Briefly put

Issue 3/2004 | Archives online, Authors, Reviews

Petri Tamminen (born 1966) is literally a man of short stories. He made his debut in 1994 with a volume of fictional biographies called Elämiä (‘Lives’), containing the stories of peoples’s lives presented in about 200 words each.

In them, entire decades flash by in a sentence, or lives are summed up in a single event, often apparently insignificance. In most cases, the comic, the tragic and the melancholy are not captured in language, but in what the author chooses not to say.

His novel Väärä asenne (‘Wrong attitude’, 2000) describes the nightmares of a new father plagued with a bacteriophobia. Tamminen’s collection of short prose, Piiloutujan maa (‘The land of the hider’, 2002), is a kind of manual for those oppressed by the anxiety of existence. The author suggests that anxious people should look for good hiding places to escape the madding crowds for a while. Attics, libraries or airports can be suitable refuges, but havens are also provided by states of mind and modes of behaviour. By hiding, ‘the anxious person rests, takes a holiday from the world and its rules’, he explains.

Now Tamminen has again donned the shining armour of the Knight of the Rueful Countenance, tackling what can be a deadly serious genre of literature, namely memoirs. This is perhaps not so typical for someone in his 30s. But Tamminen’s male protagonist, however neurotic or anxious he may be, is quite fearless: Muistelmat (‘Memoirs’, Otava, 2004) runs to 78 pages.

In the Finnish language, the word muistelma in the singular may also mean a thing remembered, a rememberance. Tamminen’s narrator journeys through life, from the year 1970 till the present day, from a small boy to a husband and father. Whether or not this character is a man called Petri Tamminen, is not terribly important – what is significant is that these short memories indeed form a fragmented, incomplete biography.

The young man becomes a student, gets engaged, jeopardises the relationship by having a secret romance, goes into therapy and thinks a great deal about death between 1995 and 1998. A shattering row takes place between him and his beloved, described on all of four lines! And then suddenly, a daughter, born prematurely, makes her appearance into this cruel but sometimes wonderful world. The reader needs to consider what is absent from each story, to fill in the empty spaces between the sentences. The author keeps collecting his mental notes from the past, from different places, a small village, a big town or in a foreign country, wherever his life has led him to stay or visit.

Tamminen seems equally puzzled, troubled, amused and fascinated by the tragicomical series of events – creating a phenomenon called life – that constantly take place around and within him, and invites his reader to share his wonderment.

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