A stand-alone Finnish Science Fiction book. The Finnish title is Teemestarin kirja (The Tea Master’s Book).
Publication year: 2012
Page count: 329
Publisher of the Finnish language version: Teos
“Water is the most versatile of all elements. It isn’t afraid to burn in fire or fade into the sky, it doesn’t hesitate to shatter against sharp rocks in rainfall or drown into the dark shroud of the earth. It exists beyond all beginnings and ends. On the surface nothing will shift, but deep in underground silence, water will hide and with soft fingers coax a new channel for itself, until stone gives in and slowly settles around the secret space.”
The writer is a Finn and she wrote the book in both English and Finnish. I read it in Finnish but I’ve got sample chapters of the English version on my Kindle.
Noria Kaitio is the only child of a tea master and she lives in a world which is very different from ours. In this world, drinkable water is scarce and owned by the military government of the New Qian. The drinkable water is purified sea water. The military controls who gets water and how much; most civilians get just enough to survive and if the military even thinks that someone is guilty of a water crime, they will not be seen again. But the task of the tea master is to serve water as much as he serves the people who come to him to enjoy the tea ceremony. Noria’s father knows about a clean spring deep undergrown in the mountains; the knowledge have been kept in their family for generations. When Noria’s graduation time draws near he takes her to the spring and tells her that she must keep the spring a secret because nobody owns water. Now, the secret is Noria’s, too.
This is a melancholy tale set into an almost hopeless world which have been almost destroyed by humans long ago. Now, the humans have accepted the yoke of the military and struggle to live their lives as best they can. Sometimes, people elsewhere rebel and make life worse for the people in Noria’s village.
This is not an adventure story and it’s not plot driven. In fact, a plot doesn’t kick in until near the end. But it’s Noria’s story with all its joy and sadness. It’s set in Finland but in a very different land where snow and ice are only seen in freezers, and those aren’t common, either.
The language is lyrical and beautiful. Water, and its lack, is present all the time both in the words and in the theme. The book draws a fascinating contrast with the elegant tea ceremonies and the beautiful language versus the bleak, tightly controlled society that the people live in.
This was an excellent read, if somewhat depressing at times.
“Silence is not empty or immaterial, and it is not needed to chain tame things. It often guards powers strong enough to shatter everything.”
“Secrets carve us like water carves stone. On the surface nothing will shift, but things we cannot tell anyone chafe and consume us, and slowly our life settles around them, moulds itself into their shape.”