs lighting up the eyes of the locals, the unexpected treasure is temporarily placed in a neighborhood museum, under the watchful eye of a priest named Joel.
But Joel has a lot more on his mind than simply protecting the riches that have apparently rained down from heaven. His wife has just revealed that she is pregnant. Unfortunately, Joel has strong reason to think the baby isn’t his. As Joel tries to fend off repeated and bungled attempts to steal the meteorite, he must also come to terms with his own situation, and discover who the father of the baby really is.
Transporting the reader to the culture, landscape, and mores of northern Finland Little Siberia is both a crime novel and a hilarious, blacker-than-black comedy about faith and disbelief, love and death, and what to do when bolts from the blue – both literal and figurative – turn your life upside down.
What does it take to survive? This is the question posed by the extraordinary Finnish novella that has taken the Nordic literary scene by storm.
1867: a year of devastating famine in Finland. Marja, a farmer’s wife from the north, sets off on foot through the snow with her two young children. Their goal: St Petersburg, where people say there is bread. Others are also heading south, just as desperate to survive. Ruuni, a boy she meets, seems trustworthy. But can anyone really help?
While out on assignment, a journalist hits a hare with his car. This small incident becomes life-changing: he decides to quit his job, leave his wife, sell his possessions, and spend a year wandering the wilds of Finland—with the bunny as his boon companion.
What ensues is a series of comic misadventures, as everywhere they go—whether chased up a tree by dogs, or to a formal state dinner, or in pursuit of a bear across the Finnish border with Russia—they leave mayhem (and laughter!) in their wake.
Here are nine delightfully funny stories about the triumphs and tribulations of the citizens of Moominvalley. Readers will discover how the Moomin family save young Ninny from permanent invisibility, and what happens when Moomintroll catches the last dragon in the world. Some of the characters in these tales will be brand-new to Moomin fans, but there are lots of old friends to meet as well.
Moominvalley is a fictional place, where the Moomins live in the tales by Swedish-Speaking Finnish author, painter, and illustrator Tove Jansson. Moomins have seen world-wide success and love all over Scandinavia as well as in Japan. Moomins are part of everyday life in Japan in the same way Disney characters are in the U.S.
Under the North Star is a trilogy published between 1959 and 1962 by Finnish author Väinö Linna. The novel follows the life of a Finnish family from 1880, through the First World War, the Finnish Civil War and the Second World War, to about 1950. Through the lives of ordinary people, it describes the clash of ideals in Finland’s language strife and the struggle between the Whites (nationalists) and the Reds(socialists) in the movement to Independence and Civil War.
Elsa is dying. Her husband, Martti, and daughter Eleonoora are struggling to accept the crushing thought that they are soon to lose her. As Elsa becomes ever more fragile, Eleonoora’s childhood memories are slipping away. Meanwhile, Eleonoora’s daughter Anna spends her time pondering the fates of passersby. For her the world is full of stories. But the story that will change her forever is the one about Eeva, her mother’s nanny, whom her grandparents have been silent about for years. Eeva’s forgotten story, which Anna first learns of when she discovers an old dress of Eeva’s, is finally revealed layer by layer. The tale that unfolds is about a mother and daughter, about how memory can deceive us—and sometimes that is the most merciful thing that can happen.
Twenty-three-year-old law student Maria Kallio is recruited for a temporary position at the Helsinki police department. Sweet-faced but tough and hot-tempered, Maria faces pushback from her new squad―so when a young playboy is murdered at his family’s summer villa, the new detective is out to prove herself.
Found floating facedown at the water’s edge after a night of partying, Tommi Pelatonen appears to have been murdered by one of his closest friends―but why? As Maria discovers, bitter passion and jealousy seethe under the placid surface of the group’s privileged, carefree lifestyle. As Maria uncovers the victim’s unsavory secrets, motives for all seven suspects come to light. Now it’s up to her to untangle the clues before the killer strikes again.
The first book in Leena Lehtolainen’s international bestselling Nordic crime series starring Detective Maria Kallio, My First Murder serves up murder with a slice of life in the Finnish upper crust.
