Archive for June, 2010

Misery me

30 June 2010 | Fiction, Prose

Extracts from the collection of short prose, Mielensäpahoittaja (‘Taking offense’, WSOY, 2010)

Past pushing up daisies

Well, yeah, so I took offense when the doctor said that considering my age I’m in tip-top shape. His theory was that my 25-kilometre ski circuits would keep an old coot like me in shape, if they didn’t kill me first. He said if I were to start just sitting on the couch and waiting, then the Reaper would be on my back in no time.

I don’t ski for my health. I ski because it’s pretty in the forest, and when a body is sweating he doesn’t think a whole lot. More…

Asko Sahlberg: He [They]

28 June 2010 | Mini reviews, Reviews

Helsinki: WSOY, 2010. 120 p.
ISBN 978-0-36170-2
€ 24.10, hardback

The Finland-Swedish author Asko Sahlberg (born 1964), who lives in Gothenburg in Sweden, has had an interesting, if uneven, career over the past decade. Sahlberg’s particular strengths lie in his precise use of language and the rhythm of his prose. Since his debut novel, Pimeän ääni (‘The sound of darkness’, 2000), part of Sahlberg’s output has been concerned with meditations on existence and the purging of emotions, with the rest delving into historical themes, such as his 2004 novel Tammilehto (‘Oak Grove’) which is set in the year 1918, and He, his ninth book, which takes place in 1809. (An extract from his novel Eksyneet (‘The lost’) was published in Books from Finland, 2/2002.) In He Sahlberg uses a first-person narrative technique with multiple narrators, which feels justified in this highly distilled portrait of a family. The plot is set against the backdrop of the Finnish War (1808–1809), waged by King Gustav IV Adolf of Sweden and Alexander I, Emperor of Russia. Henrik and Erik are brothers fighting on opposite sides, their mother drowns her sorrows hard liquor, and Anna, the neighbour’s daughter, ends up with the wrong brother. The end of this novella is surprising, dealing with the anatomy of revenge and deceit.

Face to face

24 June 2010 | This 'n' that

FacebookYou can now keep up with what’s new at Books from Finland on Facebook.

And remember: you can also get Books from Finland articles delivered straight to your inbox or smartphone by signing up to our RSS feed, or subscribing to our regular newsletter – the new one is, as we used to say, currently in the typewriter and will be with you soon.

Let’s keep in touch!

Leena Lander: Liekin lapset [Children of the flames]

23 June 2010 | Mini reviews, Reviews

Liekin lapset
[Children of the flames]
Helsinki: Siltala, 2010. 419 p.
ISBN 978-952-231-022-1
€ 27.30, hardback

Novels by Leena Lander (born 1959) have been translated into more than 20 languages. Liekin lapset is a family saga, told in two parallel timelines. One is a portrait of a small coastal community in south-western Finland from the turn of the 20th century up to the end of the Finnish civil war in 1918 and the years following it. Life in the area is governed by a sawmill and a manor, socially dividing the community in two. Saida, Joel, Anders and Arvi grow up together, the future workers dreaming of socialism and the sons of the manor playing warlords. In the contemporary strand of the story, Sakari Salin, Saida’s grandson, begins researching his grandmother’s life. The documents reveal some rather remarkable events: here, the author defends the rights of those who were on the losing side in the civil war and creates a lively – as well as historically grounded – portrait of the times. The dialogues and characters in this novel work well, and the structure supports a complex system of psychosocial interconnections, in which the present finds an explanation in the past.

Get out of my Face(book)!

23 June 2010 | Columns, Non-fiction, Tales of a journalist

Much is made of the importance of Facebook and the other social media. But what are they, asks journalist and self-confessed internet cynic Jyrki Lehtola in his regular ‘Journalist’s Tales’ column; and, more important, is there any point to them?

This journal and this text appear only on the internet, and you can comment upon the elegant style of this text, as well as its fascinating content, at the bottom of the piece. If worst comes to worst, the apathy it arouses can even give rise to debate.

Does all that mean that I’m a part of… the social media? And if so, could someone tell me what social media mean and how I can get out of here? More…

Need to go?

