Hanna Pylvainen’s “We Sinners”

I’ve always respected true believers who practice what they preach, but I’ve had a hard time understanding the religions that forbid entertainment.

In Hanna Pylvainen’s We Sinners, the Rovaniemis, a family of Finnish descent, live in the contemporary mainstream culture of American Midwest, but they don’t share this culture because their Laestadian Church teaches them a very strict lifestyle. No TV, no computers, no movies, no dances, no parties, etc. The parents don’t consider it deprivation, though. They think that once you have the heart of a believer, the restrictions aren’t restrictions at all—it’s simply what your conscience tells you to do and not do. There isn’t a rule about no TV, your conscience tells you it would be better to stay away from that kind of temptation. “It’s really the simplest thing in the world,” the father says. “It’s a simple faith.” (158)

Well, for their nine children it’s far from “simple.” Uppu, the youngest daughter, calls her religion “the madness” because lots of things that she wants to do, like any teenager, are considered a sin. Her siblings too are struggling, trying to balance their faith with the life they live outside it—at school and workplace, among their friends and acquaintances.

Eventually, three of the kids leave the church, but at the expense of the former close ties with their family.

The novel is told from the point of view of a different family member, and reading about the children’s struggle with understanding and accepting their identities was quite an experience for me, sometimes heartbreaking.

It’s a debut novel, and it’s good!

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