"I have such sad news": Loss in Finnish North American Letters


  • Samira Saramo John Morton Center for North American Studies University of Turku



Letters, Death, Loss, Finnish North Americans


Life writing has been an important tool for people to work through loss in their lives. In the context of twentieth-century migration, word of death and shared mourning occurred primarily through letters in the international post. Focusing on letters written by Finnish immigrants in the United States and Canada from the 1940s–1960s, this article analyzes some of the ways that letter writing has been used to address death and loss. Positioning personal letters within the broader field of life writing, this work examines how both loss and life writing often trigger a re/defining of the self, addressed in multiple and ambiguous ways by individual mourner/writers.  In its unsettling of life, feelings, and connections, loss is a rupture of the self. By narrating their life, writers create personal chronologies, position themselves in places and communities, and declare their values. The life writing of Finnish North Americans provides windows into the difficult work of trying to assign meaning to meaning-defying loss.

Author Biography

Samira Saramo, John Morton Center for North American Studies University of Turku

Samira Saramo is an Academy of Finland Postdoctoral Researcher at the University of Turku’s John Morton Center for North American Studies (Finland). Saramo’s multidisciplinary research focuses on ethnicity, gender, emotion, death, violence, place-making, and social movements in both historical and current contexts. Analyzing personal letters, memoirs, and social media narratives, Saramo is particularly interested in the form and accompanying challenges of life writing research. Her current research project, “Death and Mourning in Finnish North America,” uses the case study of Finnish immigrants in 1880–1939 North America to explore the ways in which death and mourning produce ethnicity in everyday practices and personal narrations. Saramo holds a Ph.D. in History from York University (Canada).