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House of Orphans - Book of the Month

by Helen Dunmore

The novel takes place 1902 – 1904 just prior to the uprising of the Finns against Russian domination. Finland had been part of the Russian Empire for almost 100 years but had kept some autonomy. The period of ‘Russification’, in which the novel is set, aimed to force Finland into closer integration with Russia – a move that aroused outrage and resistance amongst the Finns, and led to a bloody revolution.

The story begins in the House of Orphans, where our heroine, Eeva, has been sent from her home in Helsinki after the death of her dissident father. It’s a grim, god-forsaken place in the wilds of the country, overseen by the formidable Anna-Liisa. The institution's saving grace is the widower Doctor Eklund, a conservative and compassionate soul who lives in a rambling house in the great forest. He cares about the children and does what he can for them within his limited means. When Eeva is sixteen he sends for her to be his housekeeper knowing nothing of her past in a dissident household, or of her intellectual capabilities. Eklund’s feelings for her become intense and when his friend Lotta realizes this she conspires with Eklund’s estranged daughter Minna to have Eeva removed.
Eeva returns to Helsinki where she takes up with a group of young socialist revolutionaries – among them Lauri her childhood friend. Lauri is inveigled into an assassination plot on General Nikolai Bobrikov, the Governor-General of Finland but he has misgivings and when the plot is leaked he is captured and tortured by the Okhrana (secret police). Eeva turns to Doctor Eklund for help.

This is a moving story of the isolation and oppression of a country and its people. The use of landscape as metaphor is one of Dunmore's trademarks as a writer and the descriptions of the landscape and its people are equal to Thomas Hardy in their lyricism. In THE HOUSE OF ORPHANS this is exemplified beautifully with the haunting descriptions of the dark and looming great forest which seems to be a portent as threatening as the forthcoming revolution.

Read our interview with Helen Dunmore.


This sounds very interesting. It is the first time I have come across a fictional story on this subject and I've just ordered the book on Amazon. Thanks for reviewing it!

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