I’ve been re-re-rereading her bibliography over the past month or so. I’ve read most of her books several times before, they’re my go-to easy reading along with Agatha Christie. Since I haven’t had time to do much else productive towards this blog, I’ll try and gather my thoughts for this author -piece.
Kaari Utrio is a Finnish author of both fiction and non-fiction, born 1942. She is a historian by trade and has written several pieces on women and children throughout history. Apparently her works have been translated to seven languages, but I could only find one Hungarian translation on Goodreads of her main non-fiction work. The freely-translated title to that one is “Daughters of Eve: History of European Women, Children and Families”.
Most of her work is strongly colored by the feminist tradition of the 70s university world. She is not the most strongly worded or opinionated feminist, but at times the reader can see a strong distaste towards the treatment of women throughout history (quite deserved, but some like their facts without feelings). In total she has written or has been part of writing 22 non-fiction works.
Her fiction bibliography is long, 36 works since the start of her career in 1968. Most of her work is historical fiction, usually with a female lead character. The main characters are generally from Finland or the Nordic countries. Her main works, the trilogy of books called Vaskilintu, Tuulihaukka and Yksisarvinen (Bronze Bird, Kestrel and Unicorn, literally translated) all start in Northern Europe and take the reader to a tour of Mediaeval Europe. Each of the books follows the life of a woman (and generally at least two other important characters) and their personal growth. Each of the women is linked to each other either by blood or marriage, and the series spans from roughly 1020 to 1100.
The main plot is always a love story. This is one of the only failings of mrs. Utrio as a writer, as the plots are generally very similar in style. The only point when I got tired of her works was when I read them all in one summer as a teen and realized the aforementioned fact.
This time around, however, I was’t bothered by the repetitive elements. I found a new appreciation of finding new ways to portray the basically simple plot. It is a type of talent to be able to reinvent the wheel time and time again, so to say.
I find very little negative to say apart from the repetitive plots. The characters all have distinct personalities and while the reader can usually safely guess which characters will end up together the supporting crew may hold surprises. The end result is also usually reached through amusing or unexpected incidents (even if one knows something more will happen, it might not be what is thought beforehand).
Even though the works span as diverse eras as the first millennium or 19th century, I’ve also always appreciated the adherence to historic facts in her work. The times when she modifies true events to suit her story are few and far between, even though the books are rife with historic characters as supporting cast (several Byzantine emperors and empresses, European kings and queens, and popes). Reading her descriptions of cities like Rome or Constantinople are like small tours of the cities themselves. Personally I’m also partial to the accurate description of dress and items. There are usually also references to things that were happening around those times elsewhere, woven in as news or gossip heard by the characters.
I’m actually more than a bit surprised her work has gone untranslated. While the English-speaking world has many great authors of historical fiction, I’m hard-pressed to come up with many examples of mediaeval Nordics being represented (Jan Guillou comes first to mind with Arn). I was going to shamelessly plug Kaari Utrio to you, but I don’t expect you to learn Finnish to do that…
Oh, well. Until next time.