Archive for June, 2014

Two men in a boat

25 June 2014 | Fiction, Prose

The meaning of life, Bob Dylan, the broken thermostat of the Earth, the authors Ambrose Bierce and Aleksis Kivi…. Two severely culturally-inclined men set out to row a boat some 700 kilometres along the Finnish coastline, and there is no shortage of things to discuss. Extracts from the novel Nyljetyt ajatukset (‘Fleeced thoughts’, Teos, 2014)

The red sphere of the sun plopped into the sea.

At 23.09 official summertime Köpi announced the reading from his wind-up pocket-watch.

‘There she goes,’ commented Aimo, gazing at the sunken red of the horizon, ‘but don’t you think it’ll pop back up again in another quarter of an hour, unless something absolutely amazing and new happens in the universe and the solar system tonight!’

Aimo pulled long, accelerating sweeps with his oars, slurped the phlegm in his throat, spat a gob overboard, smacked his lips and adjusted his tongue on its marks behind his teeth. There’s a respectable amount of talk about to come out of there, thought Köpi about his old friend’s gestures, and he was right.

‘Sure thing,’ was Aimo’s opening move, ‘darkness. Darkness, that’s the thing. I want to talk about it and on its behalf just now, now in particular, while we’re rowing on the shimmering sea at the lightest point of the summer. More…

Crime, no punishment

24 June 2014 | In the news

tikliSummer is the season for crime – where buying and reading books is concerned. When spring ends and summer begins, several whodunits and thrillers appear on the list of best-selling books compiled by the Finnish Booksellers’ Association. However, on the translated fiction list Donna Tartt rules with her novel The Goldfinch (Tikli, WSOY).

For the third time since March, number one on the Finnish fiction list in May was Tommi Kinnunen’s first novel, Neljäntienristeys (‘The crossing of four roads’, WSOY). In March this title reached the top after favourable reviews – in the Helsingin Sanomat daily paper in particular.

The narrative spans a century, beginning in the late 19th century, and is set mainly in Northern Finland. The Swedish publisher Norstedts was the first to buy the translation rights.

The next two on the list are crime novels: Cowboy (Otava) by Reijo Mäki and Mustat sydämet (‘Black hearts’, Crime Time) by Seppo Jokinen. The new ‘granny crime’ book by Minna Lindgren, the sequel to her Kuolema Ehtoolehdossa (‘Death at Twilight Grove’, 2013, Teos), entitled Ehtoolehdon pakolaiset (‘Twilight Grove refugees’) is number five; the resourceful 90-year-plus protagonists may not be criminals themselves, but odd things are certainly happening in the home for the elderly again. Lindgren’s first book is making its way into other languages as well.

Soiva laulukirja (‘The singing songbook’, Tammi), edited by Soili Perkiö, tops the list of books for children and young people: the push of a button delivers a piano accompaniment to any one of 50 Finnish songs. It may prove to be particularly popular with parents as entertainment for their kids on long car journeys.

Five of the other nine of the best-selling books on the translated fiction list – on which Tartt was number one – are about serial killers and other murderers.

The non-fiction list is headed by a collection of messages from the spiritual world: the pop star Katri Helena (born 1945) who debuted in 1963, has written down what she feels her dead loved ones have chosen to tell her. Taivaan tie (‘Heaven road’, Otava) deals with love, conscience, good deeds and the good life. One might wonder though why this selection of aphoristic observations is included in the non-fiction category.

On the list there are also books on baking cakes and cooking, and, as usual in summer, on nature, as people retreat to their summer homes to lie in hammocks to listen to birdsong and read about serial killers.

Harri Kalha: Muodon vuoksi. Lasin ja keramiikan klassikot [For form’s sake. The classics of glass and ceramics]

24 June 2014 | Mini reviews, Reviews

kalhaMuodon vuoksi. Lasin ja keramiikan klassikot
[For form’s sake. The classics of glass and ceramics]
Helsinki: The Finnish Literature Society, 2013. 335 pp., ill.
ISBN 978-952-222-402-6
€75, hardback

This handsome, massive work introduces objects of glass and ceramics from the Finnish ‘golden age’ of the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s. Artist-designers Kaj Franck, Tapio Wirkkala, Toini Muona, Timo Sarpaneva and Kyllikki Salmenhaara were awarded three prizes at the Milan Triennale, Rut Bryk and Birger Kaipiainen two, but the number of designers whose works have become classics without these prizes is naturally much larger. The art historian and author Harri Kalha records the exceptional development of industrial design. In postwar Finland, with scarce resources, art and mass production entwined, resulting in high-standard objects of glass and ceramics gaining international fame and becoming part of international modernism. The businessman Kyösti Kakkonen became interested in Finnish design in the 1990s, and now his private collection consists of thousands of objects, from which Kalha has made his choices for the book. More than two hundred photographs, by Niclas Warius, pay tribute to the materials, shapes and colours of the objects as light is reflected from the surfaces, making them appear three-dimensional, both real and dream-like. The printing, by Bookwell, matches the quality of the photography.

