Animal farm

30 December 2005 | Authors, Reviews

Kaarina Valoaalto

Photo: Miriam Ramirez

Kaarina Valoaalto is a writer who obviously adores rolling around in language – in the same way as one of the dogs in her new novel, Nooakan parkki (‘Noahannah’s barque’, Tammi, 2005):

‘Mother dog gets up off her fat tail and trundles over to the slope in the yard for a bit of a roll around. There’s rough gravelly ice on the bumpy road surface. She rapidly wiggles her rotund body from side to side, thrusting her legs against the kerb to generate enough power, and a contented half-purr half-growl issues from her chest, enough to melt the ice in the most irascible mistress’s heart. This is undoubtedly the sort of thing a mother feels about her baby’s first gurglings.’

This kind of stuff may also melt an animal-loving reader into a puddle – the narrator’s relationship with her chickens, geese, cats, dogs and goats is an amusing mixture of humour, love, and a sharp eye for behavioural observation.

In Nooakan parkki Valoaalto (born 1948) sails through the time zones on the seven seas. She and her motley crew of animals set off during a hot and dry summer, navigate a flooded autumn and snow-laden winter, and steam briskly through the sprouting spring into a new summer again.

Actually the barque does not really move: the crew inhabits a metaphorical vessel, a house which is a stationary ship: ‘Although the uninitiated might claim that the view from the ship’s bridge is always the same – asserting that it consists of a certain number of rocks and trees, including six birches and seven pines – they’d nevertheless be wrong. The trees and rocks may remain numerically the same but not qualitatively, or visibly. They’re in constant transformation under the climate – not to mention sudden wind shifts, frosts and rains – as well as the clothes line stretched under the roof beams, creating endless modulations of tone and rhythm.’

Observations of everyday life on a farm, in a house that needs to be stoked up like a steamship in order to sail through the seasons, and more philosophical ruminations on life, are mixed in a capricious, oscillating flow of text both in micro- and macrocosm.

Valoaalto keeps picking up words as nimbly as a goat plucks shoots of new grass, savouring them carefully before incorporating them into her text. At times she rambles along the paths of her linguistically baroque universe seemingly at random, so those who prefer following more constructed roads, might find her text fickle or even tiresome. What does she mean by ‘bunion wind’ or ‘fish-scaly ocean dusk’? Everything will, however, become clear in context.

For me, reading Nooakan parkki revived an enjoyment for the taste of language; one’s tastebuds become numb, being constantly flushed by the bland, boring verbal ‘information’ of the everyday life. It is my duty as a working woman (editing this journal) to wolf down loads of new fiction – is that why the rough spontaneity of form here felt so refreshingly imperfect?

Kaarina Valoaalto’s (the last name is a pseudonym, meaning ‘Lightwave’) first collection of poems appeared in 1980; she has since published fourteen works of poetry and prose. She has now moored herself in a small village in the middle of Finland. Her previous novel, Einen keittiössä (‘In Eine’s kitchen’, 2002; see Books from Finland 3/2002), is an autobiographical novel about childhood in 1950s Helsinki. Her texts escape definitions of genres; they could be called prose poems or poetical prose.

Finally, out of linguistic interest, let’s take a look at the title, Nooakan parkki. Nooa, or Nooak, is Noah in Finnish, and akka means ‘old bag’‚ so Nooakka (genetive: Nooakan) is a reference to the female captain of a vessel called parkki (barque; cf. arkki, ark).

The title could be translated as ‘Noahanna’s barque’ – but the name Noah can also be a woman’s name; looking for comments in the search results of ‘Noah’ at www.behindthename.com, I found the following story:

‘Noah was the youngest daughter of Zelophehad, who died without any male heir [see the Bible, Numbers 27:1—11]. His five daughters [the other four were Mahlah, Hoglah, Milcah and Tirzah] requested, against custom, to inherit their father’s lands. After consulting with God, Moses agreed that it was their right; thus the daughters of Zelophehad gained their reputation as the first known feminists in history.’

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