The last of the Vostyachs by Diego Marani


The last of the Vostyachs by Diego Marani

Italian fiction

Original title – L’ultimo dei Vostiach

Translator – Judith Landry

Source – Personnel copy on Kindle

Well I was surprised when Diego Marani name appeared for a second year in a row on the Independent Foreign fiction prize longlist .As last years book was very near to winning in my opinion ,so although I hadn’t read this one , I had it on my Radar to read at some point .So to Diego Marani , he still works for the European Commisson in the department dealing with translation .,he also writes a number of pieces for the culture section of the Italian Paper Il Sole 24 Ore.

Since that day Ivan had not uttered a word .He had carried on washing stones in the pool of icy water ,had split rocks with his pick axe ,had pushed the wheelbarrow along the steep ,slippery path ,had gone about all his work with lowered eyes ,had endured all manner of humiliation ,eating without looking to see what they poured into his mess tin ,getting up at dawn and going to bed at sunset with out a word .

Ivan in his Camp days .

So as before with his earlier book “” new Finnish grammar” this book is set around Finland and in particular its language . The action is actually all in Finland unlike New Finnish grammar .We meet a Linguist who is on a field trip trying to research trying to find the missing link in the development of the Finnish language (a language that only has connections to Hungarian and Estonian) .When out of nowhere appears a man Ivan this man was in the forced labour camps of the soviet era and hasn’t spoken for a number of years living in the back and beyond of Finland since his release for twenty years ,when he does speak its strange to Olga as he is the last member of the Voystach speakers an old language that links finnish to a number of other theories she has had ,this language links and is the missing link Olga has been looking for .So she packs this wild man Ivan has spent years in the wilderness to Helsinki ,what follows is a battle as She presents her results to a Meeting of Congress of Finno Ugric ,a Note professor tries to sideline her findings ,meanwhile Ivan isn’t really suited to the city and soon finds himself in trouble in the big city .Plus a number of creatures escape from the zoo and dead bodies appear .

Ivan woke up in a sweat .He sat up in his bunk not knowing where he was ,and gazed around him in bewilderment at the dimly light cabin .He was hungry and thirsty .He felt around ,on the shelves ,in the drawers of the bedside locker among the covers .He pulled on a handle found himself faced by a row of bottles ; there were also bars of chocolates.

Ivan struggles with city life .

So Like New Finnish Grammar and again the Finnish Language ,I can see the attraction to him I remember Michael Palin talking to Finnish people on a bus about their language in his series pole to pole and since then have been intrigued , as it is such a unique language and difficult to master with little connection to other European languages .I think this is the point that gave Marani a starting Kernel for this story” what if there is a language X out there ?” to fill in the gap in the history of Finnish ,rather like the constant clues for the stages of Human Evolution .This books differs from the last by him ,as it has a wit mainly due to the human condition, Ivan being a man out of water in the city ,the linguist trying to out do one another .The book has a thriller feel about it but a clever version of this genre with twists and turns the struggle between Olga and the professor and the man caught up in this the pawn Ivan .Also a lot of history of the region is involved mainly Russian rule and influence over the country and area ,We see this in the fact Ivan hates Russian being spoken .

Have you read this book ?

9 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Lisa Hill
    Apr 08, 2013 @ 22:55:22

    I absolutely loved this book, and have written my review – but I can’t publish it yet because I read the Australian edition and the publisher has an embargo on the review till later this month.
    I reckon it would make an hilarious film…


  2. Tony
    Apr 08, 2013 @ 23:36:37

    Lisa, when’s the embargo date? I wasn’t told of one…

    I enjoyed this, but I don’t think it’s quite as good as NFG (a notable omission from our shortlist last year…). In a strong year, I’m not sure this will quite get there.


  3. Brian Joseph
    Apr 09, 2013 @ 10:06:15

    Though I know a very limited amount about it, I find linguistics and the history of how language developed to be a very interesting topic.I love the fact that someone has written a fictional work around the subject.


  4. parrish lantern
    Apr 09, 2013 @ 13:45:01

    Loved this one and although NFG was stronger this added a lightness to the reading material & as Lisa states would make a wonderful film.


  5. Trackback: Independent Foreign Fiction Prize 2013 (Shadow Jury combined reviews) | ANZ LitLovers LitBlog
  6. Heather
    Apr 11, 2013 @ 00:19:12

    sounds really good. quite the interesting plot line, plus i didn’t know about the uniquenss of the Finnish language. Thanks.


  7. jacquiwine
    Apr 12, 2013 @ 06:50:21

    Great review, Stu. I loved this one. It’s a hugely enjoyable read with a great cast of characters, including Hurmo the dog. The linguistics theme is very nicely done here.


  8. thoughtsatintervals
    Apr 16, 2013 @ 10:17:14

    Nice to find some fellow Marani fans! I posted a review of The Last of the Vostyachs to my blog here, which you might be interested to read:

    Also, to those commenters wondering about a film version, there is a short adaptation on the publisher’s website:

    Best wishes,


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April 2013


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