A few days after the concert at the 9:30 Club, K Ishibashi stopped in at the NPR offices to record a Tiny Desk concert. The Tiny Desk concerts are always fun–incredibly intimate and always well recorded. He plays three of the five songs that he played at the 9:30 Club, and while they sound quite the same, there are little differences.
I find it very cool how similar they sound–since most of the sounds he makes are with his voice, it’s quite cool that he has that much control. But I also like that he varies things a bit (although it sounds like a slightly flat note that plagues “Atticus in the Desert”).
What’s interesting is that although he doesn’t play things very differently, the feel of “I am the Antichrist to You” is quite different in the Tiny Desk setting. I don’t really understand why, but it sounds very different, and equally wonderful.
Watching the Tiny Desk show is also neat–I’ve never seen anyone strum chords on a violin before. And watching all of the technical adjustments is very cool too. I’ve definitely become a fan of Kishi Bashi.
[READ: August 28, 2012] We Sinners
This has got to be the fastest turnover I’ve ever had where I read a short story and then read the author’s novel. Well, it turns out that “Jonas Chan” was not a short story, but an excerpt from this novel.
The novel is a series of short stories about the same family. I’m reluctant to brand it one of those connected-short story novels, but I think it really is. Each chapter has a title and a specific focus and, as the excerpt showed, each chapter can work independently–although having all of the information certainly fills out the story. (Unless I am mistaken, a few things that really depend upon the rest of the book were left out of the excerpt).
The novel is about the Rovaniemi family. They are a very traditional Finnish family living in the midwest United States. More than just Finnish, they practice Laestadianism, a very conservative kind of Lutheranism that is unique to the Finns. There are nine children in the family (and 11 chapters in the book), and the novel follows them through about 18 years (the youngest, Uppu, is born in the first chapter and the second to last chapter is about her leaving for college.
There’s even a handy family tree:
WARREN – PIRJO (parents)
BRITA TIINA NELS PAULA SIMON JULIA LEENA ANNI UPPU
There isn’t an overall plot so much as an evaluation of this traditional family and how modern life impacts them. And wisely, the book opens with the oldest daughter. This (as opposed to first looking at the parents) allows us to see what kind of difficulties the kids will have with their religion. We see Brita in school facing a tough decision. The Laestadian religion doesn’t permit dancing (or TV, or much of anything). And Brita has to inform her “boyfriend” that she can’t go to the dance because she isn’t allowed. When Tiina finds out that Brita revealed their religious secret she freaks out that people will know about her too.
But before we get too deep in the social world, we see the Rovaniemi family as the world sees them. They are moving to a new house but must stay in a cousin’s two bedroom apartment for a month. The landlord can’t know how many of them there are, but when they get all chicken pox and it spreads throughout the complex, it’s hard to keep the secret. The outside world doesn’t think much of them.
And so we will try not to think much about the outside world. We learn about Warren’s ascension to be the church’s minister. We learn about the struggles that Warren and Pirjo have with so many kids (and how they luck out when their house catches on fire and their insurance guarantees them a house with enough bedrooms for everyone–for the very first time!) Warren has a temper that rears its head at odd times and in unexpected ways. Like when Pirjo buys a TV to watch math videos (so she can go back to school as a teacher).
But the outside world can’t help but seep in. And Tiina is the first one to try to embrace it. How will the family react when Tiina begins dating a nonbeliever? And what of Nels? He starts going to parties, drinking a lot, and even seeing a nonbeliever (while dating a believer). Will he leave the family? The religion is all about forgiveness, but once you leave it’s pretty much for good.
Indeed, this question arises for all of the children in some form or another, and I guess that is what the novel is about–family. One of the daughters stays in the fold and has several children, another leaves altogether. The boys chase different paths than the girls. Later in the book we see Brita older, married, ready to have another child as she struggles to keep her family together–it’s a very scary sequence of events. And finally, we see how Uppu faired in all of this as the youngest.
The final chapter is called “Whiskey Dragon, 1847” and it is different from all the rest. It actually does go back to 1847 as a sort of ancestral story, to a time when Laestadius himself was minister. I admit I did not enjoy this last chapter at all. It has nothing to do with the family themselves and I wanted to know more about them and the causes of their situation. It was an interesting choice to put this chapter last but I felt a little bummed that the family’s story ended with no follow-up.
Despite that, I loved the book. I loved learning about this religion and seeing the children go through these struggles–common enough struggles for most people, but heightened in this setting. The Rovaniemi family really comes to life and yu really care about them. Of course whether you want the kids to stay with their family religion or move on is probably more up to the reader than the way it is written (which I quite liked too). I’ll certainly be looking for more from Pylväinen down the road.