New from the archives

Juhani Niemi on Väinö Linna

Issue 4/1980 | Archives online, Authors | Added 23 February 2017

Väinö Linna

Väinö Linna. Photo: WSOY

Väinö Linna fits squarely into one of the dominant patterns of twentieth century literary development in Scandinavia. Like many writers of the period, Linna came from a working class background and struggled to free himself from that environment through self-education. He had no special interest in politics but his natural leanings were moderately left-wing. He isn’t a ‘political’ writer as such, and it would be simplistic to apply labels to his views. His central interests, which directly affect his style, are a concentration on firstly, acute social observation and, secondly, social analysis. Through novels in this genre – and Linna is without doubt a master – the reader finds a world and all its influences, from the personal to the historical and economic dissected, the casings laid back, the true juxtapositions revealed.

The process can be powerful and effective and Linna’s major works Tuntematon Sotilas (‘The Unknown Soldier’, 1954, English translation 1957) and the trilogy Täällä Pohjantähden alla (‘Here beneath the North Star’, 1960-62) have struck deep into the Finnish national consciousness radically influencing the way events in recent Finnish history have been viewed by a wide audience of readers. Both works have been enormously popular: the characters have so accurately caught the Finnish personality that they have become part of the nation’s mythology. More…

The strike

Issue 4/1980 | Archives online, Fiction, Prose | Added 23 February 2017

An extract from Täällä Pohjantähden alla (‘Here beneath the North Star’), chapter 3, volume II. Introduction by Juhani Niemi

With banners held aloft, the procession of strikers moved towards the Manor. It was known that the strikebreakers had arrived early and that the district constable was with them. Just before reaching the field the marchers struck up a song, and they went on singing after they had halted at the edge of the field. The men at work in the field went on with their tasks, casting occasional furtive glances at the strikers. Nearest to the road stood the Baron and the constable. Uolevi Yllö’s head was bandaged: someone had attacked him with a bicycle chain as he left the field at dusk the evening before. Arvo Töyry was in the field too, the landowners having agreed that those who had got their own harrowing and sowing done should lend the others a hand. Not all the men in the field were known to the strikers. The son of the district doctor was there they noticed, and the sons of several of the village gentry, as well as the men from the smallholdings. More…

Interview with Kerttu-Kaarina Suosalmi

Issue 2/1980 | Archives online, Authors, Interviews | Added 23 February 2017

In these days of seminars, conferences, discussions and panels, Kerttu­-Kaarina Suosalmi is in constant demand as a fluent and lively speaker on a variety of subjects. Whether the occasion is a gathering of young theologians, a pacifist rally on Independence Day, or a seminar for young Marxists, what she has to say is always both shrewd and stimulating. Her manner of speaking suggests not so much a radio announcer as a force of nature. Not that Kerttu-Kaarina Suosalmi is ‘a writer with a message’ in the accepted sense. She does not indulge in polemics; her novels are neither documentary nor autobiographical, but pure works of the imagination. Critics speak of her recent books as artistic triumphs. Nevertheless, the relevance of her work to present-day conditions and problems is strongly felt by the reading public. It is rare for such an abundance and variety of material to be combined with such qualities as spontaneity of form and excellence of expression. Suosalmi’s first book appeared as long ago as 1948, a collection of poems entitled Melanmitta (‘A stroke of the paddle’). Her early works in prose, Synti (‘The sin’, 1957), a collection of short stories, and the novel Neitsyt (‘The virgin’, 1964) were tightly constructed, ‘well-made’ works in the accepted Finnish tradition. A more personal style of writing made its appearance with Hyvin toimeentulevat ihmiset (‘These affluent people’, 1969). In this novel, constructionally speaking, Suosalmi breaks new ground: there is no consecutive plot, the book being built up of sections written from the points of view of the various ‘affluent people’ of the title, the thematic unity becoming evident only in the context of the entire novel. More…

