Archive for March, 1996


Issue 1/1996 | Archives online, Fiction, Prose

A short story from Resa med lätt bagage (‘Travelling light’, Schildts, 1984)

Dear Jansson san

I am a Japanese girl.
I am thirteen years and two months old.
I will be fourteen on the eighth of March.
I have a mother and two little sisters.
I have read everything that you have written.
When I have read it I read it again.
Then I think about snow and being allowed to be by myself.
Tokyo is a very big city.
I am learning English and I am a very diligent student.
I love you.
I dream of one day being as old as you and as wise.
I have a lot of dreams.
There is a Japanese poem called haiku.
I will send you a haiku.
It is about cherry-blossoms.
Do you live in a big forest?
Forgive me for writing to you.
I wish you health and long life.

Tamiko Atsumi More…

Plain sailing

Issue 1/1996 | Archives online, Fiction, Prose

An extract from Alastalon salissa (‘In Alastalo’s parlour’, 1933). Introduction by Kai Laitinen

A letter from the translator:

Dear Editors,

Reluctantly (I really have tried) I have been driven to conclude that Alastalon salissa is untranslatable, except perhaps by a fanatical Volter Kilpi enthusiast who is prepared to devote a lifetime to it. To mention only one of the difficulties, there is no English equivalent to the style of the Finnish ‘proverbs’ (real or imaginary) with which the main character Alastalo’s thoughts are so thickly larded. Add to this the richness and, yes, eccen­tricity, of Kilpi’s vocabulary, and the unfamiliarity of much of the subject-matter, centred as it is on the interests of a sea­ going community that hardly exists any longer, even on the islands, and you have a text that is full of pitfalls for the translator. As for the humour, I’m sorry to say that it depends so much on the idiom and presentation that it doesn’t come over at all. If I did any more, I’m afraid it would just have to be a laborious paraphrase, and I don’t think I’m capable of making it effective, or even readable, in English.

Apart from that, although I’m very grateful for your explanations of the many unfamiliar words and phrases, I’m very unwilling to commit myself to the translation of any of them on the basis of a mere ‘gloss’ (technical word): I need to know the associations, and possible sound-echoes, of every one of them before I can be sure of getting it right. And getting it right affects the rhythm of every sentence: it’s not just a matter of filling in blanks with ‘equivalents’ provided by someone else.

I’ve no objection to your using my version of the opening pages. If you decide to follow it with some kind of comment, do borrow, if you need to, from my remarks above, giving the translator’s point of view. Sorry to have failed you so badly.

Yours, David Barrett More…

On not translating Volter Kilpi

Issue 1/1996 | Archives online, Authors, Reviews

Volter Kilpi’s classic novel Alastalon salissa (‘In Alastalo’s parlour’, 1933) has a reputation as a ‘difficult’ book. A Swedish translation is finally ready, but no one has ever succeeded in translating the work into English. Books from Finland decided to commission an extract – and had to admit defeat

‘Volter Kilpi is no good for people with weak lungs,’ said the poet Lauri Viita, some time toward the end of the 1940s. ‘Reading him, you get out of breath straight away.’ Kilpi’s major work, Alastalon salissa (‘In Alastalo’s parlour’) will take even an experienced reader two weeks, wrote another, older poet, Aaro Hellaakoski, in a 1937 essay.

Both were right. If one begins to read Volter Kilpi’s extended novel Alastalon salissa (1933) in the spirit of an entertainment or a detective novel, one soon tires. One can negotiate the slow tempo of its text, its long, curlicued sentences and wildly original vocabulary only by applying the brakes and pausing from time to time. For myself, I have found the two­week reading period prescribed by Hellaakoski about right. Kilpi is a demanding writer: every word must be read, the path of each sentence followed to the end. More…

Dreams so strong

Issue 1/1996 | Archives online, Fiction, poetry

Poems from Regnets uråldriga sätt att regna (‘The rain’s primordial way of raining’, Schildts, 1993)

the necessity of low tide
the necessity of still, mud-grey days
where the bird’s egg and your memory hide in the sand of the shy

the weak light
made of molten wind

and our faces deep inside the shadow.
we sleep: we dream a dream of sprouting shoots,
of the red heads of the newborn children
that palpitate beneath the ice –


The bully

Issue 1/1996 | Archives online, Fiction, Prose

A short story from Tulen jano (‘Thirst for fire’, Gummerus, 1995); power relations between doctor and patient in a situation where the past will not leave either alone

Nurmikallio, an apparently ordinary middle-aged man, came back again and again, and it seemed as if there would be no end to his story.

I listened to him patiently at first. Repeatedly he returned to the same subject. The form and emphases of the story changed, new memories emerged, but the gist was the same: he had failed in his life and believed that the root cause of his failure was a particular person, a childhood class-mate, a bully.

On the basis of his first visit I wrote a short character-sketch:

Intellectually average. Talkative, but by his own account solitary. Difficulties in human relationships, separated, no children. Electrician by profession, says he likes his work. Biggest problem obsessive attachment to childhood traumas.

And that’s all, I thought. But he was not to be so easily dismissed.