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The Summer Book (New York Review Books Classics) Paperback – May 20, 2008

4.6 out of 5 stars 85 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews


"It's deceptively simple, refreshingly unembellished, distilled, grounded in sensory experience, and absolutely direct. It's comforting for precisely the same reasons it's unsettling, like standing on the shore looking across a dark sea at a horizon you swear you could almost touch. " --Rain Taxi

"Poetic understatement, dry humor and a deep love for nature are obvious throughout her oeuvre.... The book is as lovely, as evocative as a film by Hayao Miyazaki." --Time Out New York

“Jansson's clear prose — capable of sentiment without being sentimental — contains multitudes. The Summer Book is bright but dense; it is slim enough to read in a day but holds a whole world between its covers.” —Powell’s Books 

“Tove Jansson was a genius. This is a marvelous, beautiful, wise novel, which is also very funny.” –Philip Pullman

“A wise, joyous book...it unfolds the knowledge and the beauty of the two lives it embraces–old wisdom and young discover, intertwining like vines.” –Rex Reed

The Summer Book manages to make you feel good as well as wise, without having to make too much effort...[it] says so much that we want to hear in such an accessible form, without ever really saying anything at all.” –The Independent (London)

"Few books since Robinson Crusoe have evoked the joys of island living so powerfully as this Finnish novella." –The Observer, PAPERBACK OF THE WEEK

"The Summer Book is a marvellously uplifting read, full of gentle humour and wisdom." –Daily Telegraph (London)

"A marvellous book...The prose is sublime: plain, but not oppressively so." –Independent on Sunday (London)

"A...beautiful novel which blends humour and poetry with detailed observation of tiny things." –Daily Mail (London)

"It's hard to describe the astonishing achievement of Jansson's artistry...a perfection of the small, quiet read." –The Guardian, (London) BOOK OF THE WEEK

"A wonderful novel to devour in the sunshine...full of charm and character." –The Independent, 50 BEST BOOKS FOR SUMMER

"Every so often, a book is published that captures something in us...The Summer Book is one of those." –Daily Telegraph

“Responses, conversations, and observations yield quietly reflective and funny ruminations on life and death.” –The Age (Australia)

“Thomas Teal, a luminous translator of Jansson’s twin talent for surface and depth, simplicity and reverberation in language, and someone who knows exactly how to convey her gift for sensing the meaning embedded in the most mundane act or turn of phrase.” –Ali Smith

“This is a wonderful, life-affirming, spirited book. Reading it was a tonic.” –Chris Stewart (author, Driving Over Lemons)

“Eccentric, funny, wise, full of joys and small adventures. This is a book for life.” –Esther Freud

"The Summer Book is beautiful and warm, with the kind of wisdom we can adapt to our everyday lives." -Liv Ullmann

"Take a book in which there is no plot but bucketloads of positive feelings presented simply, and it will become a cult. Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance and Jonathan Livingston Seagull were both bestsellers; no one could say what either was really about, but everyone could quote a meaningful truism from them. The Summer Book is in this mould: it manages to make you feel good as well as wise..." -Independent

Language Notes

Text: English, Swedish (translation) --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