The Confirmation Present

Issue 2/1980 | Archives online, Fiction, Prose | Added 23 February 2017

An excerpt from Rakas rouva K (‘Dear Mrs K.’, 1979). Introduction and interview by Auli Viikari

Lahtinen read through what he had written so far, and it pleased him, especially the quotation from Clausewitz. “It could be said,” he went on, “that the victories of the French Revolution during those two decades were due in most cases to the mistaken policies of its opponents, even though the actual coup that shook the world took place within the framework of war.” His article was about the British attitude to Germany’s expansionist policies. There would not be another Munich, he felt sure: the House of Commons had cheered Chamberlain for the last time. Where, he asked himself, would England eventually abandon the role of passive onlooker? At Danzig, surely. It would not be like Poland to give something for nothing. She would set a world war in motion, of that he had no doubt. And he could see Poland dissolving into ruin before his very eyes. More…

On Daniel Katz

Issue 4/1980 | Archives online, Authors | Added 21 February 2017

Daniel Katz

Daniel Katz. Photo: Veikko Somerpuro/WSOY.

Daniel Katz (born 1938) is a member of Finland’s small Jewish community and the first Finnish writer to emerge from that background. The publication of his first book coincided roughly with the appearance in America of a wealth of Jewish literature. Katz has much in common with American Jewish writers, particularly in his parodies of conventional religious practices, but the Jewish community he writes about relates to the general social environment in a very different way. Writers like Philip Roth are concerned with a social group that is tightly hemmed in by its own claustrophobic boundaries, whereas Katz’s Jews, living alongside the reserved and at times withdrawn Finns, stand out as exceptionally extroverted and sociable beings; their Jewishness is not a fetter but their innate key to freedom. More…

Father

Issue 4/1980 | Archives online, Fiction, Prose | Added 21 February 2017

An excerpt from Laturi (‘The explosives expert’, 1979). Introduction by Pekka Tarkka

“It only took one good bash!” With tears in his eyes, chuckling and spluttering, Korppi, the sentimentalist, told the story of Linda’s love affair. Korppi hadn’t been an old codger then; like Chekov’s Versinin, he could have been dubbed the love-lorn major, although he was only a lieutenant for he had loved little Linda when he had been an officer guarding the refugees interned on Suursaari: interned not for their safety but for the protection of his country. “She loved getting parcels, oh yes, but she didn’t give a damn for me! And did I take what belonged to me?

Yes! No! I nibbled here and there but I never swallowed a whole bite … On the other hand, there were some who took a bite and swallowed it, one of them was called …”

“Selim!” shouted Enver.

Selim, that jelly. He was Korppi’s subordinate on guard duty, and had he known the other fellow had been flirting with Linda he would have killed her! But how could he have known? What took place under a clump of hills along a wooded lake shore… More…

Master of Satire

Issue 1/1981 | Archives online, Authors | Added 21 February 2017

Henrik Tikkanen

Henrik Tikkanen. Photo: Schildts & Söderströms

Henrik Tikkanen (born 1924) comes of a cultured Swedish-speaking family: his father was an architect, his grandfather an eminent art historian. But it is not only linguistically that Tikkanen belongs to a minority: in a land famous for epic he expresses himself in epigram and satire; in a land of lakes and forests he is an unashamed city-lover; in a land addicted to military virtues he stands out as a pacifist; in a land of books he writes for the newspapers. And in one of his autobiographical novels he confesses that he lacks the sentimental streak that motivates everything that is ever done in Finland.

For a Finnish author, Tikkanen has an exceptionally close relationship with the daily press. He earned his living as a working journalist, initially with Hufvudstadsbladet, the leading Finnish newspaper in Swedish, and later with Helsingin Sanomat, the biggest of the Finnish papers. After serving in the war it became his ambition to be Finland’s ‘best and only’ newspaper artist: he certainly achieved it. As a columnist and documentary feature writer who is at the same time a brilliant wit and coiner of epigrams, and who illustrates his own text, he still has no equal; indeed it would be hard to think of anyone who could even rank as a competitor. More…

The Last War Hero

Issue 1/1981 | Archives online, Fiction, Prose | Added 21 February 2017

An extract from 30-åriga kriget (‘The Thirty Years’ War’). Introduction by Markku Envall

First he heard the noise.

