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We Sinners: A Novel Hardcover – August 21, 2012

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Editorial Reviews Review

Amazon Best Books of the Month, August 2012: At the center of We Sinners is the Rovaniemi family--two parents and nine children, all adherents of a hyper-conservative Finnish church in the Midwest. Each chapter takes the perspective of a different family member, furthering the tension between the belief that faith should bring family together and the fact that it is tearing the Rovaniemis apart. We Sinners is an impressive debut, a showcase of Hanna Pylväinen's gift for nuanced storytelling and an eye for beautiful, economical prose. But perhaps most impressive is that Pylväinen isn't afraid to take big risks with her first novel; the ending--which diverges greatly from the book's structure--drew a mixed reaction with our editorial staff. But love it or hate it, I found that I kept thinking about We Sinners long after I had set it on my bookshelf. -- Kevin Nguyen


"We Sinners is remarkably funny for a book about a deeply religious family grappling with loss of faith. . . It's impossible not to like these characters, so beautifully drawn, and so very loving to one another." --Los Angeles Times

"[A] nuanced portrait of an unnuanced world." —The New York Times

"Captivating . . . The beauty of We Sinners lies in its extraordinary ordinariness." —Washington Independent Review of Books

"[A] spare, quietly devastating novel." —The Boston Globe

"In some ways, the Rovaniemi family is like ordinary American families, with sibling rivalries, birth order issues and parental expectations. But the questions about faith—how it binds the family together but also mutates and divides it—elevate it beyond the confines of the traditional domestic novel and into a resonant and magical work of imagination."—The Chicago Tribune

"A beautiful, understated novel. [Pylväinen] tells a sophisticated, precise story about the nature and need for rebellion, set off against our need to belong. We Sinners hums with rare respect for religious outsiders." —Cleveland Plain Dealer

"In We Sinners, Pylvainen deftly explores this dance between oppression and liberation, between belief and unbelief, and shows the gray areas. These are not polarities but gradations of human experience. We all move in and out of various communities and belief systems, searching for love and acceptance. Often we search for forgiveness. This novel shows that sometimes it’s found in strange places." —The Wichita Eagle

"Characters who could be painted in grand strokes as villains or angels are small, fragile, and very human. We Sinners brilliantly, unforgettably reconfigures Tolstoy’s adage about happy and unhappy families: ‘happy and unhappy, every family is.’" —Publishers Weekly, Galley Talk

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 208 pages
  • Publisher: Henry Holt and Co.; 1St Edition edition (August 21, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0805095330
  • ISBN-13: 978-0805095333
  • Product Dimensions: 5.7 x 0.8 x 8.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 11.2 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (63 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #748,199 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

30 of 34 people found the following review helpful By Bror Erickson VINE VOICE on August 27, 2012
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
This is a book about what it is like to grow up in a Lutheran Pietist family today. Pietism has many strains and varying degrees, but Laestadians take it to an extreme, and this in turn takes its toll on children and families. In many ways it is the precursor to Wesleyanism in America. I think anyone growing up in say a Fundementalist Baptist church, or Church of the Nazarene could probably relate.
Often, as seen in this book, it leads to a choice between self-righteousness and despair for its adherents. And in many ways that is what this book is about, the choice between living by a religion so strict as to make a person look a "brainwashed" loon, or going about life in a modern manner but with the added bonus of guilt and despair.
This plays out in one way or another over a couple different generations as you watch the children struggle. The children are mostly girls dealing with love problems and compromise with boys and men. It chronicles one boy's trouble with both girls and booze, and another boy wrestling with being a homosexual. All confronted with the same choice, stay or go. Going, in large part, means not having much in the way of meaningful contact with the parents who raised you or the brothers and sisters who suffered childhood with you. This choice is obnoxious in itself, and quite shameful.
As a Lutheran pastor, I couldn't put the book down once I had started. It was a painful read that brought about some introspection, reflecting a bit on my own childhood a little. My parents weren't pietists, but growing up in the Midwest you could not help but be affected by the teachings, often indoctrinated by well intentioned Sunday School marms. And for a long time T.V.
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16 of 18 people found the following review helpful By Debnance at Readerbuzz on August 29, 2012
Format: Hardcover
To tell you the truth, lately I've felt burned out on Sad Stories. While everyone was raving this summer about Light Between Oceans, I gave it a good-but-not-great rating, and most of that was honestly due to Sad Story Burnout.

I approached We Sinners with approbation. The blurb about the plot (an enormous---nine kids!---family who follow a fundamentalist religion) set off alarms in my head; you just know this is not going to be a happy tale.

It isn't. But it isn't just slopped-on, unremitting sadness either. There are the people who leave the religion (you expected that, didn't you?) and there are the people who try desperately to follow the religion and fail (you probably expected that, too) but there are also stories of the people who the religion pulls out of the drowning sea and throws back on the shore.

I found that We Sinners is a story I'm raving about this summer. Sad Story or not.
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Format: Hardcover
Religious faith is difficult to explain. It stems from one's personal subjective worldview and is usually colored by culture or history. While a tricky subject, it's also one so very important to many people and thus has been a central theme in artistic expression for much of civilization. Writers, like painters, composers and others, have explored faith, religious community and religious identity. Hanna Pylväinen's WE SINNERS examines those themes, as well with the story of the Rovaniemi family and their unconventional brand of Lutheranism.

Laestadiansim is a real religion, a small conservative branch of the Lutheran church originating in Sweden and taking root particularly among the Sámi people of Sweden and Finland. The fictional Rovaniemi family is of Finnish descent, living in the Midwestern US. Parents Warren and Pirjo are strong in their faith, which is centered on forgiveness and an avoidance of worldly temptations. But each of their nine children struggles with the family's religious tradition, some even choosing to leave the church, creating heartbreak and tension in the family. For some it's a question of freedom, and for others sexuality, but the children who leave the church risk losing the closeness the family cultivated.

The 11 chapters of Pylväinen's short book are told from the varying perspectives of the family members and over at least 20 years. The one exception is the final chapter, "Whisky Dragon, 1847," which takes place during Laestadius's lifetime, when he was preaching against the evils of strong drink and in favor of God's grace and forgiveness.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Karen Ziminski on November 21, 2012
Format: Kindle Edition
Obviously, I'm biased, because my parents grew up in the Apostolic Lutheran Church. They eventually drifted off into mainstream Lutheranism, but I attended several Apostolic Lutheran services as a child. I was delighted to see a book about this little known culture. Contrary to most of the other reviewers, I sort of liked the last chapter. While I am not a teetotaler, I can see how the strong prejudice against drinking alcohol arose in this church. Binge drinking is still an issue in Lapland. I recommend that anyone interested in current life in Lapland read "Popular Music in Vittula." "We Sinners," although well worth reading, is a bit of a downer. "Popular Music in Vittula" is hilarious.

I liked the book because it wasn't judgmental of either the people who left the church, or the people who stayed. Yes, it's a strange, restrictive religion. Yes, some who grow up in it have issues. But many adherents are really lovely people.

My mother is the 16th of 21 children. Sometimes these huge families do just fine. None of my mother's siblings were ever on welfare or disability, arrested, or on illegal drugs. Only one was divorced. Laestadianism is not for me, but I have a lot of respect for these people. They are known for being hardworking and honest.
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