Mikko Heikinheimo. Memoirs of Europe. Éditions France européene, Paris, 2005.
I recently attended an interesting lunch time lecture here in Ottawa at the National Press Club given by Mikko Heikinheimo to promote his book Memoirs of Europe. This book was originally written in French and was translated into English by the eminent Ottawa Canadian/Estonian Tõnu Onu, who is a senior functionary on Parliament Hill.
Congratulations are due to Tõnu Onu for an excellent translation. French is difficult to translate. However, Tõnu’s efforts have resulted in an easy and flowing read, notwithstanding that many paragraphs are quite lengthy, something that probably results from the French literary style the book was written in. It won the 2004 European Prize of ADELF (Association of Francophone Writers).
Heikinheimo (dob 1946, Finland) has had an interesting life and the book recounts several interesting anecdotes from his varied professional career and personal encounters as a freelance journalist, diplomat and finally as lecturer at the University of Sorbonne. His CV lists him currently as a specialist in European integration and trade policy.
He admits to having been somewhat idealistic and left wing in his outlooks in his youth. This was probably the case given that he was frequently and easily allowed to travel behind the Iron Curtain as a journalist during the 1970’s. However, with time and maturity he seems to have come to a fair understanding of the true nature of the Soviet system and he pulls few punches describing it and what those forced to live under that regime had to suffer.
Two chapters will be of particular interest to readers of this paper. One is the first chapter about the deliberate shooting down of a Finnish airplane on its regular pasenger service run from Tallinn to Helsinki by the Soviets in summer 1940. The other is the fourth chapter titled Jan (possibly Jaan misspelled?) the Estonian patriot. This chapter, among other things, realistically describes how people from Saaremaa escaped in small boats from the Red Terror about to engulf them.
As with any book there are a few minor errors. Readers with a knowledge of Saaremaa will be amused to see that Kuressaare is described as the "main city" on the island. In fact it is the only city and islanders simply describe it as "the city". As well, I could not help but notice that the author says that the last of the "forest brothers" in Estonia committed suicide rather than giving up to the KGB at the end of the 1950’s. I believe that August Sabbe, the last known "metsavend" died as late as 28 September 1978, drowning himself when finally cornered by the organs.
Anyway, an interesting well written 231 pages and recommended reading, especially for those wishing to better understand the reasons for the collapse of the Communist system, who didn’t go to Estonian school or attend Aktus.
Book review: Memoirs of Europe