It was an unfamiliar noise and therefore doubly dangerous. Viktor grabbed his machine-pistol. It was a sputtering noise, like that of a cracked machine-gun. But it came from above. And what came from above could be dangerous, Viktor knew.

Then he saw the helicopter, flying just above the tree-tops. He had never seen a helicopter before. Nor had he ever seen the circular markings carried by the aircraft as a sign of the nationality. More and more nations were getting involved, he had had a visit from an American, for all he knew this might be a plane from Australia. The Russians must be in a tight corner if they had to keep sending their allies into the firing line.

He bitterly regretted having let the American sergeant get away.

Now they were after him in real earnest. It must have been the Yankee who had sent them.

Viktor directed a long burst of fire at the plane, which was now hovering almost motionless in the air, like a bee over a flower. The bullets shattered the roboter blades, splinters flew in all directions, and the helicopter dived at a steep angle and plunged into the lake. Viktor leapt to his feet and shouted “Hurrah!” and proceeded to execute a gleeful victory dance. He had shot down an enemy aircraft. More…

Studies in obsession

Issue 2/1981 | Archives online, Authors | Added 16 February 2017

Tove Jansson. Photo: Hans Gedda

Tove Jansson. Photo: Hans Gedda

From Tove Jansson’s first short book, Småtrollen och den stora överstämningen (‘The little troll and the great flood’, 1945) to her latest volume of short stories, Dockskåpet (‘The doll’s house’, 1978 – see extracts 1 & 2), there is a great step, and few of the readers of that first children’s story could conceivably have foreseen just how far its writer was to go. Since her start in 1945 Tove Jansson’s reputation as the originator of the Moomintroll stories has become worldwide, and in one sense her own creation must have become a burden to her, not least because many of the themes which have emerged have been difficult to encompass within the Moomin framework. It is not easy for a writer who has created a reputation as a children’s author to break through what might be termed the ‘adult barrier’, but Tove Jansson has shown herself determined to do so, and with Dockskåpet she must surely have overcome any lingering doubts her readers may have had. Here is the adult writer, firmly in control of her art and delving into subjects far removed from the child mentality. More…

The Monkey

Issue 2/1981 | Archives online, Fiction, Prose | Added 16 February 2017

A short story from Dockskåpet (‘The doll’s house’). Introduction and translation by W. Glyn Jones

The newspaper came at five o’clock, as it did every morning. He lit the bedside lamp and put on his slippers. Very slowly he shuffled across the smooth concrete floor, threading his way as usual between the modeling stands; the shadows they cast were black and cave-like. He had polished the floor since last making some plaster casts. There was a wind blowing, and in the light from the street lamp outside the studio the shadows were swaying to and fro, forced away from each other and then brought together again: it was like walking through a moonlit forest in a gale. He liked it. The monkey had wakened up in its cage and was hanging on to the bars, squealing plaintively. “Monk-monk,” said the sculptor as he went out into the hall to fetch his newspaper. On his way back he opened the door of the cage, and the monkey scrambled on to his shoulder and held on tight. She was cold. He put her collar on and fastened the lead to his wrist. She was a quite ordinary guenon from Tangier that someone had bought cheap and sold at a large profit: she got pneumonia now and then and had to be given penicillin. The local children made jerseys for her. He went back to bed and opened his newspaper. The monkey lay still, warming herself with her arms around his neck. Before long she sat down in front of him with her beautiful hands clasped across her stomach; she fixed her eyes on his. Her narrow, grey face betrayed a patience that was sad and unchanging. “Go on – stare, you confouded orangoutang,” the sculptor said and went on reading. When he reached the second or third page the monkey would suddenly and with lightning precision jump through the newspaper, but always through the pages he was finished with. It was a ritual act. The newspaper is torn apart, the monkey shrieks in a triumph and lies down to sleep. It can give you some relief to read about all the worthless nonsense that goes on in the world every morning at five o’clock and then to have it confirmed that it is worthless nonsense when the whole lot is made unreadable by a great hole being made through it. She helped him to get rid of it. More…

