Friday, January 09, 2009

Friday's Forgotten Book: Mika Waltari's The Etruscan (Turms, kuolematon)

This is basically a rerun of my earlier post about the book, but I've edited it a bit and added a photo of the American edition.

Finnish writer Mika Waltari (1908-1979) wrote many historical novels in grand scale. The best-known of his historical novels is The Egyptian (1945; Sinuhe egyptiläinen in Finnish) that was made into a mediocre spectacle film in the mid-fifties, but I think a later novel, called The Etruscan from 1958 is better. (The Egyptian handles more interesting political themes, though, while The Etruscan is more on the mystic side.)

The Etruscan's original title, Turms, kuolematon, means "Turms, the Immortal". Turms is a young man who's found mysteriously lying outside a temple somewhere near Efesos, in Turkey, with no memories about his past life. He sets the temple on fire, flees and gets out on an adventure through all the Mediterranean Sea, getting strange feelings about this nature as one who can't die. He gets involved in piracy in the Mediterranean Sea and fights off some bad-ass Carthageans. Finally he ends up with the Etruscans, the strange and happy tribe of which little is now known. The book takes place in 400 B.C.

If you have patience enough for a 700-page novel and a taste for grand adventure, grab this: there are some really good battle scenes and even some sword and sorceryish moments. The prose is better than in The Egyptian which I found overwritten. A word of warning: there are also some long, philosophical moments, but then again you can't have everything.

The amnesia plot brings mind one of my favourite topics: the themes and tropes of film noir of the fourties and fifties were actually prevalent throughout the whole Western culture after the World War II. This is clear also in Waltari's other works, especially The Egyptian, in which Sinuhe's own innocence brings doom upon his head.

There seems to have been a Pocket Book edition of The Etruscan, which is abridged (I think the hardcover is also abridged). For all I know, shortening the book may've done good to The Etruscan, since I also find it too long and a bit formless in places (at times it's perfectly clear that Waltari didn't do much revising). The hardcover copies by Putnam seem to be pricey.

[My entry to Patti Abbott's great Friday's Forgotten Books series. Hey, it's still Friday in Finland!]


pattinase (abbott) said...

That cover is very comical. Makes you wonder exactly what's in the bowl.

Juri said...

I'll see if I can find the original Finnish one. Don't have it myself.