City views: Signe Brander’s photos
Sea, sick? The Baltic Sea examined
From page to space: Books from Finland (1976–2008) digitised
Poems from Inga stjärnor i natt, sir (‘No stars tonight, Sir’, Schildts & Söderströms, 2012). Introduction by Jukka Koskelainen
With us on the cruise was
an old, old man.
We wondered what
he was doing there.
He sat at a table by himself.
Silent. Drinking water.
Never turned up at the cabaret
or the ballroom.
Once he asked the receptionist,
rumour had it, if it was possible
to go out into the fresh air,
there beneath the stars.
‘No stars tonight, sir!’
said the man in the hatch.
The old man wasn’t seen again
until we reached land.
Wonder what happened to him.
Not that it’s any of our business.
Stories from Kirahviäiti ja muita hölmöjä aikuisia (‘The giraffe mummy and other silly adults’, Teos, 2013), illustrated by Martina Matlovičová. Interview of Alexandra Salmela by Anna-Leena Ekroos
The monkey princess
Adalmiina’s life was not an easy one. Her parents decided to prepare her for her career as a princess when she was a little girl: when Adalmiina was three she was sent to ballet school, at four she started taking lute lessons and at five she went on a course in magic-mirror gazing.
When Adalmiina turned six, she received a giant suitcase full of princess clothes and shoes.
‘Put them on, darling, we want to see you in all your lovely beauty!’ her mother sparkled, waving a muslin veil.
‘I want to go to the jungle!’ Adalmiina demanded. ‘Without any clothes!’
‘Will we have to force you to dress in all your glory?’ her parents snapped.
‘You’ll have to catch me first!’ Adalmiina announced, running into the garden. More…
To what extent does a ‘historical novel’ have to lean on facts to become best-sellers? Two new novels from 2013 examined
When Helsingin Sanomat, Finland’s largest newspaper, asked its readers and critics in 2013 to list the ten best novels of the 2000s, the result was a surprisingly unanimous victory for the historical novel.
Both groups listed as their top choices – in the very same order – the following books: Sofi Oksanen: Puhdistus (English translation Purge; WSOY, 2008), Ulla-Lena Lundberg: Is (Finnish translation Jää, ‘Ice’, Schildts & Söderströms, 2012) and Kjell Westö: Där vi en gång gått (Finnish translation Missä kuljimme kerran; ‘Where we once walked‘, Söderströms, 2006).
What kind of historical novel wins over a large readership today, and conversely, why don’t all of the many well-received novels set in the past become bestsellers? More…
30 January 2014 | Reviews
Rasvaletti. Valokuvia 1950-luvun Helsingistä /
Fotografier från 1950-talets Helsingfors
[Hair-grease. Photographs from 1950s Helsinki]
Työryhmä [working group]: Yki Hytönen, Tuomas Myrén, Riitta Pakarinen, Aki Pohjankyrö, Hilkka Vallisaari
Helsinki: Helsingin kaupunginmuseo, Helsinki City Museum,
2013. 211 pp., ill.
Onnen aika? Valoja ja varjoja 1950-luvulla
[Time of happiness? Light and shadow in the 1950s]
Toimittaneet [Ed. by]: Kirsi-Maria Hytönen & Keijo Rantanen
Jyväskylä: Atena, 2013. 249 pp., ill.
The 1950s rocked! They literally did – that is when the world got rhythm: Blue Suede Shoes by Elvis and the film Blackboard Jungle, with Bill Haley’s hit Rock Around the Clock, for example.
The development of new sound reproduction – long-playing records and tape recorders – was essential to the spreading of the gospel of rock and pop here, there and everywhere.
In Finland, the shocking new music was a smash hit among a group of young urban men called lättähatut, flathats, who also wore tight trousers, black overcoats and pointed shoes. Their girls dressed in angora sweaters and tight trousers or skirts. These teenagers, who hung around together very late in the evenings, were largely considered not only a nuisance but also a possible danger to the peaceful development of society (not only in Finland…). More…
Hitting the ‘like’ button is not only boring but also working its way from Facebook deeper into society, says Jyrki Lehtola. Surely there must be some other way of solving the world’s problems?
At the end of the autumn the theatre critic of the Helsingin Sanomat newspaper panned Sofi Oksanen’s stage adaptation of her novel Kun kyyhkyset katosivat (‘When the doves disappeared’, 2013).
That’s life. Artists struggle with their projects, sometimes for years. Then a critic takes a glance at the result and crushes it in a matter of hours.
Then there’s a huff about unfairness, the use of power and all the things artists blow off steam about when they feel that their creations have been treated unfairly. The debate is held between injured authors and sometimes the critic, but generally few others participate, and just as well. More…
Finnish poetic modernism, which with its freedom of rhythm came to dominate the literary mainstream of the 1950s, posed a particular challenge to the poets of the classical metrical and romantic poetic tradition. Aale Tynni (1913–1997) is not a poet of any one school or form, but rhythm is the deepest foundation of her poems, whether expressed in metre, free verse or the speech rhythms that characterise some of her poems of the 1950s and 60s, as well as those of her final years.