Locomotive

Issue 2/1981 | Archives online, Fiction, Prose | Added 16 February 2017

A short story from Dockskåpet (‘The doll’s house’). Introduction and translation by W. Glyn Jones

What I am about to write might perhaps seem exaggerated, but the most important element in what I have to tell is really my overriding desire for accuracy and attention to detail. In actual fact, I am not telling a story, I am writing an account. I am known for my accuracy and precision. And what I am trying to say is intended for myself: I want to get certain things into perspective.

It is hard to write; I don’t know where to begin. Perhaps a few facts first. Well, I am a specialist in technical drawings and have been employed by Finnish Railways all my life. I am a meticulous and able draughtsman; in addition to that I have for many years worked as a secretary; I shall return to this later. To a very great extent my story is concerned with locomotives; I am consciously using this slightly antiquated word locomotive instead of loco, for I have a penchant for beautiful and perhaps somewhat antediluvian words. Of course, I often draw detailed sketches of this particular kind of engine as part of my everyday work, and when I am so engaged I feel no more than a quiet pride in my work, but in the evenings when I have gone home to my flat I draw engines in motion and in particular the locomotive. It is a game, a hobby, which must not be associated with ambition. During recent years I have drawn and coloured a whole series of plates, and I think that I might be able to produce a book of them some time. But I am not ready yet, not by a long way. When I retire I shall devote all my time to the locomotive, or rather to the idea of the locomotive. At the moment I am forced to write, every day; I must be explicit. The pictures are not sufficient. More…

On Arto Melleri

Issue 1/1981 | Archives online, Authors | Added 16 February 2017

Arto Melleri

Arto Melleri, 1982. Photo: Pekka Turunen.

Arto Melleri (born 1956) is an experimenter, and, though still young, has lready explored a vanety of forms. He made an unusual start by writing, early in the 1970s, for a series called Kontakti-kirjat (‘Contact Books’): these were intended for a teenage audience and consisted of short stories and confessions written by young people. It is possible Melleri now feels some embarrassment at this debut. It did, however, get him off to an early start in poetry, and his first volume, Slaageriseppele (‘A bouquet of hit-tunes’, 1978) contains a faintly nostalgic piece about a teenage boy who churns out poems for the local newspaper in Ostrobothnia and collects his pittance for them.

Melleri is also involved in the theatre. He has studied at the Finnish School of Drama, and worked as dramaturg in the Finnish Radio Theatre. Together with Jukka Asikainen and Heikki Vuento, he wrote the script of the play Pete Q, which was a big hit in the summer of 1978, when it was performed by a scratch fringe group of actors bored with the conventional theatre with some gifted young drama students, and directed by the talented young Arto af Hällström. It is an avant-garde play, cutting through the current theatrical shibboleths, and establishing the point of view of the new theatrical generation. More…

Poems

Issue 1/1981 | Archives online, Fiction, poetry | Added 16 February 2017

Introduction by Pekka Tarkka

Wind’s whistling through Europe’s windows

In the moonlight
when the mirrors are screeching
cold light, a silvery curse
the newsreel breaks loose, gallops
the window pane into blackness

Wind’s whistling through
Europe’s windows, the sky’s
full of flying Pickwick Club papers

Just a moment

International terror’s
switchboard diagram: the transistors
are hijacking the plane More…

Johan Bargum’s analyses

Issue 2/1982 | Archives online, Authors | Added 14 February 2017

Johan Bargum. Photo: Irmeli Jung

Johan Bargum. Photo: Irmeli Jung

Few Finland-Swedish authors can make a living by their writing. A readership of little more than 300,000 cannot support a large number of writers, and only the most successful books sell more than a thousand copies. Writers have thus no choice but to seek other markets, notably in Sweden or among the Finnish-speaking population.

