Tuesday, 12 July 2016

The Hummingbird by Kati Hiekkapelto

The Hummingbird is the debut novel by the Finnish writer, Kati Hiekkapelto.  It features the detective Anna Fekete who moved to Finland with her family as a child from war torn Yugoslavia.  She has recently moved back to a northern Finnish coastal town where her brother Ákos also lives.  Anna and her brother are very different – she can speak 6 languages whereas Ákos doesn’t work and has a drink problem.  He hasn’t integrated well into Finland.

Anna finds that her new partner, Esko, is a rascist who says very provocative things about immigrants. However the relationship between Anna and Esko improves as the book progresses and they learn more about each other.

The book starts with the murder of a jogger who is found with an Aztec pendant.  More murders follow and the police struggle to find links between them.  The victims all have this pendant - what is their significance?  

There is a second story running through the book about a Kurdish girl who phones the police for help but then asserts this was a mistake.  Anna is so concerned about this girl that she watches the family home in her free time.  I liked the technique used by the author where some chapters are written in the first person so we find out what is really happening to the Kurdish girl.

Language is a very important theme running throughout the book which includes excerpts of Anna’s own language – like many readers I was unable to read these as there was no translation provided.  Perhaps the author was making a point here by making the reader feel frustrated so s/he could understand how immigrants must feel when they first arrive in a new country unable to speak the language.  It was very interesting to find out more about the experience of immigrants in Finland.

This book dealt with the themes of

·         Home – what do we mean by “home”?  Where is your home?  Anna is torn between her life in Finland and her life back in Hungary where her family live

·         Integration and belonging

I enjoyed the book as I like to find out about other countries and I know nothing about Finland.  The author captured the landscape and the climate well especially the changing seasons.  “It seemed that summer had finally come to an end, though the skin yearned to cling to the warmth and the touch of seawater for just a moment longer.”

On the whole I thought this was a very good debut novel and I am looking forward to reading the sequel entitled The Defenceless.

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