Yikes! How good are Finnish schools now?
Tough equation: success at school
Burning hot: a new novel by Johanna Sinisalo
From page to space: Books from Finland (1976–2008) digitised
[A history of madness]
Helsinki: Gaudeamus, 2013. 456 pp.
The Hippocratic Oath’s principle, primum non nocere – ‘first, do no harm’ – has been particularly difficult to apply in practice for doctors who have devoted themselves to sicknesses of the soul.
The breaking with this principle is the first thing to strike the reader in Professor of Science and Ideas Petteri Pietikäinen’s book, Hulluuden historia, which is overflowing with ideas.
This could be due to the vast amount of information contained within the book, combined with its slightly chaotic structure. It skips between a chronological and thematic narratives, and the author’s own involvement in his text varies, meaning that the text itself swings between vigorously discursive, and something that is little more than a sluggish retelling. Taking in everything Pietikäinen wants to say is difficult; the reader inevitably begins to grope for exciting details, and there are of course plenty of those to be found.
The sad thing is that the development of mental health care has not advanced steadily at all from its dark and ignorant beginnings towards a brighter and more enlightened present. Setbacks, especially concerning patients’ safety, have been many. Even if we ignore centuries of exorcisms, abuse, and care in the form of incarceration, punishment, and physical punishment, the 20th century has a wealth of gruesome examples to offer. More…
In an era of ‘liveblogging’‚ we are all storytellers. But what’s the story, asks Teemu Manninen
One score of years ago, when the internet was new, the cultural critics of the time were fond saying that it would usher in a new utopia of free distribution of information: we would be able to read everything, know everything and share everything anywhere and every day.
Truly, they told us, we would become enriched by the internet to the point of not knowing what to do with all that wealth of knowledge, the amount of connections between us and the ever-increasing online availability of anyone with everyone, every waking hour.
Now that we really do have this always-on connectivity, you will indeed be available every waking hour: you will update your status, check your inbox, post pics and be available for chatting, texting, a quick email and a message or two, just to make sure no one is offended by your unreachability, since – from experience – a week’s worth of not tweeting or facebooking can make someone think that something serious has happened, or that you don’t even exist anymore. More…
The father is woken up in the middle of the night because his small daughter suffers from nightmares. He asks her to tell him about them so they won’t frighten her any longer. Giant bunnies wearing high heels chase little Aino, a scary three-eyed gnome pours apple jam onto her, Daddy has turned into a dog….
Graphic artist Ville Tietäväinen began writing down Aino’s dreams when she was three, and together they illustrated them. The result is a graphic storybook entitled Vain pahaa unta (‘Just a bad dream’, WSOY, 2013).
Visible in the background are selected quotations from books on dreams and nightmares.. Aino’s nightmares are certainly produced by a lively imagination, making this an excitingly quirky book.
It was selected as one of the six runners-up of the Finlandia Junior Prize 2013; the winner will be announced on 26 November. (We tend to think, though, that Vain pahaa unta is definitely a more interesting read for daddies than kiddies.)
An extract from the novel Kuolema Ehtoolehdossa (‘Death in Twilight Grove’, Teos, 2013). Minna Lindgren interviewed by Anna-Leena Ekroos
At the Health Clinic, Siiri Kettunen once more found a new ‘personal physician’ waiting for her. The doctor was so young that Siiri had to ask whether a little girl like her could be a real doctor at all, but that was a mistake. By the time she remembered that there had been a series of articles in the paper about fake doctors, the girl doctor had already taken offence.
‘Shall we get down to business?’ the unknown personal physician said, after a brief lecture. She told Siiri to take off her blouse, then listened to her lungs with an ice-cold stethoscope that almost stopped her heart, and wrote a referral to Meilahti hospital for urgent tests. Apparently the stethoscope was the gizmo that gave the doctor the same kind of certainty that the blood pressure cuff had given the nurse.
‘I can order an ambulance,’ the doctor said, but that was a bit much, in Siiri’s opinion, so she thanked her politely for listening to her lungs and promised to catch the very next tram to the heart exam. More…
Extracts from the novel Bär den som en krona (‘Wear it like a crown’, Schildts & Söderströms, 2013). Sanna Tahvanainen interviewed by Janina Orlov
A kick in the stomach – yes, that is what it feels like each time I catch a glimpse of the Crystal Palace. The miniature on Albert’s desk has finally grown to maturity. The great greenhouse towers where once the elms stood. On a clear day the sun dances along the glass, making it glisten, the whole place all but blinding us. One is forced to squint on approaching it. One reaches out a hand, and when it touches the glass and steel, one knows one is there.
The grand opening is a mere five days hence. I step inside, he will be there somewhere. He is unaware of my arrival; it is to be a surprise. These last months he has been gone long before I have woken, and arrives home only once I am asleep. He seems quite indefatigable, neither sleeps nor eats properly. These last weeks there has been nothing else on his mind but the Great Exhibition. More…
Öar i ett hav som strömmar
[Islands in a flowing sea]
Helsingfors: Schildts & Söderströms, 2013. 78 p.
Henrika Ringbom’s new collection of poems is emotionally touching and formally sophisticated – something only the very best poetry can manage. Ringbom is an experienced author whose output since her debut in 1988 has included five collections of poetry and two novels; even so, it feels as if she has taken another step forward in her writing with this latest volume.
