book review – Fatherland

Week 44, 2016
Joensuu, Finland

Book: Fatherland
Author: Robert Harris
Theme: historical fiction
Thesis: To solve a crime in “modern” Germany, the country that won the WWII.
Read on:  15-16.11.2016

It is the first time I read a historical fiction book. This novel is built upon an historical era that interests me and I study informally: the WWII.  I was hesitant and at the same time curious about Fatherland. I am glad I read this novel, because Fatherland captivated me and from the second half of the book until its end, I could not put the volume down.



The narrative evolves in Berlin, Germany, in 1964. It is assumed Germany won the WWII 20 years ago, and the book starts with the preparations to celebrate Hitler’s 75th birthday. Germany at this moment of the novel, is a totalitarian state. The main character is Xavier March, a police criminal investigator of the SS. On week before the celebration of the Führer, March starts an investigation of the corpse floating in a lake outside Berlin, which turns to be the body of a high rank Nazi.

March is driven by his internal desire to know things, be an observer and critical person with all the information he is constantly receiving by observing and hearing. After a series of events, he is able to unveil a dark side of the war putting numbers and names to the unknown destiny of millions of Judes.

The fictional characters with the real ones are very well knitted. This connection allows the reader to get more immerse in Fatherland’s world. The author mentions, at the end of the novel, that the biographical aspects of the known characters are correct until 1942, and afterwards all is his imagination.

All the facts are in harmony with the fiction. Additionally the book has a good rhythm. I did not feel idle moments. The descriptions were detailed when they needed to be, but the plot allows to immerse with the present of March, who only has few days (I think 4 days) to safe his life. During these days, diverse set of emotions are trigger through the narrative (e.g. hope, attraction, betray, sadness) in addition to stimulate one’s intelligence challenging assumptions. Within the plot, the reader is also reminded that fantasy and reality are knitted.

After finalize the novel, one knows that read a fiction book. Simultaneously one has discovered facts of the historical aspects of the book (before upto 1942) which are shocking,  in that time and up to our era. All these leaves an intense experience on the reader. As another reviewer wrote it:

In producing “Fatherland”, Harris has fathered a novel with a concept so brilliant, that the chilling non-fiction aspects of its story become all the more shocking. And that’s why this is a novel not worth missing. Source:

We are learning Finnish – Me opimme suomea — 001

Week 42
Joensuu, Finland

For people who are native speakers of western European languages are,  some how, indulge to learn “easily” languages that are close to each other. For example, Spanish, Portuguese, French, Italian, belong to a same family: Romance Languages. Without any expertise on linguistics, just as Spanish native speaker I know that those languages use the same alphabet and several words have similar roots. In the case of Finnish language, the only similarity I found with the other of western European languages is the alphabet because nothing else relates to it.

As native Spanish speaker, learning Finnish has been painful.  However, I am reaching a moment that I must learn it.

As a student of Finnish as second language, that frustrates me is the lack of vocabulary. I wish to have person who can read me over and over the same story until I get it and I memorize the words.   Yes, one can find exercises on several books to learn Finnish must of them are not meaningful for me or my needs. It is a bit frustrating because I need to learn the language and I cannot dedicate to study only the language and what I learn I do not feel it useful.

So, instead to complain I take action and I start this serie of posts: learning Finnish (oppiminen suomalainen) where I will write stories of what I learn in Finnish based on my activities in Finland. This exercise I know it will help me to learn the language, ans simultaneously I assume it will help others who are learning the language, to go through interactive stories that will help them to practice their language acquisition as well.

Wondering how will be my Finnish in one year form now! 🙂

Note: In the stories I assume reader have some level of basics on the language, i.e.  some verbs, prepositions. Taking into account my own level, it will be as being in the half of a book of any very first level of Finnish language.

Key words to remember:

  • upea = magnificent, gorgeous
  • maisema = landscape
  • kuten = like

To see the story in a full screen window, click here.

Funeral in Finland

Week 37
Joensuu, Finland

On Saturday 10.9. was the funeral of Outi Savonlahti. This was the first funeral I joined in Finland. This post’s objective is to briefly share my experience of this ceremony. There are two main motivators for this: (i) Outi was at charge of international affairs at UEF, and she always explained us things about Finland, (ii) it let me a lot food for the though.

In Finland once someone passes away is not buried right away. As far as I understand, there might be weeks in between from the moment someone dies and her/his funeral . During these weeks relatives, friends and others are informed of the particular person passing away, and the necessary arrangements for the funeral are prepared.

For example Outi passed away on August 9th but her funeral was until September 10th .