Both alternatives present problems, but popular writers like Henrik Tikkanen and Christer Kihlman are tending more and more to publish simultaneously in all three markets. Since the publication of his novel Den privata detektiven (‘The private detective’) in 1980, which even became the Book of the Month in Sweden, Johan Bargum has joined this group. Enthusiastic reviewers have since speculated on the possibility of translations into other European languages.

Born in 1943, Bargum grew up in Helsinki and, like so many other writers with their roots in the Finnish capital, he comes from an upper-class family. Politically he belongs to the left, while artistically he has benefited from family tradition: both his grandmother, Margit von Willebrand-Hollmerus, and his mother, Viveca Hollmerus, are well-known authors. Writing as a family tradition is actually quite a common phenomenon in Finland-Swedish literature.

A social conscience

Thanks to his skill as a dramatist as well as a prose-writer, Johan Bargum has been able to live by his pen for the past ten years. Early in the 1970s he had a success with Som snort (‘A cinch’), Bygga bastu (‘Building a sauna’) and Virke och verkan (‘Material and the making’), all specially written for Lilla Teatern, the Swedish-language theatre in Helsinki. In this trilogy he was concerned with the difficulties encountered by small businessman in their struggle against large monopolies. His text is characterized by a strong ironic humour. More…

The Session

Issue 2/1982 | Archives online, Fiction, Prose | Added 14 February 2017

Pappas flicka (‘Daddy’s girl’, 1982), an extract of which appears below, is published in Finland by Söderstrom & C:o and in Sweden by Norstedt. The Finnish translation is published by Tammi. Introduction by Gustaf Widén

At first I say nothing, as usual.

Dr Berg also sits in silence. I can hear him moving in his chair and try to work out what he’s doing. Is he getting out pen and paper? Or perhaps he has a tiny soundless tape-recorder he is switching on.

Or is he just settling down, deep down into his armchair, one leg crossed over the other, like Dad used to sit? I used to climb up on to his foot. The he would hold my hands and bounce his foot up and down, and you had to say “whoopsie” and finally with a powerful kick, he would fling me in the air so that I landed in his arms.

I have worked it out that the little cushion under my head is to stop us lunatics from turning our heads round to look at Herr Doktor.

It would certainly be nice to sit bouncing up and down on Dr Berg’s foot. His ankle would rub me between my legs …

I soon start feeling ashamed and blush.

“Mm,” says Dr Berg, as if reading my thoughts. Or can he see my face from where he is sitting? I try rolling my eyes up to catch a glimpse of him, but all I can see is the ceiling with all its thick beams.

“I seem to have been here before,” I say. More…

The elusive reality of Ralf Nordgren

Issue 1/1982 | Archives online, Authors | Added 14 February 2017

The poet and novelist Ralf Nordgren, part Ålander by blood, has close family ties with some of the Åland Islands’ most most outstanding cultural figures. He is the nephew of Sally Salminen, and he was in fact born – in Vasa – in 1936, the very year in which she published her best-selling novel Katrina. His brother is the composer Pehr Henrik Nordgren, his mother, Aili Nordgren, is herself a writer who has published five novels based on life in Åland (see Books from Finland, 4/1977).

Nordgren’s father, who shares his wife’s left-wing views and was once a communist party official, is not a writer, but his formative role is quite apparent, clearly reflected in the figure of the father in the first of Ralf Nordgren’s novels, Med (‘Taken along’, 1968), in which there is an appreciable autobiographical element. On one level he is responsible for the political substratum of the family, on another for the regularity with which they move house in time with his changes of job. More…

An end and a beginning

Issue 1/1982 | Archives online, Fiction, Prose | Added 14 February 2017

An extract from Det har aldrig hänt (‘It never happened’, 1977). Translated and introduced by W. Glyn Jones

There they are!