Set in an isolated homestead in rural Finland in 1809, brothers Henrik and Erik have returned home after the Russian-Swedish war in which they fought on opposite sides. it’s a brooding family drama that has something of the timeless quality of good soap opera, conveyed in spare, precise and evocative prose.
The Eusistocratic Republic of Finland has bred a new human sub-species of receptive, submissive women, called eloi, for sex and procreation, while intelligent, independent women are relegated to menial labor and sterilized so that they do not carry on their “defective” line. Vanna, raised as an eloi but secretly intelligent, needs money to help her doll-like sister, who has disappeared. Vanna forms a friendship with a man named Jare, and they become involved in buying and selling a stimulant known to the Health Authority to be extremely dangerous: chili peppers. Then Jare comes across a strange religious cult in possession of the Core of the Sun, a chili so hot that it is rumored to cause hallucinations. Does this chili have effects that justify its prohibition? How did Finland turn into the North Korea of Europe? And will Vanna succeed in her quest to find her sister, or will her growing need to satisfy her chili addiction destroy her?
Global warming has changed the world’s geography and its politics. Wars are waged over water, and China rules Europe, including the Scandinavian Union, which is occupied by the power state of New Qian. In this far north place, seventeen-year-old Noria Kaitio is learning to become a tea master like her father, a position that holds great responsibility and great secrets. Tea masters alone know the location of hidden water sources, including the natural spring that Noria’s father tends, which once provided water for her whole village.
But secrets do not stay hidden forever, and after her father’s death the army starts watching their town—and Noria. And as water becomes even scarcer, Noria must choose between safety and striking out, between knowledge and kinship.
An elderly woman agrees to sell her life story to an author with writer’s block she meets at a book fair. She needs to talk – her husband has not spoken since a family tragedy some months ago, and seven thousand euros is a lot of money.
She claims that her grown-up children are doing well, but the writer imagines less salubrious lives for them, as the downturn of Finland’s economic boom begins to bite. Perhaps he’s on to something.
The Human Part lays bare the absurdities of modern society in the most vicious and precise manner imaginable. But it is also a wise novel of family life, rejoicing in the little white lies we tell one another and the way we pull together in times of tragedy.
Eliana is a model citizen of the island, a weaver in the prestigious House of Webs. She also harbors a dangerous secret—she can dream, an ability forbidden by the island’s elusive council of elders. No one talks about the dreamers, the undesirables ostracized from society.
But the web of protection Eliana has woven around herself begins to unravel when a young girl is found lying unconscious in a pool of blood on the stones outside the house. Robbed of speech by her attackers, the only clue to her identity is one word tattooed in invisible ink across her palm: Eliana. Why does this mysterious girl bear her name? What links her to the weaver—and could she hold Eliana’s fate in her hand?
As Eliana finds herself growing closer to this injured girl she is bound to in ways she doesn’t understand, the enchanting lies of the island begin to crumble, revealing a deep and ancient corruption. Joining a band of brave rebels determined to expose the island’s dark secrets, Eliana becomes a target of ruthless forces determined to destroy her. To save herself and those she loves, she must call on the power within her she thought was her greatest weakness: her dreams.
In the waning years of the Soviet Union, a sad young Finnish woman boards a train in Moscow. Bound for Mongolia, she’s trying to put as much space as possible between her and a broken relationship. Wanting to be alone, she chooses an empty compartment–No. 6.–but her solitude is soon shattered by the arrival of a fellow passenger: Vadim Nikolayevich Ivanov, a grizzled, opinionated, foul-mouthed former soldier. Vadim fills the compartment with his long and colorful stories, recounting in lurid detail his sexual conquests and violent fights. There is a hint of menace in the air, but initially the woman is not so much scared of or shocked by him as she is repulsed.
She stands up to him, throwing a boot at his head. But though Vadim may be crude, he isn’t cruel, and he shares with her the sausage and black bread and tea he’s brought for the journey, coaxing the girl out of her silent gloom. As their train cuts slowly across thousands of miles of a wintry Russia, where “everything is in motion, snow, water, air, trees, clouds, wind, cities, villages, people and thoughts,” a grudging kind of companionship grows between the two inhabitants of compartment No. 6. When they finally arrive in Ulan Bator, a series of starlit and sinister encounters bring Rosa Liksom’s incantatory Compartment No. 6 to its powerful conclusion.