The private I? Me and my home

17 June 2014 | Reviews

Photo: Avaimia ajattomiin suomalaisiin sisustuksiin / Jaanis Kerkis

Art Nouveau with a modern twist. Photo: Avaimia ajattomiin suomalaisiin sisustuksiin / Jaanis Kerkis

Avaimia ajattomiin suomalaisiin sisustuksiin
[Keys to timeless Finnish interiors]
Design: Hanni Koroma, text: Sami Sykkö, photographs: Jaanis Kerkis
Helsinki: Gummerus, 2014. 123 pp., ill.
ISBN 978-951-20-9507-0
€32.90, hardback
Katja Lindroos
MOMO. Koti elementissään
[MOMO. The home in its element]
Photography: Riikka Kantinkoski, Niclas Warius
Helsinki: Siltala, 2013. 154 pp., ill.
ISBN 978-952-234-164-8
€32.90, hardback (in Finnish only)

‘Interior decoration’ has become an extremely popular pastime in Finland – as elsewhere where the standard of living allows it.

Innumerable magazines and blogs keep churning out photos of rooms with large white, cushioned sofas, glossy white kitchen cabinets and white floors on which furniture seems to float forlornly. Walls are decorated with wooden or metallic letters forming words: love; home, sweet home. In the kitchen the bread bin bears the word BREAD. (Bookcases, with actual books, are rare.)

Why is it that in our age which worships ‘individuality’, trends rule? More…

Hip hip hurray!

13 June 2014 | This 'n' that

Tove Jansson, 1956. Photo: @Moomin Characters

Tove Jansson, 1956. Photo: @Moomin Characters™

The English author of bestselling children’s fantasy books Philip Pullman – of His Dark Materials fame – declares himself a devoted fan of Tove Jansson, the Finnish Moomin-creator and artist, whose stories and novels have been translated into 44 languages.

Pullman has been a fan since the age of eight – now, reassessing Jansson’s work, he notes ‘the perfection of the drawings’. Jansson illustrated her Moomin books, in black-and-white mostly.

Pullman reviews two books in Books for Keeps, the British online children’s book magazine: the newly translated biography of Tove Jansson (1914–2001) by the Swedish scholar Boel Westin (Tove Jansson: Life, Art, Words, Sort of Books, 2014) and Tove Jansson’s memoir from her childhood, Sculptor’s Daughter. ‘Jansson responded to the world with a freshness and originality that have hardly ever been matched in the field of children’s books,’ he writes.

The artist, painter, writer Tove Jansson was born on 9 August – almost a hundred years ago. A major centenary exhibition of her work at the Finnish National Gallery Ateneum is open until 7 September.

Pullman concludes: ‘she could convey all the excitement of wonder as well as the reassurance of comfort and familial love – and [–] evoke a mood of apprehension, loss and mystery. She should have had the Nobel Prize.’

Three cheers – we at Books from Finland agree!

Sata sosiaalista innovaatiota Suomesta [100 innovations from Finland]

5 June 2014 | Mini reviews, Reviews

innovaatioSata sosiaalista innovaatiota Suomesta
[100 innovations from Finland]
Toim. [Ed. by] Ilkka Taipale
Helsinki: Finnish Literature Society, 2013. [Second, revised edition] 332 pp .
ISBN 978-952-222-466-8
€10, paperback
English edition:
100 Social Innovations from Finland
ISBN 978-952-222-463-7
€10, paperback

In this book edited by the physician and social activist Ilkka Taipale, dozens of experts discuss Finnish social innovations. The book is a revised version of the volume that first appeared in 2006 and has already been translated into 17 languages. Readers may have their own ideas about whether all the innovations originated in Finland – nevertheless, they are distinctively Finnish in their application. They are dealt with in the following groups: administration, social policy, health, culture, international context, civil society, social technology and everyday amusements. A wide range of topics is covered, including the Sámi issue, the unicameral parliament, the maternity package, free education, text messaging and Nordic Walking [walking with the poles for exercise]. Some of the innovations, like the sauna, Nordic Walking, the board game ‘Star of Africa’ and the free computer operating system Linux, are well known outside Finland, while others are only to be found there. The viewpoints presented in the essays vary, but the book provides a thought-provoking overview of Finnish creativity.

Translated by David McDuff

Animal magic

3 June 2014 | Extracts, Non-fiction

Roe deer, Sweden. Photo: Mats Andersson

Roe deer, Sweden. Photo: Mats Andersson

A day in the life of an elk, of a lynx? Nature photographers venture into the depths of forests, in pursuit of the inhabitants – predator and prey, mythical and real. Photographs from Kohtaamisia (‘Encounters’), by Mats Andersson and Heikki Willamo, text by Willamo (Maahenki & Musta Taide [Black Art], 2014)

The feelings in our dreams. They well from depths – from those layers of awareness that the mind does not shackle. In sleep we handle and organise the events of our lives in a way which is impossible when awake, when we are conscious of ourselves and our limitations. That is why animals can come into my dreams as friends, equal partners, like me, and therefore I so often dream of having their abilities and skills.

When awake we think all the time. We think about past events and worry about the future or dream of something better. Very seldom do we live in the moment.  Photographs are passing moments, often only a thousandth of a second long, but sometimes lasting minutes or even hours. In finished photographs the beholder can see much more – he adds his memories or dreams of the future. The picture-taking moment vanishes, something else comes in its stead. More…