Archive for March, 2005

In the wars

Issue 1/2005 | Archives online, Fiction, Prose

A short story from Jussi ja Lassi (‘Jussi and Lassi’, WSOY, 1921). Introduction by Pekka Tarkka

One winter evening, Lassi, who was six, asked: ‘Can’t we go out, mother?’

‘It’s late already,’ she said.

‘We’ve been inside the whole day practically,’ said Jussi, who was seven. ‘It gets on my nerves.’

‘Gets on your nerves, does it? Well, boys, you’ll soon be off in bed,’ she said, ‘so you won’t need to get nervy.’

‘Not off to bed – not yet, it’s not yet, not…’ Lassi broke off, trying to work it out.

‘It’s not six yet,’ Jussi said.

‘No, it isn’t,’ their mother said; ‘but you’ll have to stay in your room and not go charging about here, because visitors are coming.’ More…

Conversation pieces

Issue 1/2005 | Archives online, Authors

Maria Jotuni (1880–1943) was a master of dialogue, in prose and drama. Pekka Tarkka takes a look at her talents and introduces a short story from the 1920s

The Norwegian Nobel prize-winning writer Knut Hamsun admired the stories by the young Maria Jotuni and wrote to her: ‘Extraordinary, what a sure sense of form you have – but above all, your book is full of profound poetry…. My God, how beautifully and warmly you write about things which another might treat coarsely unpleasantly. I admire you.’

Both Jotuni and Hamsun belong to the same literary atmosphere as the fin de siècle Viennese masters of the erotic, Arthur Schnitzler et consortes. Joutuni’s masterly use of dialogue was at its most brilliant in those stories in which we do not hear the other party in the conversation at all. Jotuni used her dramatic skill in a number of plays, such as Tohvelisankarin rouva (‘The wife of the henpecked hero’, 1924), whose burlesque satire even today stirs the most conservative audiences to rage. More…

A world of make-belief

Issue 1/2005 | Archives online, Authors, Interviews

Learning to be a grown-up, finding out what being happy can mean, working out what makes us different from each other: Monika Fagerholm (born 1961) talks to Pia Ingström about what lies behind her latest novel, Den amerikanska flickan (‘The American girl’)

A wood with muddy parts, a fen where someone drowned, an impossible house that broods on a dark secret, a gun – Monika Fagerholm’s new novel Den amerikanska flickan (‘The American girl’ Söderströms, 2004) is a thriller and a melodrama. It contains elements of humour, but it would be truer to call it creepy, tragic and irritating, all at the same time.

As in her previous novels, Underbara kvinnor vid vatten (1994, published in English as Wonderful Women by the Sea in 1997), and in Diva (‘The Diva’, 1998), Monika Fagerholm (born 1961) looks for unusual aspects of her characters’ emotions and relationships, with a focus on forces other than the cohesion that holds nuclear families together. The sense of place is also strong; in Underbara kvinnor vid vatten it was the archipelago, in Diva the suburb and the school – here it is the country, woods and fen, and local residents in an encounter with newcomers and summer visitors. More…

Troubled waters

Issue 1/2005 | Archives online, Fiction, Prose

Extracts from the novel Den amerikanska flickan (‘The American girl’, Söderströms, 2004). Introduction by Pia Ingström

Doris Night&Sandra Day, Sandra Night&Doris Day: those were their alter ego identities for the game, which also involved the smiles they’d practised in front of the mirror at the bottom of the empty swimming pool, in the house in the muddier part of the woods.

‘We’re two clairvoyant sisters,’ said Doris Flinkenberg. ‘We got that way because of tragic circumstances. The poltergeist phenomenon. Do you know what that is?’

Sandra Wärn shook her head, but looked expectantly at Doris, the perennial crossword – solver, with dictionary to hand, who continued. ‘It’s when the innocent child has been badly abused and has developed supernatural powers in order to survive. Powers to see behind what’s there,’ Doris Flinkenberg explained. ‘To see what no one else can see.’

‘You and I, Sandra,’ Doris confirmed. ‘We were badly abused. I with my scars and you with your tragic family background, your mother and her lover, all of that. You and I, Sandra, we know what it is to suffer.’ More…

The nearness of the past

30 March 2005 | Authors, Reviews

Kjell Westö.  Photo Ulla Montan

Kjell Westö. Photo Ulla Montan

Kjell Westö (born 1961) has to a large extent converted the needs and dilemmas of his own generation into material for his own writing.

