In the 1930s, Finnish poet Bo Carpelan found mention of his great-uncle Axel in a biography of the composer Jean Sibelius. This friendship is the genesis of Carpelan's fictional diary of Axel's dual obsession with music and with a man who, unlike him, had enough confidence in his creativity to compose his own.
In Carpelan's novel, set during Finland's struggle to escape Russian domination, young Axel's life is full of melancholic introspection communicated only to his diary. The short entries describe his adolescent antagonism toward healthier and more joyous peers, and his embarrassment at his futile attempts to coax beauty from his violin. His unrelenting disappointment and self-effacement give way after meeting his hero Sibelius, as Axel's search for meaning and an aesthetic ideal becomes forever linked to the unfolding of the composer's musical genius.