This stunning debut novel—drawn from the author’s own life experience—tells the moving story of a family of eleven in the American Midwest, bound together and torn apart by their faith.
The Rovaniemis and their nine children belong to a deeply traditional church (no drinking, no dancing, no TV) in modern-day Michigan. A normal family in many ways, the Rovaniemis struggle with sibling rivalry, parental expectations, and forming their own unique identities in such a large family. But when two of the children venture from the faith, the family fragments and a haunting question emerges: Do we believe for ourselves, or for each other? Each chapter is told from the distinctive point of view of a different Rovaniemi, drawing a nuanced, kaleidoscopic portrait of this unconventional family. The children who reject the church learn that freedom comes at the almost unbearable price of their close family ties, and those who stay struggle daily with the challenges of resisting the temptations of modern culture. With precision and potent detail, We Sinners follows each character on their journey of doubt, self-knowledge, acceptance, and, ultimately, survival.
About Hanna Pylväinen
Hanna Pylväinen graduated from Mount Holyoke College and received her MFA from the University of Michigan, where she was also a postgraduate Zell Fellow. She is the recipient of a MacDowell Colony residency and a fellowship at the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown, Massachusetts. She is from suburban Detroit.
In a book said to have plenty of elements of roman à clef about it, University of Michigan M.F.A. Pylväinen recounts life in a family of Finnish-American true believers for whom the word “fundamentalist” doesn’t quite do the trick. The Rovaniemi family practices a particularly austere brand of Protestantism, or, as a daughter puts it, “a kind of Lutheranism where everyone is much more hung up on being Lutheran than all the other normal Lutherans.” She adds, for emphasis, “End of story.” But of course it’s not, as her bewildered Chinese-Malayan-American beau learns while trying to comprehend both Laestadianism and Uppu’s odd mom and pop, who have had their own struggles. As the novel opens, another daughter is just beginning to buck at the traces, explaining to another young suitor that she can’t go to the dance with him because—well, just because she can’t, end of story. And again, the story doesn’t end but unspools, ever so unhurriedly, to reveal the complex dynamic of a father who’s wound up way too tight “and now expressed everything, even anger, in disappointment,” though he’s not without his sympathetic aspects; a mother who beams love and support and who trusts her children implicitly; and the certainty the two elders share that the world is going to come and steal their children away, luring them to the big city, where they’ll wear fancy clothes and dance and fornicate. Even so, contemplates Pirjo, the matriarch, “You can lose your faith anywhere.” Considering what life has thrown at them, it’s amazing any of the family remains steadfast in their alienating religion, and some do indeed drift—but not always far and not always along paths that we might expect. Pylväinen can be faulted only for over-compression: her story, beautifully written, is taut to the point of snapping, and it could have used a couple of dozen more pages of breathing room. – Kirkus Review
Faith, Family, And Forgiveness In ‘We Sinners’
NPR Book Review – August 26, 2012 (Excerpt)
Hanna Pylvainen’s debut novel, We Sinners, is about a large — very large — family that belongs to a small religious sect originating in the dim distant past, in Finland. The sect, Laestadianism, calls for very strictly regulated behavior — think Amish, with possible overtones of Lutheran, purified by a schism or two. It’s told from the point of view of family members, each of whom get a chapter, and the story goes forward in time with each person.
Pylvainen tells NPR’s Linda Wertheimer that the Rovaniemi family in her book is based on her own experiences growing up Laestadian. “I was myself … a believer, and I am now an unbeliever,” she says. Laestadianism was founded in the 18th century, and believers see themselves as returning to the true faith of Martin Luther. “And so, what the rest of the world sees as these rules of dos and don’ts, and this very strict lifestyle, they see as a matter of conscience,” she says.
And when she was young, Pylvainen says, she was a true believer. “I would feel, for instance, extreme guilt over putting on some nail polish or sneaking away to a movie,” she says. But her family was not quite the same as the family she writes about in We Sinners. “It does compare … but absolutely, the stories are fiction,” she says. “Picasso says, ‘art is a lie which allows us to tell the truth.’” [Read the full article...]
THE LONDONDERRY AIR
Testament of an Ulster Gunman
A Novel by Garrad Gawler
It all changed for Charles Cunningham, a Physics teacher at the local College of Technology in the County Derry town of Maddenstown, on a June afternoon in 1973 when a bomb exploded in his neighborhood. He answers an advertisement by the UDR, the Ulster Defence Regiment, but, in the time to come, he will experience the consequences of his decisions, and how his involvement complicates matters with family and friends, Protestants and Catholics alike, to an unexpected degree.
With “The Londonderry Air – Testament of an Ulster Gunman” Garrad Gawler describes in minute detail and with an astonishing level of authenticity not only the inner workings of the Ulster Defence Regiment, but also the activities of underground paramilitary groups of regular citizens who planned and carried out the assassination of suspected Republican terrorists in their neighborhood.
The Londonderry Air is available at Amazon.Com, Amazon Kindle (US), Amazon.co.uk, Amazon Kindle (UK), Barnes & Noble, smashwords.com, and any other good bookstore.
For more information on Garrad Gawler and to read an excerpt of “The Londonderry Air,” please see the author’s section on this website.