An Ingrian Finn, Tynni left Ingermanland near Petersburg for Finland as a refugee after the First World War, in 1919. The war and the period of uncertainty that followed it are present in her poems as an allegory, sometimes appearing as a dance of death or a carnival. At other times they emerge in the myth of Phaethon, who with his sun chariot is in danger of throwing Mother Earth off her axis, or as a game of chess in which God and the angel Gabriel play with the planets and moons as pieces. The poet makes use of mythic and cosmic references to widen her scope and to portray Man in the stages of history and the present age. More…
Poems. Introduction by Tuula Hökkä
The arch bridge
From Ylitse vuoren lasisen (‘Over the glass mountain’, 1949)
And God said: to others I’ll give other tasks, but the task I’ll give to you
is to make a curving bridge, my child, with an arch that’s round and true.
For everywhere around the earth human beings are laden with gloom,
and they’ll come to cross an arching bridge in their anguish and their doom.
Make a bridge that spans the precipice, a bridge over the abyss,
one that shines to my glory with radiance, sparkling like this.
I said: They will come with heavy boots, and heels caked with clay –
how can my bridge withstand their weight, yet also shine this way,
not tarnish or break apart as their crowding presence nears?
And God said: well, it can only be done by means of blood and tears.
Your heart is stronger than mountain rock, the ore that’s buried there –
Put a piece of it into the bridge support, and you’ll get the bridge to bear.
Add a piece of the hearts of those you love, and I know they won’t condemn,
but will surely grant you forgiveness if you make a bridge for them.
Make a bridge to the glory of God, my child, make a bridge with arching light
that will span the depths and shine for ever, with radiance sparkling bright.
Don’t lock the sorrow out of your heart as the bridge you make appears.
Nothing gleams more beautifully than the brilliance of pure tears. More…
Finnish picture books for children have long been reliable export goods around the world. In the last few years, a number of novels for children have come along in their wake: works by authors such as Timo Parvela and Siri Kolu have been translated into a good many languages.
Now young adult literature has also blazed a trail on to the international market – in what also seems to be almost a matter of precision timing with regard to the Frankfurt Book Fair 2014. Finnish publishers have been investing in their home-grown lists of children’s and young adult books ever since the turn of the millennium, and now the time has come to harvest the fruits of their long-term efforts.
A short story from Reikä (‘The hole’, Like, 2013)
A four-litre saucepan should last the whole holiday, Honkkila calculates, throwing a bay leaf into the borscht.
Borscht is excellent at Christmas, as it blends the traditional Finnish dishes – beetroot salad, baked roots, ham.
At the same time Honkkila remembers the tree. He’s always had a tree, for forty years. When he was a child his dad brought it in from the back forest. Since then Honkkila has fetched his tree from various places, from the market and last Christmas from the shopping centre parking lot, but for this Christmas he has no tree.
Honkkila looks at the clock. The shopping centre is open for another hour. Honkkila takes the soup off the hob and goes out.
The shopping centre loudspeakers are beeping out electronic Christmas tunes; there are patches of spruce needles on the empty parking lot.
‘Is there anything left?’ Honkkila asks the assistant. More…
Johanna Sinisalo’s new novel Auringon ydin (‘The core of the sun‘, Teos, 2013), invites readers to take part in a thought experiment: What if a few minor details in the course of history had set things on a different track?
If Finnish society were built on the same principle of sisu, or inner grit, as it is now but with an emphasis on slightly different aspects, Finland in 2017 might be a ‘eusistocracy’. This term comes from the ancient Greek and Latin roots eu (meaning ‘good’) and sistere (‘stop, stand’), and it means an extreme welfare state.
In the alternative Finland portrayed in Auringon ydin, individual freedoms have been drastically restricted in the name of the public good. Restrictions have been placed on dangerous foreign influences: no internet, no mobile phones. All mood-enhancing substances such as alcohol and nicotine have been eradicated. Only one such substance remains in the authorities’ sights: chilli, which continues to make it over the border on occasion. More…
Extracts from the novel Auringon ydin (‘The core of the sun’, Teos, 2013). Introduction by Outi Järvinen
Jare, March 2017
‘We call the chilli the Inner Fire that we try to tame, just as our forefathers tamed the Worldly Fire before it.’
Mirko pauses dramatically, and Valtteri interrupts. ‘Eusistocratic Finland offers us unique opportunities for experimentation and development. Once all those intoxicants affecting our neurochemistry and the nervous system have been eradicated from society, we will be able to conduct our experiments from a perfectly clean slate.’
‘We fully understand the need to ban alcohol and tobacco. These substances have had significant negative societal impact. And though in hedonistic societies it is claimed that drinks such as red wine can, in small amounts, promote better health, there is always the risk of slipping towards excessive use. All substances that cause states of restlessness and a loss of control over the body have been understandably outlawed, because they can cause harm not only to abusers themselves but also to innocent bystanders,’ Mirko continues.
This is nothing new to me, but I must admit that the criminalisation of chillies has always been a mystery to me. By all accounts it is extremely healthy and contains all necessary vitamins and antioxidants. A dealer that I met once told me that people in foreign countries think eating chillies can lower blood pressure and cholesterol levels – and even prevent cancer. If someone makes a pot of tom yam soup, sweats and pants over it and enjoys the rush it gives him, how is that a threat, either to society or to our health? More…
[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…