The focal point is the loss of a beloved mother. The title, which translates as ‘Islands in a flowing sea’, emphasises the fleeting nature of all life, and the book radiates sorrow more than anything else. There has always been an intellectual, distancing quality to Ringbom’s writing. That stands her in good stead here, preventing the book from becoming too private and introverted, despite its highly personal themes. More…
Poems from Öar i ett hav som strömmar (‘Islands in a flowing sea’, Schildts and Söderströms, 2013). Introduction by Michel Ekman
A fig wasp’s life
She squeezes in. The opening closes and the world overflows. She swims in the sweet flowing moisture. In the sycamore fig tree, a myriad of delicate white blossoms have burst out. For her eyes alone, a damp garden, alabaster-clear. The home she’s been longing for. There she lays her eggs, empties her pouches. Tiny little pollen grains for the tiny little blossoms. Membranes form round the eggs, they live off the sweetness, it rocks them gently. Fine, frail swaying thicket of embryos More…
Pondering his changing profession once again, columnist and media critic Jyrki Lehtola feels compelled to present a brief history of the media
Not long ago a certain media company invited me to participate in a panel on brainprints.
I didn’t know what they were talking about, so I agreed. At most I thought it was about the engram left in our collective psyche that yes, we used to have this sort of print media thing that told us what the world was like.
And then we didn’t – look at this picture of print media on my iPad, kids, isn’t it cute?
That wasn’t what it was about at all. Brainprint means all the ways the media can influence us as consumers. In other words, this is one more conversation the media has with itself to convince itself that it has a role to play.
There we sat around a long table once again talking about whether the media is a mirror or a window when maybe we should have been talking about the pile of glass on the ground and whether someone shouldn’t clean it up before someone hurts themselves. More…
In today’s world, many people find that it is not the lack of something that is problematic, but excess: the same goes for knowledge. According to professor of space astronomy, Esko Valtaoja, knowledge should contribute to the creation of a better world. His latest book is a contribution to the sum of all knowledge; over the course of two hundred pages Valtaoja delves deep into the inner space of man by taking his reader on a brief tour of the universe. Extracts from Kaiken käsikirja. Mitä jokaisen tulisi tietää (‘A handbook to everything. What everybody should know’, Ursa, 2012)
Whatever god you bow down to, you’re probably worshipping the wrong god.
The above is almost the only completely certain thing that can be said about religion, and even it does not encompass any deep truth; it’s just a simple mathematical statement. The world’s biggest religion is Roman Catholicism, which is confessed, at least nominally, by 1.1 billion people. If the Roman Catholic god were the true god, the majority of people in the world are therefore worshipping a false god. (According to the official stance of the Catholic church, the other Christian denominations are heresies, and their believers will be condemned to perdition: extra ecclesiam nulla salus. This inconvenient truth is, understandably, politely bypassed in ecumenical debate. But even if all those who call themselves Christians were counted as worshipping the same god, two thirds of the world’s population are still knocking at the wrong door.)
If you’re a religious person, don’t worry; I’m not blaspheming. And if you’re a campaigning atheist, hang on a minute: all I want to do is to find a clear and undisputed starting point to consider what it is we’re talking about when we speak of religion. More…
In this series, Finnish authors ponder the complexities of their profession. Susanne Ringell describes her work as sailing on sometimes stormy seas – without a skipper certificate, but with conviction
We are such stuff as dreams are made on; / and our little life is rounded with a sleep. (William Shakespeare, The Tempest.) In Swedish – my mother tongue and the language in which my pencil writes – the play is called Stormen, ‘The storm’. There are a lot of storms on the sea of dreams. The sky suddenly grows dark, and deceptive whirlwinds blow up, there are cold shivers and tornadoes, there is the Bermuda Triangle and the mighty chasm of the Mariana Trench. In its southern part is the world ‘s deepest marine environment, Challenger Deep, 11 kilometres. Our boats are small and fragile, and it ‘s a miracle they haven’t capsized more often.
It’s a miracle that in spite of it all we still so frequently reach our home harbour, that we arrive where we were bound for. Or somewhere else, but we do get there. We come ashore, we come ashore with what we set our minds on. More…
26 September 2013 | Reviews
[Towards the night. Poems 2010]
Helsinki: Schildts & Söderströms, 2013. 69 p.
‘Don’t change, grow deeper ,’ wrote Bo Carpelan: over the years he broadened his poetic range and his personal idiom evolved, but it happened organically, without sudden upheavals of style or idea.
Mot natten (‘Towards the night’) is Carpelan’s last collection of poems. This is underlined by the book’s subtitle, Poems 2010. By then Carpelan (1926–2011) was already marked by the illness that took his life in early 2011. It doesn’t show in the quality of the poems, but knowing it may make it harder for the reader to approach them with unclouded eyes. When a great poet concludes his work one wants to seek a synthesis or a concluding message, and that may encumber one’s reading. So is there such a message? In some ways there is, but Carpelan was not a man of pointed formulations. His ideals emerged without much fuss. More…
A short story from Novelli palaa! Matkanovelleja (‘The short story returns! Travel stories’, edited by Katja Kettu and Aki Salmela; WSOY, 2013)
Mum didn’t want to travel abroad. Mum wanted to tend her rose garden and her pea beds, which sloped down the hill towards the lake. In mum’s opinion, the view from the porch was the best view in the world.
Dad wanted to travel. He never got very far, because Mum wouldn’t go. Dad got as far as the neighbouring forest. In Mum’s opinion, there was no better long-haul destination than the lake at the bottom of the slope and the grove around the house, which was full of blueberries and raspberries and, in the spring, morel mushrooms.
In Dad’s opinion, the forest was full of mosquitoes and flies and ants and mites.
On the lake, the loons dived and called on late summer evenings, Mum thought it was the best sound in the world. Beautiful and harrowing, at the same time. The lamentations of the loon demonstrated that a living creature can be so completely happy that its cry is full of grief. Her children’s crying and whingeing and desire to go to the Linnanmäki funfair in Helsinki were, to Mum, a sign that they are ecstatically happy at home.
Little loons, Mum said to us. More…