23 June 2010 | This 'n' that

No traveller can avoid toilets, as the internet service (run by the company that owns the New York Times) points out on its Scandinavia travel website.

Thus, it may be reassuring to know that ‘the days of outhouses are numbered’, and in Finland there are no squat toilets, according to the experiences of the editor, Terri Mapes. (The concept of ‘Finlandic restrooms’, however, is a new one to us – as is, for that matter, the adjective ‘Finlandic’.)

However, under the title ‘Bad Things About Toilets in Finland’ you’ll be informed about the possibility of outhouses without running water, should you choose the option of wandering into the wildernesses. And as toilets at airports or train stations may occasionally smell bad, it is advisable to use the bathroom at your hotel, unless your needs are urgent of course. More…

Drama queen: on writing, and not writing, plays

14 June 2010 | Articles, Authors

The queen who chose not to rule: Christina of Sweden in the play Queen C (first produced at the Finnish National Theatre in 2003, directed by the author, Laura Ruohonen, with Wanda Dubiel in the role of the Queen). Photo: Leena Klemelä

Extracts from ‘Postscript’, published in Kuningatar K ja muita näytelmiä (‘Queen C and other plays’, Otava, 2004)

It’s hard to read plays. I was bitterly disappointed at the age of eight, when I hid in my grandmother’s attic and opened up Romeo and Juliet, a book that seemed to promise lust and appalling acts. But it wasn’t even a real book; it was just talking from beginning to end! Where was the plot, the action, the much talked-about love story?

It’s also hard to write plays. Novels and works of poetry are closed miniature worlds that invite the reader in. A play always serves two masters. It has to be open and porous to allow the actor and the performance to penetrate into it. More…

The gender of the soul

14 June 2010 | Drama, Fiction

Scenes from the play Kuningatar K / Queen C

Christina, the Queen
The Queen Mother
Karl Gustav, the Count [Christina’s suitor, the King-to-be]
Descartes, philosopher
The King
Oxenstierna, Per Brahe
A choir of midwives

The play can be performed with six actors (3 female, 3 male). Other ways of dividing the roles are possible. All stage directions may be altered.

1. Prologue
The eels’ court

If eels had a court then a great female eel would sit in the centre and the little males would writhe about like seaweed around the throne. However they would not be envious of the queen, because they would know that if they swam up into rivers and lakes, into fresh waters, they themselves would gradually become females, great and heavy, and would be able to rule and close into their great embrace all the small little gentlemen. They just have to wait.
I don’t know. What I do know is that a great black eel, as thick as a rope, was pulled out of the well last night and the Queen looked at its silver stomach and its thrashing tail, but the eel looked the Queen in the eyes and in the heart and since then she has never been the same. More…

Peter von Bagh: Sodankylä ikuisesti [Sodankylä forever]

11 June 2010 | Mini reviews, Reviews

Sodankylä ikuisesti
[Sodankylä forever]
Helsinki: WSOY, 2010. 308 p., ill.
ISBN 978-951-0-36290-7
€ 52, hardback

The Midnight Sun Film Festival is the world’s northernmost film festival. Held in  Sodankylä, Lapland, it is now 25 years old. This scrapbook includes the text of speeches given by filmmakers as well as a wealth of material about the films shown over the years. Much of this material is based on the morning discussion panels which the festival’s director, film historian and author Peter von Bagh, has chaired with his guests. More than one hundred film directors, from Samuel Fuller to Wim Wenders, talk about the background and influences in their work. Von Bagh has constructed dialogues between directors who did not actually attend the same sessions; he calls these conversations – sometimes between the living and the dead – ‘heavenly dialogues’. The Festival was founded by Finnish film directors Aki and Mika Kaurismäki and Anssi Mänttäri in collaboration with the municipality of Sodankylä. The light summer nights and laid-back atmosphere at the festival delight the speakers and audience members every year. In the words of the American filmmaker D.A. Pennebaker, ‘Woodstock is fuckin’ nothing if you’ve been at the Midnight Sun Film Festival.’