Over the ice they ride. The hoofs in rhythmical movement kick up the snow. The trail points north west. The sound of the hoofs is absorbed in the blue twilight of a March evening. The two horsemen push on, close together, passing one tiny island after another. Their eyes are fixed on a trail which has lain before them throughout the day. They are hunting like wolves. Yes, like wolves they are.

Or are they?

The twilight gives way to darkness and the black of night. The riders lean low over their horses in an attempt to follow the trail, but at last one of them raises his hand. The hunt is called off. The horses snort and toss their heads so their manes dance. Clouds of steam rise from them, enveloping the men as they dismount and lead their horses to an islet where the dark and deserted profile of a fisherman’s cabin can be glimpsed. Heaven knows who the hut belongs to, but it is a good thing that it is there with its walls and a roof, a shelter against the night. More…

On Eeva-Liisa Manner

Issue 4/1978 | Archives online, Authors | Added 7 February 2017

Eeva-Liisa Manner

Eeva-Liisa Manner. Photo: Tammi.

It is difficult to discuss Eeva-Liisa Manner’s poetry in isolation from her other writing. In both prose and drama she is a significant figure in Finnish literature, and, for instance, one of her plays – Poltettu oranssi (‘The burnt-out orange’) – had a nine-year run at the Tampere Workers’ Theatre.

Seen from one angle, a Manner poem is an opportunity to speak, to have a say on the day’s occurrences, such as the occupation of Czechoslovakia in 1968. Yet a poem of hers is always distanced. Perhaps it is mediated through the eternal myth of the East and West; or perhaps the events are seen from some altered perspective – from ‘a distant present’. Our own time may be seen, for example, from the point of view of the Cambrian Age. Myths and the animals associated with myth are consciously brought forward by the ‘I’ of the poems, always with a delicate irony. The horse is the most prominent and beloved of these beasts (the Creator ‘succeeded best’ with him), and he is identified with Jung’s animus. Discursive philosophy is not prominent in Finland. Finnish philosophers tend to be philosophers of science and technology – the purveyors of wisdom are the poets, and they are by no means bad at it. Taking a risk with the reader’s indulgence I could define Eeva-Liisa Manner as a philosophical poet­ meaning that her lyricism is charged with implication. The fine control of semantic content, as always in lyrical poetry, is achieved through her imagery and music; but her thematic centres, the problems she confronts, are seriously or ironically philosophical. In some of her poems, such as ‘A Logical Tale’. she may actually build up the lyric within an apparently tight case of thought; this is, of course, both a dig at philosophy and a philosophical point. Sometimes the digs are very hard. The nuances are many. More…

Poems

Issue 4/1978 | Archives online, Fiction, poetry | Added 7 February 2017

Poems from Kuolleet vedet (‘Dead waters’). Introduction by Aarne Kinnunen

1

A faraway tucked-away room
Leathery harness odour
An obscure carriage house
A mighty delay

And out through a narrow gate slipped childhood
And a pony cart was coming to get us 
                     swishing on the sand

White gloves on the coachman
and ornamented with a whip, the lash sounding
We were driving through spotted leaves
Lustre, dolour, lustre,
remembrance, snow

And suddenly the driver was gone
and nothing but hands were gripping the horse
and they were leading me I don’t know where. More…

Poems

Issue 2/1979 | Archives online, Children's books, Fiction, poetry | Added 2 February 2017

Kirsi Kunnas

Kirsi Kunnas. Photo: Jyrki Luukkonen

Poems from Tiitiäisen satupuu (‘The Tittytumpkin’s fairy tree’, 1956)

The old water rat

There’s a shiver of a reed,
a rustle in the grass,
a slop-slopping through the mud:
Who’s that puffing past?

Who’s that peeping there?

A whiskery head
and a muddy tread.
It’s Old Mattie
Water Rattie.

Squeezing water from his eyes,
trickling from his sneezing nose,
freezing and sneezing.
Then: Oh dear Misery!
A-snee, a-snee, a-snizzery! More…