I was in a weeklong writing class recently where they interviewed various authors. One of the more interesting was Emmi Itaranta, a Finnish author, and I ordered her latest book, The Moonday Letters, after hearing her discuss her process. She writes in Finnish and English simultaneously as she had beta readers in both languages. I can’t imagine writing in two languages at the same time. Writing in one is difficult enough.
The Letters are an interesting format: epistolary. The protagonist writes unsent letters to her missing spouse as she searches for her spouse among the solar system. Her spouse (referred to as them/they) is always one step ahead of her because her spouse a busy scientist working on a revolutionary technique to bring Earth’s oceans back to life. Earth, as a result of global warming, is quarantined and split into various lands (the heroine is from Winterland).
Lumi is a healer. She has a spirit guide, a large lynx, and travels between the cylinder cities, the Moon, Venus, and Mars saving people. She was able to leave Earth because of her skills although few people are allowed to. She was tutored by Vivian, an older healer. Lumi goes wherever she is needed, and her clients pay for her travel and lodgings.
Sol, her spouse, is rarely heard from. Also, Lumi spends time imagining what Sol is doing, but it’s all conjecture. When her spouse’s lab is blown up on Mars, she speculates her spouse was on a visit to another city. Or her spouse was kidnapped by terrorists wanting to use her spouse’s ocean-cleaning technology. It doesn’t occur to her (at the time) her spouse may be involved voluntarily. Maybe we would imagine their side of a one-sided conversation if our spouse was missing under mysterious circumstances.
As the book cleverly goes from a cat and mouse game to one of bioterrorism, it becomes more tense. Lumi discovers things about her spouse and her spouse’s organization that she didn’t know. The fact their cylinder home was destroyed by an unknown fungi while they were there a few years earlier never occurs to Lumi. Nor the fact that the ice fungi she shows to her spouse is part of this new destructive plant disease.
The parts where Lumi and her spirit guide are curing patients are my favorite. When she rides her spirit guide to a place to find out where Sol is, a place she’s not supposed to go, her lynx is wounded and apparently killed. Lumi, desperate for money and stranded on Earth, goes to the Moon to help a patient, convinced she cannot do much since her spirit guide is gone. She’s right, but her dead mentor’s spirit guide, a swan, appears to help her stay with the old man as he dies. He’s too far gone to save. It’s a great scene.
I also enjoyed the Moonday house the couple created in their lives together, an imaginary place they both know intimately. It has two kitchens, and you can see a garden out every window.
The tension mounts as Sol is branded a terrorist, and the authorities search for Lumi. Earth’s oceans are suddenly infected, and no one is allowed to leave or land on the planet. Lumi barely escapes due to Sol’s manipulation of their joint funds. She discovers the group Sol has been a part of has split into a militant arm (that destroyed her cylinder city and infected Earth’s oceans). Her spouse is part of the pacifist faction, but it was her spouse’s science and Lumi’s mention of frost fungi that enabled the new strain to be created. Oddly enough, the fungi is successful and starts to revive Earth’s oceans. In several generations, the planet may be habitable again.
The ending is vague (which could be a good thing for some readers), but the brilliant way the writer takes a business trip to meet her spouse and turns it into a thriller is riveting. I confess I rarely get so engaged in a book that I resent when normal life intrudes, but that happened with this book, especially toward the end.