I really like the sound of this novel, which is reviewed by Nicholas Lezard in his Paperbacks slot in the Guardian Review section. I quote:
"It was, naturally, the flatness of the title that attracted me: it bespoke, in its quiet confidence, a deep, rich and eventful inner life. And besides, I have some inkling of what Finnish grammar is like: fiendishly complex, basically, and related to no other languages on earth save Hungarian and Estonian (I simplify). Learning Finnish involves not only beginning to appreciate the most beautiful of languages, but grasping, among many, many other things, 15 cases for nouns, such as the inessive, the elative, the ilative, and, everyone's favourite, the abessive. I will return to the abessive in a minute.
The story is simple, as the best stories are. A man is found on a quayside in Trieste during the second world war, having been clubbed almost to death. A tag inside the seaman's jacket he is wearing bears a Finnish name: Sampo Karjalainen. When he regains consciousness he has no memory, no language. He is simply a consciousness devoid of context. The doctor on the hospital ship riding at anchor, though, is Finnish, and, with nothing else to go on, starts teaching his gradually recovering patient Finnish, in the hope that memories will be triggered, and he can rediscover who he is. Eventually, when Karjalainen is well enough, he is sent to Helsinki, where perhaps he can find more fragments of his identity.
Now, the concept of learning languages is something close to Diego Marani's heart: as well as working as a senior linguist for the EU, he has invented Europanto, a language without rules which can incorporate words from as many European languages as you like in order to help yourself be understood. (You can speak it. "Je suis going für ein walk" is, I gather, perfectly acceptable Europanto.)
... There is more than one reason, one comes to realise, why Marani - an Italian - chose Finnish as the lost language of his hero. This is a novel about loss, about not having: asked by a nurse what he likes most about the language, Karjalainen replies: "the abessive ... a declension for things we haven't got: koskenkorvsatta, toivatta, no koskenkorva [Finnish vodka], no hope, both are declined in the abessive. It's beautiful, it's like poetry! And also very useful, because there are more things we haven't got than that we have." ...
The book is translated by Judith Landry and is published by Dedalus at £9.99.