What do you do when you expect death but cannot predict its exact arrival?
Some may try to prevent it as much as possible.
Others may accept it and try to live to the fullest in the time left.
Others may ruminate on the inevitable and let life pass by without them.
Tommi Musturi examines this question through the life of an elderly man with his Book of Hope series, and his answer is one that is uniquely human in its understanding of the contradictions and seasons of life.
The man of Book of Hope lives in a modest house in an unnamed town in rural Finland. He and his wife live a quiet existence in their retirement, with the wife tending to the care of the house and the man keeping himself busy with his thoughts and various male-specific retirement activities such as carpentry and fishing. We do not know what courses their lives took up to this point, and we do not know if they have any other family, but the two live peacefully in their quaint home that will draw envy from any person who lives in a noisy apartment in a bustling city (such as myself).
To examine life, Musturi uses dialog sparingly in the day-to-day activity of the husband, evoking the quiet meticulousness of Chantal Akerman’s Jeanne Dielman, 23, Quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles but with the tone and slight playfulness of Aki Kaurismäki. The images entirely control the rhythm of Book of Hope, and the colors and the stylized perception of reality will immediately emerge as one of its most memorable assets, but much more lies in the heart of the five books.
At the opening of book one, the husband lounges on a hammock on a summer day, and over the radio, he hears about a nuclear explosion. The news of the death sends the husband into ruminations on life, and the world around him reminds him about the end as well. As he continues to think about his past, his loneliness, and his beliefs, summer fades away, and nature begins to slip into the dormancy of autumn.
As the seasons and books progress, the husband’s thoughts, dreams, and actions reflect the state of nature in his surroundings. In the abundance of summer, we see his excessive meals and snacks as he relaxes. As leaves turn and the world around him prepares for winter, he recalls the passing of his youth and the death of his father, and he worries about his future and what to make of his life. And as the fall drifts into winter, his dreams dive into the questions about death and how life and nature move on past him.
Throughout these transitions, we hear the wife, but we never see her. She feeds her husband and asks him to complete a chore here and there, but for the most part, the husband stays in deep thought without her. After a scare that his wife disappeared, the husband suddenly realizes that he is not alone, making the dreary cold of winter far warmer and happier as book five closes. Even though nature is deep in its cyclical stage of death by the end of the series, the husband finds hope in spending time with his wife and in his recollections of their life together.
Though some may interpret the end of the Book of Hope as too saccharine, the synchronization of the husband’s thoughts with the seasons gives you a sense that even though he finds joy in the company of his wife by the end of the book, his thoughts on death and loneliness have not disappeared; they will reappear as the trees rise, leaves turn, and snow falls. This cyclical nature of questioning oneself and thinking about the past and the meaning of life in different ways throughout a year condenses the transformation, growth, and return that we ourselves experience in life. We have moments of loneliness. We mourn. We rejoice. We have hope. We wallow in despair. We move on even if we have no idea what lies next. And, we all age and proceed toward our end.
An elegant, charming, and triumphant work that discusses big questions with few words and actions, Book of Hope perfectly balances humor, severity, and tranquility to instill a mood of reflection in you. The images carry this responsibility of equilibrium in the Book of Hope, and the vibrant colors and shifts in visual style will guide you through the summer, fall, winter, and the edge of spring as well as through your own thoughts.
Do not miss out on the opportunity to start Book of Hope on the edge of summer, where the story itself begins, and please do not hesitate to read each book with the shift of seasons; I’m sure you’ll get even more from it by reading and seeing Musturi’s craft that way.
I hope we’ll see more graphic novels and comicbooks from Finland the years to come; if Book of Hope represents the art there, then I (and you) will want more.