Your Presence Is Requested at Suvanto
By Maile Chapman
(Graywolf Press, Hardcover, 9781555975531, 256pp.)
Publication Date: March 30, 2010
List Price: $23.00*
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A brilliant and unnerving debut novel about the mysteriously ill patients at a remote hospital in Finland
In a remote, piney wood in Finland stands a convalescent hospital called Suvanto, a curving concrete example of austere Scandinavian design. It is the 1920s, and the patients, all women, seek relief from ailments real and imagined. On the lower floors are the stoic Finnish women; on the upper floors are foreign women of privilege—the “up-patients.” They are tended to by head nurse Sunny Taylor, an American who has fled an ill-starred life only to retreat behind a mask of crisp professionalism. On a late-summer day a new patient arrives on Sunny’s ward— a faded, irascible former ballroom-dance instructor named Julia Dey. Sunny takes it upon herself to pierce the mystery of Julia’s reserve. Soon, Julia’s difficulty, her tightly coiled anger, places her at the center of the ward’s tangled emotional life. This fraught dynamic animates Maile Chapman’s ambitious first novel. As summer turns to fall, and fall to a long, dark winter, the patients hear rumors about changes being implemented at Suvanto by an American obstetrician, Dr. Peter Weber, who is experimenting with a new surgical stitch. Their familiar routine threatened, the women are not happy (they were not happy before), and the story’s escalating menace builds to a terrifying conclusion.
Maile Chapman's stories have appeared in A Public Space, Literary Review, The Mississippi Review, and Post Road. She earned her MFA from Syracuse University and is currently a Schaeffer Fellow in Fiction at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.
- Sunny is an American living abroad, as are many of the “up-patients” on her ward. On page 14 the narrator states that “It’s hard to learn the language and it’s hard to penetrate the culture. It takes time to make friends in Finland. . . .It is clearly easier to come here, to the hospital, than to try to adjust.” What role does cultural alienation play in the novel? Why did Sunny choose such a remote and foreign place to live and work? Was she prepared for the challenges?