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Product Details

  • Series: New York Review Books Classics
  • Paperback: 184 pages
  • Publisher: NYRB Classics; New York Review Books Classics edition (May 20, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 159017268X
  • ISBN-13: 978-1590172681
  • Product Dimensions: 5 x 0.5 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 7.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (85 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #28,000 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
Based very much upon the late (and yes, great) Tove Jansson`s own family experiences on an island in the Finnish archipelago, this magical, elegiac, very funny, yet - despite its title - autumnal book, subtly draws the reader into the seemingly mundane lives of six-year old Sophia, whose mother has recently died, and `Grandmother` (who could almost be a humanised character from one of Jansson`s immortal Moomin books), as they potter and squabble around their small, idyllic island summer home.
Sophia`s `Papa` never speaks (never? Hm...) but is a silent, prosaic presence throughout, while Sophia is (as her name implies) wise, as well as temperamental, and Grandmother dispenses brief, ironic snippets of wisdom and can be just as prickly. They are a double-act; and, like all the best double-acts, rely on each other - at least for the grateful reader - to each `complete` the other. One feels Grandmother learns from her granddaughter as well as vice versa.
This is a beautiful, thoughtful, unsentimental, deceptively straightforward meander through the summer months with three generations of a grieving family each determined to hang on to their individuality. There are also the occasional - and rarely welcome - visitors.
If I make The Summer Book sound more than simply a light read, it is because even Tove Jansson`s children`s books (of which this can hardly be said to be one) have a tough melancholy strain to them, and a `message` of independence and personal integrity as the sanest way to be.
In its modest, breezy way, this is a great little book. One to treasure.
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Format: Paperback
The connection between grandmother and granddaughter is a marrow-deep one in "Summer Book." Sophia and her grandmother spend their days exploring, talking about life, nature, everything but their feelings about Sophia's mother's death and their love for one another. And yet, underneath the offhand, and often strange conversations that take place between them, you feel their affection and the concern they feel for one another.
"Summer Book" is a strange and beautiful story. There's no false emotions here, no manipulation for the sake of effect. Just an account of a very real relationship between a child and her grandmother, during the last weeks of the grandmother's life. Very highly recommended.
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Format: Paperback
Yes, this is truly a great work of literature. For one, the unique, intimate descriptions of life on a small island off the west coast of Finland are exquisite. The writing captures so much of this maritime word in such sure, spare language, that the reader is placed there among the nordic flora, tasting and feeling the ocean, the sky. Nature binds this book together.

The other facet of this book is the relationship between the child, Sophia, and her Grandmother. We do not learn anything about the father, other than that he works at a desk, plants flowers, and skeins. We do learn early that the mother has died, but aside from its initial mention, it is never directly addressed again. Instead we get an oblique look at grief through the interactions between the two primary characters -- granddaughter and grandmother. Sophia deals with the loss primarily through questioning the natural world around her, observing and mourning the deaths of other small creatures, like mice and birds. In fact a lot of dead animals make an appearance in this work. The psychological portrayal of Sophia is astute, at times subtle. Perhaps the strongest part of the books is when she dictates a book to her grandmother about the death of a worm, which turns into a free-flow stream of conscious on death in general. Powerful stuff.

The grandmother seems less affected by the loss of Sophia's mother (her daughter-in-law?). She does not seem overly concerned with death, although she has to deal with its imminence daily through her own physical limitations, but more with the emotions of her granddaughter. She proves to be very tolerant and wise.

The book's ultimate power and brilliance rests heavily on the use of an old woman juxtaposed against a child.
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Format: Hardcover
I rejoice that this short work has come into print again, though it's rather sad that it took the author's recent death to prompt the publishers into action. I'd read an extract in a guide to the top 100 books of the twentieth century and was surprised and disappointed not to be able to get my hands on the full edition.

Jansson has an inate understanding of the wisdom and skewed world-view of children, and manages to capture the fragile - and ephemeral - friendship which can exist between the very old and the very young. There is a freshness about her style which never teeters into whimsy. A rare achievement indeed.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This book was the choice of my reading group at my local bookstore and for the first time, the more than 30 people who attended were unanimous in their praise of this book which was first published in Finland in 1972 and translated into English in 1974. This is a story of a six year old girl and her very old grandmother who, with the girl's father, inhabit an almost isolated island off the coast of Finland during one special summer after the girl's mother has just died.

This is a spare and beautiful story told through 22 different vignettes which are each deceptively simple and contain haunting descriptions of life, death, loss and renewal. It is a view of nature, and cultural values and is obviously written by someone who has lived this unique kind of life. There is also an underlying sense of humor and there were times I just laughed out loud or smiled to myself at the relationship between the ancient old woman who is possessed of a great natural wisdom and the young child. The voice is authentic, the prose beautiful, the view of nature real and uplifting.

This is a short book, a mere 170 pages long and I must say I didn't want it to end. It is treat for anyone who reads this and it left me with a feeling of pleasure. That is about as high a compliment that I can pay to any book.
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