Through the Looking Glass Children's Book Reviews

Song of Sampo Lake

Song of Sampo Lake

William Durbin
For ages 12 and up
Univ Of Minnesota Press, 2011   ISBN: 0816675694

Matt and his family, and the family of his uncle Wilho have come to Minnesota in America from Finland. Back at home they were tenant farmers and had to work under the auspices of their landowners. They also lived under the fear that the Russian army would conscript their young men and march them off to war. Both families dream of being able to own some of that land that the American government is offering to those who are willing to farm the land. As so often is the case the reality is very different from their imaginings. Before they can set up their farms they have to work to save money and the only work there is that pays much is in the iron mines.

Thus it is that Matti, Matti’s father, his brother Timo and his uncle Wilho go down the mine every day, a miserable situation which is only made bearable by the knowledge that some day soon they will be able to work out in the open air again. Then tragedy strikes and it is decided that they cannot, indeed they must not, wait any longer. With great relief Matti’s family leave the mining life behind and set out to create their farm out of the wilderness, even though it promises to be a time of hard work and much hardship.

Interwoven into this story of new lives, losses, difficulties, and triumphs, there is Matti’s own struggle; for Matti has always lived in the shadow of his much admired and loved older brother Timo. Matti’s feels this unfair treatment very acutely and he wonders if his father will ever see him, Matti, for who and what he is.

Heart-warming, inspiring, and full of a message of hope, Matti’s story gives us a fascinating picture of what it must have been like to be one of the thousands of Finnish people who came to America. It also shows how much hard work and sacrifice was needed to create a farm in the cold and inhospitable north. Best of all perhaps the author gives us delightful ‘snapshots’ of the happy times, the times when Matti’s family cut loose and had fun, when they laughed, and when they revelled in the power of their wonderful Finnish mythological stories, including the one about the “Sampo,” a magic mill described in the Kalevala – an epic Finnish poem.