It was a generation that came too late for the wave of politicisation of the 1970s, but it was strongly influenced by the reaction against it: individualism and postmodernism, the delirium of the ‘casino-economics’ of the 1980s and the crash that followed. True, Westö stood back from many of the currents of the time, but was clearly influenced by them nonetheless. More…


30 March 2005 | Fiction, Prose

A short story from Lugna favoriter (‘Quiet favourites’, Söderströms, 2004)

We were in the space age, the age that came and went, the age of space and great dreams, when space was what we talked about and space was what the papers wrote about, and about Vietnam and protests and revolution, in articles precocious and prematurely old children spelled their way through, children living in the mixed forests of the North which had recently been transformed into gleaming suburbs where ink-caps, puffballs and parasol mushrooms still grow in the backyards of high-rise tower blocks. It says in the paper that we humans will soon have to move away, leave the Earth because our planet has become overcrowded and almost uninhabitable, and space and the eternity of space are waiting for us and we have engineers of the highest class who will soon solve such small problems as still remain. It’s not a question of forests of mixed trees or ink-caps or parasol mushrooms or other earthly things, it’s a question of it being too late now, that we must go further, first to the moon and then to Mars and Andromeda and further still, and here are some of the key words and phrases: space programme, space race, Apollo, Vostok, Tereshkova and Glenn. For humanity has dreams, dark mixed visions and a nagging and not easily extinguished sense of life’s inscrutability and greatness, but down here all goes on as before, we kill each other, we kill our fellow men in jungles and marshes, we kill them amid rugged mountains and in snow-clad forests, we poison them and blow them to pieces, we kill them in dark backstreets and in ramshackle wooden hovels and in mighty marble palaces where the bath-taps glitter with gold. Only a chosen few are able to escape, and to do this they have to set off upwards into a coolness, and seek out a darkness and solitude where there will be no anxiety or feelings of guilt. But before they can get there they must face opposition of a magnitude that can only be overcome by a fierce rush of power, and before the rocket can start it sits and breathes out smoke and gases and fire for a good thirty seconds before lifting off slowly and reluctantly as if unwilling to leave its home planet, as if it hasn’t the slightest desire to go, but when it gets under way it travels at incomprehensible speeds over unimaginable distances, it’s only 108 years since Lenoir invented the internal combustion engine and we are already up in space where it’s silent and cool and peaceful, just a little anxiety in case some instrument fails, in case some double safeguard shows itself insufficient, otherwise nothing, just weightlessness and silence, just the oceans and deserts and mountain-chains on the surface of our blue globe. Though let’s be fair: the Chinese, who haven’t been up in space, claim that the Great Wall of China must be visible from up there, but on the other hand they have nothing to say about the visibility of new-built suburbs in the miserable little capitals of small underpopulated countries with frosty climates. More…

Animals, thy neighbours

30 March 2005 | Authors, Reviews

Sirkka Turkka.  Photo Tomi Kontio

Sirkka Turkka. Photo Tomi Kontio

‘Everyone’s always in a hurry. In the grave it stops.’

In her new volume Sirkka Turkka (born 1939) appears as an even greater and more pitiless poet. Niin kovaa se tuuli löi (‘So bitterly the wind struck’, Tammi, 2004) – her twelfth volume, the first having being published in 1973 – is an unadorned and searching portrayal of death and the grief that accompanies it. It takes a thoroughly mature poet to handle major feelings as uninhibitedly as she does, and without letting the empathetic glow fade under the documentation.

Animals have always played an important role in Turkka’s somewhat melancholy but vital verse, with its highly individualised concrete language. In 1987 she received the Finlandia Literature Prize for her Tule takaisin, pikku Sheba (‘Come back, little Sheba’, Tammi, 1986; see Books from Finland 4/1988). Little Sheba was a small dog, one of the poet’s dearest friends. Turkka has worked as a stable manager, and horses are frequently central in her work. Domestic and farm animals are always a presence, and here they appear as tokens of the fragility of life and mortality. A hare, a horse, a dog and a lamb are among the animals whose deaths are dramatised. More…

Goodbye darling

30 March 2005 | Fiction, poetry

Poems from Niin kovaa se tuuli löi (‘So bitterly the wind struck’, Tammi, 2004)

Lord, you've promised to come, don't hang back.
     Here we are already, sitting, me and the dogs,
   and the others that have to go.

Jesus, poor thing, didn't know whom to bloom for,
  just kept on lugging his cross, pretty as a pony.
    He came and shot us down,
   bullets flying without his even noticing.
      The night was gifted with roses
        full of love.
 Through a woman we came here, through a man
    we leave.