Engel was the architect, who planned the classical city centre of Helsinki in the 19th century. Jukka Viikilä has put together his fictional diary. It shows a man, who forever ponders whether he made the right choices.
Jukka Viikilä: Aquarelles from Engel’s town (in Finnish: Akvarelleja Engelin kaupungista)
Author: Jukka Viikilä
Publisher: Gummerus 2016
Original language: Finnish
HelMet Reading Challenge 2017: number 27. A book about the place you live in.
Jukka Viikilä writes with an easy flow, but with quite economical sentences. Engel’s diary is supposedly for his daughter Emilie, who is often weak with illnesses. Engel observes the life around him, worries about his family, but stays apart. He’s constantly feeling inadequate and selfish for keeping his family in this God forsaken place called Helsinki, where they catch illnesses and can only dream of the past in the real home town, Berlin.
Private considerations are punctuated with descriptions of the architectural projects. For Engel, Helsinki is a grey town, always too cold, raw and uncivilized.
Right after finishing the book, it felt beautifully written. It was very easy to read and held my attention, although there was very little if anything really happening.
A few moments later came the second thoughts. There are some discrepancies with the timeline and what e.g. age Emilie appears to be. But the most annoying element of the book is that the story is so bland. Viikilä has written a description of the life of one of the main architects of Finland and there are absolutely no highlights in his life. It is one long gray rainy day with just a couple of tumbles into even deeper layers of depression when he encounters personal tragedy.
However much the real Mr Engel felt sorry for settling in Helsinki, I’m sure there were happier days in his life. Viikilä has decided to describe a man, who is sinking deeper and deeper into the dark waters surrounding the town, in which he didn’t want to stay.
What is it that makes so many Finnish authors completely forget the existence of happiness and the simple fact that without ups the downs don’t really feel much anything? This form of emotionally monotone writing seems to be in fashion now.
Viikilä received the highest Finnish literary award, Finlandia Prize, for this novel in 2016.
“Spring 1816. German Carl Ludvig Engel has been selected to plan the new Helsinki and the architect has moved to the town with his family. A town, which is a scarcely populated rock on the sea, still an undiscovered pearl of the Baltic Sea, and consists mostly of an inaccessible mountain base.
-Only six years, I say to Charlotte. Is there an architect, who would say no to building an entire town, even if it is to be built in this dark, cold and remote location?
Helsinki never became his real home, but it became his life’s work. Engel’s family had to pay a high prize, a prize Engel tried to figure out ‘til his death. Aquarelles from Engel’s town is his fictional night diary from the years 1816-1840.
Jukka Viikilä writes clear, poetic prose and brings to life a period, when one architect’s vision became a capital of a small northern country.”