"Missal" of Outi Savonlahti funeral

“Missal” of Outi Savonlahti funeral

Outi’s  funeral started at 12:00 at the Rauhankappeli, which it is located inside Joensuu’s graveyard.  We started with the religious service with the coffin present. Family, friends and colleges join the “event”. I assume the procedure of the service was according the Lutheran church, however I did not asked this particular detail to anyone.

Location of the religious service

Location of the religious service

The priest started the ceremony with some words for the audience. Next, each one of participants who brought flowers gave them to Outi. If we had written something or we wanted to say something loudly this was the moment to do it. This process is not done in a rush, instead it is harmonious movement of people standing spontaneously, paying respects and getting back to their sits.  I interpreted this moment as offering our respects to her as each one says a personalize good bye, as close a possible to her earthly representation.

Entregando mis flores.

Screenshot when I pay my respects to Outi.

[Side note: A particular fact at this ceremony, and due to the work of Outi, was that the religious service was transmitted via Internet. Thus the photo above was taken by a friend of mine when it was my turn to be at front.]

Once all the flowers were surrounding Outi, I assume the traditional service started. That is, reading fragments of the bible followed by the priest’s  homily. Finnish, English and French were present during the service and during the whole ceremony.

The liturgy had particular moments with music, in some moments we also sang specific pieces.   Everybody new the selected songs due to the program that we were given. Additionally, on the chapel’s wall was indicated the song’s numbers and on each chair of the chapel had a book with the song’s lyrics.  I particularly liked a song which in this occasion included some African drums.  I must say that a lot of religions songs in Finland, as far as I had been exposed to, are not particularly happy. In my opinion – as a Mexican who has been involved in music during my past including religions songs, our church has a lot of happy songs – and in Finland the melodies are more kind of melancholic and nostalgic, so with this little twist of adding African rhythm all changed.

Lyrics of one of the songs at Outi's funeral

Lyrics of one of the songs at Outi’s funeral

At the end of the liturgy  the priest indicated us to pick up our flowers, so we can bring them with us and deposit them to the final destination. Right after the coffin was without flowers, a group of gentlemen came at front and pick up the coffin to carry it out. Then all the participants followed and the funeral procession started.

Starting the procession

Starting the procession

Once in the location where Outi was buried the priest offered some words. The coffin was deposited and if someone wanted,  it was the possibility to take some sand and place it inside the “hole”. Afterwards, a cover was put above and we were invited to locate our flowers there.

Location where the body of Outi rests.

Location where the body of Outi rests.

When I did my research on how to prepare myself for this event, I learned that in  Finland you do not have to buy only white flowers for the funeral.  You can get other colors, as for example the flowers that the person used to like. On my case I gave to Outi the following bunch:

Flowers I got for Outi. She always was elegantly dress, mainly in black and white with a touch of red present.

Flowers I got for Outi.
She always was elegantly dress, mainly in black and white with a touch of red present.

Next we  – all the people present at the funeral – were invited to share some moments together on the name of Outi.  The tradition, as I read before, is to gather in a house. However, in this case we were invited to Joensuu Ortodoksinen Seurakuntasali.

Once all the participants were at the specific location the program started. Outi’s godson was the ceremony master and several speeches were given for and about Outi.

Gathering together in Outi's name

Gathering together in Outi’s name

Outi was a special person and relevant figures came to her funeral.  For example speeches came from the  Ambassador of France, followed by the academic rector of the UEF, the priest, it was a pianist who played a couple of melodies…. then it was a pause for eating. Afterwards the president of Joensuu’s Rotary Club offered some words followed by the President of Joensuu’s French association and some family members too. Desert was offered and to finalized it was read aloud the condolence cards that were sent to her from all over the world.

In between the speeches one was encourage to talk on the tables about our memories with Outi. It was a nice event. For me it was difficult at times to do not clap.  You know, after listen to  nice words and good memories my inner emotion was to clap,  but I needed to keep quiet as the rest of the audience.  For me it is still difficult to understand that after a wonderful light that each speech depicted due to the life of someone, we could not join the words with the clap, instead after the speech complete quietness returned bringing me back to the sadness of the current loss.  All these was new and strange experience for me.

An anecdote comment that I got at the end, is that Outi helped to plan her funeral. I have not question about the possibility that she did. It was so beautiful and perfect, taking care of so many details as she always did with all what it was entrust to her.

Outi  left a legacy, no only to each one of us who met her, but also to future generations. There will be a foundation Outi Savonlahti to support females from developing countries searching to study their bachelors abroad.

This was my first experience in a Finnish funeral with the departure of a special person. Thank you Outi for teaching me constantly and share moments with me!


