From the land of abundant reindeer…

17 March 2011 | This 'n' that

Rangifer tarandus, Finnish Lapland. Photo: Grand-duc (

Is Finland, a land of reindeer, ‘dense pine forests and deep snows’ also a ‘quiet literary landscape’?

Not exactly, as we at Books from Finland hope we are demonstrating. And over on the Bookslut website, Bonnie B. Lee comes to the same conclusion, after having mused about the reindeer (yes: in Helsinki you find tasty chunks of them in the freezer boxes of any foodstore) and reading three Finnish novels in English translation.

The novels Lee reviews are Purge by Sofi Oksanen (Puhdistus, 2008, translated by Lola Rogers, published last year), When I forgot by Elina Hirvonen (Että hän muistaisi saman, 2005, translated by Douglas Robinson, published in 2009) and The Year of the Hare by Arto Paasilinna (Jäniksen vuosi, 1975, first published in an English translation by Herbert Lomas in 1995, reprinted as a Penguin edition last year).

We have just entered the Year of the Rabbit, in recognition of which Paasilinna’s book (about a man who rejects his old life and goes roaming the wildernesses with a hare as his only companion) has appeared on the tables of large bookstores in the US. ‘The Year of the Hare is only the most Finnish, and perhaps most antically Zen-ish, of a shelf-load of books that tell us to find and live by our own ideas of contentment,’ said The Wall Street Journal.

The traumatic experiences of war and Finland’s deep forests are the common feature of these novels, Bonnie B. Lee finds. She also opines that ‘melancholy pervades the Finnish psyche’, and that ‘Finland vies with Hungary for highest suicide rate in Europe‘. Oh, but this latter is no longer true: number one on a World Health Organisation suicide rates list is Lithuania, followed by Hungary, Slovenia, Estonia and Latvia – Finland is number six.

Lee is clearly intrigued by her travels in contemporary Finnish literature. ‘The search for identity, a reckoning with a troubled past, and an outsider’s view looking in,’ she comments, ‘are all the stuff of great writing, and Finland is poised to continue to produce poignant and introspective literature that we can appreciate now that English translators have begun the work.’

Poignant and introspective or occasionally funny and fantastical, this is the work we try to offer an early glimpse of, in translation, at Books from Finland. Stay with us!

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1 comment:

  1. susan butani

    I have these three books but have not yet read When I Forgot. Purge was a very good read and The Year of the Hare is one of my favorite books. I am trying to get a hold of a copy of the movie version. It is one of the few books that I have read more than once. I wish that more Finnish literature, in English translation, was available in the U.S.

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