A poignant novel about forced exile and immeasurable longing
Susanna’s path from a rural working-class home to one of Helsinki’s most prestigious law firms has been longer than the miles alone would indicate. Fatima’s journey to a Helsinki police station and eventually onto Susanna’s living room floor has been even more arduous: she has left a child by the wayside and a husband behind in Iraq. And although grandmother Martta has lived in the same place her entire life, she has had to surrender her loved ones one by one: her firstborn on the doorstep of the vicarage, her husband to war and then to the bottle, her son to Sweden, her daughter to an unhappy marriage. All she has left is her great-grandson Luca, a boy who can’t seem to find his place in the world.
(Never) Going Back is a deft portrayal of individual lives uprooted and inexorably intertwined across time and space. Satu Vasantola’s singular style is both lyrical and bold. Employing masterful strokes, she draws compelling portraits of today’s broken families and recent rural generations’ struggle to survive. The narrative of an immigrant family reframes a Finnish family’s story, canvassing it against not only a local but a universal background. While solidly anchored in a changing Finland, (Never) Going Back expands to depict a changing Europe and a changed world: after all, the essence of life is universal regardless of the setting. No matter who or where we are, we all have to stop from time to time to gaze up at the stars above.
Satu Vasantola has worked as an editor-in-chief in several magazines and is currently editor of the Sunday supplement to Helsingin Sanomat, Finland’s largest daily. (Never) Going Back is her debut novel.