Reference database ARTO

11 June 2010 | In the news

ARTO, a reference database of articles published in around 600 Finnish magazines and journals, created and updated by the National Library of Finland, is now available without charge and functions also in English.

For example, if you’d like to find out if there are any articles on Mika Waltari published in printed Books from Finland between 1967 and 2008, this is now possible.

(Please note that the articles themselves are not available through this database – if you would like to obtain copies of pieces from Books from Finland, for example, you will have to contact either the reprographic services at the National Library, or us:

On reading, books and horses

4 June 2010 | Articles, Non-fiction

Ladylike: woman riding sidesaddle (Journal des Dames, 1799)

Horses, women, cars, men and reading: Teemu Manninen takes a look at the changes that illogical  history makes

I have a friend who is an avid reader and who also talks about the books he reads. But being a staunch conservative when it comes to reading habits, I just cannot consider him a true friend of literature. The reason: he only reads non-fiction books. To me, ‘being a reader’ means reading fiction and poetry.

But increasingly it seems that real literature is becoming more and more marginal, whereas non-fiction (self-help, history, travel guides, popular science, popular economics, cookbooks) is what sells and keeps the industry afloat. The recent Finnish ‘essay-boom’ is an example of this development, with young writers like Antti Nylén or Timo Hännikäinen gaining recognition as important contemporary authors solely through their work as essayists; Hännikäinen has also written poetry, but Nylén is strictly a non-fiction writer. More…

Mirkka Lappalainen: Susimessu – 1590-luvun sisällissota Ruotsissa ja Suomessa [Wolf Mass. Civil war in Sweden and Finland in the 1590s]

4 June 2010 | Mini reviews

Susimessu – 1590-luvun sisällissota Ruotsissa ja Suomessa
[Wolf Mass. Civil war in Sweden and Finland in the 1590s]
Helsinki: Siltala, 2009. 319 p.
ISBN 978-952-234-016-0
€32, hardback

Sweden at the end of the 16th century was riven by struggles for power: the opponents were the Protestant Duke Charles and Sigismund, King of Poland and Sweden, a strong supporter of the Counter-Reformation in the Nordic lands. A peasant uprising that came to be known as the ‘Cudgel War’ was underway in Finland – then part of the kingdom of Sweden. This book recounts the dramatic history of that civil war and, in line with current interpretive methods of historical research, explodes some popular myths that have been built up around these events. Mirkka Lappalainen has gained recognition as a bold writer who skilfully combines micro- and macro-level history. She characterises Sigismund, whom the Vatican supported to no avail, as a ‘melancholy, absent-minded vacillator, who preferred to play music.’ Lappalainen provides a fascinating alternative historical interpretation of what would have happened if the Vatican’s plans to wrest Finland away from Sweden and unite it with Poland had come to fruition.

Tapio Markkanen Paratiisista katsoen. Tähtitaivaan karttojen historiaa [Viewed from Paradise. A history of maps of the night sky]

4 June 2010 | Mini reviews

Paratiisista katsoen. Tähtitaivaan karttojen historiaa
[Viewed from Paradise. A history of maps of the night sky]
Helsinki: Ursa (Astronomical Association), 2009. 143 p., ill.
ISBN 978-952-5329-80-3
€ 32, paperback

This book presents a scientific and cultural history of mapping the night sky, from ancient times up to the present day. In addition to the technical processes involved in producing celestial maps, it touches on a broad range of cultural connections, since the practice of mapping the heavens has always been inextricably linked with economic, cultural and political concerns throughout human history. How has mankind around the world experienced and comprehended the night sky? The title of this book refers to the ancient practice of portraying the skies the wrong way round – as a mirror image, as if viewed from heaven. ‘That’s how the gods would have seen it,’ the author, Professor Tapio Markkanen, an astronomer at the University of Helsinki, reminds us. This book was published in conjunction with an exhibition organised by the National Library of Finland as part of the International Year of Astronomy in 2009. Many of the maps reproduced in this book are from the Nordenskiöld Collection, housed in the National Library, and included in the UNESCO Memory of the World programme.