On the surface, the Paul family are living the liberal, middle-class Scandinavian dream. Max Paul is a renowned sociologist and his wife Katriina has a well-paid job in the public sector. They live in an airy apartment in the centre of Helsinki. But look closer and the cracks start to show.
As he approaches his sixtieth birthday, the certainties of Max’s life begin to dissolve. He hasn’t produced any work of note for decades. His wife no longer loves him. His grown-up daughters – one in London, one in Helsinki – have problems of their own. So when a former student turned journalist shows up and offers him a seductive lifeline, Max starts down a dangerous path from which he may never find a way back.
Why It’s Important to Learn About Other Cultures
Exploring and understanding different cultures is a valuable aspect of personal growth and global awareness. Whether you are traveling to new places or a destination is not feasible, reading about other cultures can offer an introduction to a culture you’ll soon experience, or provide an enlightening alternative. There are three main reasons of why it’s important to learn about other cultures:
1. Promoting Cultural Understanding: Reading about other cultures allows us to gain insights into their traditions, customs, values, and ways of life. By exploring diverse perspectives through literature or non-fiction works, we develop empathy and understanding for people from different backgrounds. It helps break down stereotypes and fosters appreciation for the complexity and richness of human experiences.
2. Expanding Our Worldview: Through reading about other cultures, we expand our worldview beyond our immediate surroundings. Our own cultural lens often limits our understanding of the world; however, delving into literature from various regions lets us examine different historical events, social structures, political ideologies, and religious beliefs that shape societies across the globe.
3. Enhancing Empathy: Understanding the experiences of others cultivates empathy within ourselves. Literature provides a medium through which we can step into another person’s shoes and see life through their eyes – be it a coming-of-age story set in Japan or a memoir detailing life in Africa. Such stories help us relate to individuals who may have vastly different lives from ours but share universal emotions like joy, pain, love, or loss.
And there we have it, my list of books to read before visiting the Finland. While there is no way I could list every book that I think you should read, we would all be reading for eternity (maybe that’s not a bad thing), but this list is a great introduction to Finnish culture, politics, and life through the eyes of writers and novelists from the country.
Are there any books I need to add to my list? Let me know so I can scope them out!
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**All Book descriptions come from Goodreads
Are you ready for Finland?
- Book Your Flights– To find the cheapest flights, flexibility is a must. Some great options are Google Flights for the calendars to find the cheapest options, Skiplagged, and Skyscanner. For more options, see our resources page. The Helsinki-Vantaa Airport is the main entry to Finland by plane. The Rovaniemi Airport is popular for those wanting to visit Lapland.
- Check Arrival Requirements- As of now, most countries do not need a visa to enter Finland. In 2024, all those formerly exempt, including the U.S. and some European countries, will need the ETIAS to enter. Double-check requirements and get help obtaining a visa with iVisa.
- Find Transportation- Buses are the cheapest way to get around, but trains are efficient and easy to navigate. Ferries are also a great form of transport to Estonia, Sweden, and Russia.
- Book Your Accommodation– Look at Booking.com, Hotels.com, or Expedia for hotels in Finland. You’ll recognize some international chains in larger cities or more touristy areas but in rural locations you’ll find more locally run accommodations.
- Book Tours and Experiences- Check Viator or Klook for some of the best tours and attractions for a great price for experiences like Suomenlinna Island, Lapland Reindeer and Husky experiences, or Helsinki to Tallinn guided tour.
- Stay Connected– If your phone’s data plan is going to be expensive, order an eSIM card before you go.
- Buy Travel Insurance- I always recommend World Nomads for insurance. It’s better to protect yourself in case of mishaps. Learn more about World Nomads in this FAQ post.
- Pack Your Bags– Check out my packing lists, or my favorite travel gear to help you remember all of the essentials.
- Learn About Finland- Learn about Finland with guidebooks like Lonely Planet, or, novels and books about the country, or, shameless plug, search around my site for more info.