First decision: stop the busy loop

Week 18
Joensuu, Finland

In the last days my mood has not been particularly high. My inner knows that something is not correct. Then I wrote this post and  I came to my blog, to publish it, and I realized that most of the time I come here when I need to reflect or to rant. :O   At the beginning of this 2016, my reflection were in reference to focus and thinking…. but a deeper problem is present.

What is the problem? Honestly, I am blessed. I am healthy and complete, I have my love ones, I can pay the rent and have food over my table, I live in a peaceful country, I have a rich life and sleep well at nights. I am trying to help others, pushing my start up and my research, looking to collaborate, … So, what is it wrong?

 [For the records, I acknowledge that after my PhD graduation I was completely out. I was mentally, emotionally and even physically exhausted. It is taken me an “eternity” to reconnect myself with myself, 3.5 years and counting. Yes, it is impressive! The current diagnosis about my self-connection is: I am advancing, still I am not 100% connected but on the path. Then, what is wrong?]

One thing that has been bothering me lately is “cash flow”. Building a company from scratch, as a research spin-off it is NOT easy. I often say, ubium is my second PhD, because in so many ways my PhD journey is repeating in here. For example, once I wrote that it was until my PhD that I started to think, and now it has been until ubium that I am learning to “make money”. Wondering why I did not learn those things much earlier? Ok, there are answers to that, but it is not the focus of this post.

If cash flow is what it is bothering at the moment then I should acknowledge that I am aware that money is only symptom. I know there is something beyond which it is the root of the problem. Need to understand what is wrong?

During this week while my inner is working towards understanding myself, two events have influenced my reflection:

Event #1
I was invited at a DRAFT event Karelia University of Applied Science as panelist to answer particular questions about start a business. There, Jyrki Saarinen, who was also a panelist, and two of his advises were so good to me:
Advice 1: Busy does not mean to be productive.
Advice 2: Take decisions

Event #2
In this vblog of Santiago Zavala (I had been following him since October 2015) , he also stresses on the second advice of Jyrki.

Taking decisions is fundamental in all what we do in life. Actually, to do not take a decision is a decision in itself.

I am aware how DIFFICULT is to take decisions especially when it is unclear all that surrounds that decision to be taken. On my “personal back-channel”  I complain often because I need to take decisions constantly . Simultaneously, I am aware that when I know what I want, decisions are easier. So my solution is, one should focus and nevertheless one needs to time think.

However, back again to the fundamental question: what do I want?  the answer to this question belongs to me connecting to myself. I see life as juggling with different aspects of the self, and one has to take care of all of them. As time passes by,  I realize answering this question is a constant process.   Because we are often in our lives busy surviving, we do not reflect upon this fundamental question often enough, due to we are always running out of time. We are always busy.  Hence, I should start by reflecting upon the Jyrki’s advice #1, why I am so busy to do not have time to think what do I want?

In my search to understand the “busy does not mean productive” I found Paul Davis’ post “Why Do We Glorify Being Too Busy?. In his article, Davis first analyses what busy means in our time. He agrees that the person who best summarizes the current popular opinion about busyness is Tim Kreider, author of “The Busy Trap”. Kreiders states that today ’[b]eing busy is a virtue, so people are terrified of hearing they may have empty time.’

Personally, I do not get terrified if I have “empty time”. However, I notice that I am conditioned to be busy. If I am “busy” I think I am producing something hence I am not “wasting” my time. That is one important aspect for me. But at the moment, when I am stopping to think what do I want, I realized I am in a terrifying loop:

  1. I am busy because I need to produce. Everything is needed for yesterday!  I feel fine when I am producing. The feeling of achieving is one of the best ones!
  2. Due that I am busy I cannot take essential decisions, because I do not have clarity of what do I want. Decisions which are within my current “busy” activities and which are clear for me, are decisions easy to take. However the decisions which belong to deep purposes are not easy.  It makes me angry and frustrated when I must take decisions that I do not know, or I am not clear about them.
  3. To clarify my thoughts I need time to think and reflect. I am aware my thinking process requires time and effort. However, the world surrounding me, tells me there is not time for that , everything should be done yesterday.
  4. The only decision I take is to let my self-defense mechanism to take over. Due to indirect and direct pressure to make things for yesterday, I do not allocate the resources to think because I am busy producing things (back to number 1)

So, first decision: I must stop my terrible loop!

Games and Open Data

Week 7
Joensuu, Finland

Mikko invited me to look at the video embedded in the article Secret Lab: It’s OK to abandon your project.

When I started to look the video it automatically remind me to the workshop we gave in Vietnam last year.

Getting really interested to play with different types of open data from Mexico, Finland…..

Let’s see what will come. Meanwhile enjoy the video: