Archive for October, 2014
30 October 2014 | This 'n' that
Finland was Finnland and cool as Guest of Honour at the Frankfurt Book Fair from 8 to 12 October.
There was plenty to choose from, and then some: more than 500 Finland-related events, readings, exhibitions and cultural projects, 50+ Finnish authors, books, pictures, videos, music.
More than 130 books (plus new editions) have been published in German this year, and interest in Finnish literature in other countries – Frankfurt is the world’s biggest book fair, and publishers from all over the world are represented – will inevitably grow.
So the Finnish organiser, FILI – Finnish Literature Exchange – and its staff has now put their feet up for a moment, as it were, after very successfully tangoing through it all, and are savouring all the wow-factor memories of this big enterprise. After several years of preparation and hectic last months, it seems international interest in literary things Finnish exceeded all expectations.
For those of you who couldn’t make it to the Finnish Pavilion, there are photographs of various events at Frankfurt, and lots more on this site, so take a look. Vorwärts! / Onwards!
Writing is arguably brain-control technology, notes our columnist Teemu Manninen. Writing might not be on its way out, at least not quite yet, he thinks, but the printed book might not stay with us for ever. And would that be a happier world?
When the future of literature is discussed, either here in Finland and elsewhere, topics usually revolve around changes in the economics and practicalities of reading, writing, and publishing: how will writers and publishers get paid, and how can readers find more books to read.
What is taken for granted in these instances is that literature itself will continue to be something that exists in a recognisable way – which itself of course implies that writing itself will remain a viable mass medium for the transmission of information over the transcendent, enormous, unfathomable gulfs of space and time, as it has been for thousands of years. More…
Helsinki: Schildts & Söderströms, 2014. 226 pp.
€ 28, hardback
Suomentanut [Translated by] Outi Menna
Helsinki: Schildts & Söderströms, 2014
Peter Sandström debuted in 1998. His sixth book, the novel Transparente blanche [White transparent: apple variety], is about a middle-aged man who returns to the place of his upbringing and his elderly mother to help her with a strange task she has been given. He is confronted with memories of crucial experiences of his youth – the early death of his father, and his first love – experiences which, the reader understands, guided his life and made him the alienated person he is. The novel also depicts in an unusually sensitive and penetrating way the relationship between a grown man and his mother. However, plot is never the focus of Sandström’s books. His interest lies in using a specific environment and precise and poetic language to depict the vaguest of existential experiences: transience, mortality, changes in the perception of one’s body and in things, the unreliability of memories, the enigma of other people, all that it means to be human, impermanent and thrown into the stream of time.
Translated by David McDuff
In this series, authors discuss the difficulties of their trade. Jari Järvelä finds it difficult to stop gathering source material which then gets piled in towers on his desk and in sacks around it. He knows that it’s got to stop though – for when it does, the stories will finally emerge, and life is a bliss… for a moment
When I was younger I thought that writing a novel began with the moment when I sat down at my desk and pressed a key for the first time. A. Hmmm…no, H. No, let’s make that S. No no no, I need a more original beginning…Z!
That’s not the case. The writing of a novel begins between two and twenty years before the choice of the first letter and the first word. Sometimes longer.
In the case of my novel Särkyvää (‘Fragile’, 2014), I know the exact moment of its birth.
Before I began to make a career as an author, I spent a year as a teacher at Hamari school in Porvoo. It was the beginning of the 1990s. Hamari was an old sawmill community on the sea, full of wooden houses more than a century old and motor boats put-putting toward the horizon. The headmaster looked more like a sea dog than a teacher; one morning he announced that it was his fortieth birthday. After that he sat down on the staff-room sofa, fell into deep thought and suddenly ejaculated, ‘Why the hell does a person have to gather so much junk in their life?!’ More…
23 October 2014 | In the news
The 40th Finnish State Prize for the Translation of Finnish Literature of 2014 – worth €15,000 – was awarded to the German translator Angela Plöger at the Frankfurt Book Fair on 8 October.
Dr Angela Plöger (born 1942) studied Finnish and Fennistics in Berlin; she first came to Finland in the 1960s after having become interested in the Finnish language as a result of learning Hungarian.
‘I had been to the restaurant at the Helsinki Railway Station where Bertolt Brecht was thinking how the noblest part of a man is his passport, and how Finns are a people who keeps silent in two languages.’
Plöger then defected to West Germany, starting her career anew. She has also translated texts from Hungarian and Russian. In her speech in the Finnish Pavilion of the Book Fair Plöger said that in her opinion translating literature is the most fascinating profession in the world.
Her first translation of a Finnish novel was Tamara, by Eeva Kilpi, published in 1974. Among the most recent of the 40 novels Plöger has translated during the past five decades from Finnish are the novels Kätilö (‘Midwife’, 2011) by Katja Kettu and Kun kyyhkyset katosivat (‘When the doves disappeared’, 2012) by Sofi Oksanen. Among the other works Plöger has translated are novels by Leena Lander, Eeva-Kaarina Aronen, Anja Snellman, Kaari Utrio, Johanna Sinisalo, Risto Isomäki and Antti Tuuri, as well as a number of drama texts by Laura Ruohonen, Juha Jokela, Aki Kaurismäki, Pirkko Saisio and Sofi Oksanen.
The Minister for Culture and Housing, Pia Viitanen, thanked Plöger for her extensive and multi-faceted work in the field of language and literature and in promoting Finnish literary culture in Germany.
The prize, worth € 15,000, has been awarded by the Ministry of Education and Culture since 1975 on the basis of a recommendation by FILI – Finnish Literature Exchange.
Monikulttuurisen maamme kirja. Suomen kielen ja kulttuurin lukukirja [The book of our multicultural land. A reader of Finnish language and culture]
Monikulttuurisen maamme kirja. Suomen kielen ja kulttuurin lukukirja
[The book of our multicultural land. A reader of Finnish language and culture]
Toim. [Ed. By] Marjukka Kenttälä, Lasse Koskela, Saija Pyhäniemi, Tuomas Seppä
Helsinki: Gaudeamus, 2013. 252 pp.
€ 34, hardback
This book opens a fascinating, often entertaining and eminently readable perspective on Finnishness and Finnish culture. It contains short Finnish texts supplied with introductions, from the Kalevala and the writings of Finland’s national author Aleksis Kivi to the present day. There are also Finnish translations of the work of Finnish-Swedish authors. The older texts are drawn from the literary ‘canon’, in works by J.L. Runeberg, Z. Topelius, Juhani Aho, Maria Jotuni, Eino Leino, F.E. Sillanpää, Väinö Linna and Tove Jansson. Among the excerpts that date from more recent times there are even pop and rock lyrics. The writing often throws light on some aspect of Finnishness, sometimes with a critical or ironic note. There is also writing by immigrants. Interspersed with the literary examples are short essays giving the views of experts on subjects like Finnish history, language or sport. Some of the texts conclude with a glossary of unfamiliar words and terms. The explanations are arranged in order of their appearance in the text: for the casual reader seeking the meaning of a word, alphabetical order would have been more practical, though even then some phrases might have remained unnoticed.
Translated by David McDuff
Teemu is a fat, desperate middle-aged man who’s had it with life – he drives his old Lada to Spain, where he intends to commit suicide by letting himself be trampled to death by bulls in the Pamplona bullrun. (However, there is a chance of this tragedy being cancelled, thanks to a tenacious hitch-hiker, female.) An extract from the novel Särkyvää (‘Fragile’, Tammi, 2014)
When I was seventeen, I yearned to leave behind the small town where I grew up. I heard the owl hooting in the forest: go to Europe.
I heard the dirt-track gravel crunching beneath my shoes: run, lad, run.
The birch in the yard rustled and whispered: if you spend one more summer hanging around the garden of your childhood, you’ll stay here forever.
A frog in the ditch gave a stern croak: look at your father; if you don’t escape you’ll end up an old codger just like him.
Even the smoke twirling up from the sauna chimney spoke to me in billows: I’ll show you the right direction, head south, and don’t stop until you see the first camel. More…
16 October 2014 | In the news
The September list of best-selling non-fiction compiled by Suomen Kirjakauppaliitto, the Finnish Booksellers’ Association, included books on mushrooming: a popular pastime that, finding fungi for dinner. However, number one was the biography of the most internationally successful (NHL) ice hockey player so far, Teemu Selänne (recently retired), entitled Teemu (Otava).
Ilosia aikoja, Mielensäpahoittaja (‘Happy times, you who take offence’, WSOY) is the third book in the popular humorous series by Tuomas Kyrö, and it tops the September list of the best-selling Finnish fiction.
Kyrö’s protagonist, this mielensäpahoittaja, the one who ‘takes offence’, is a 80-something grumpy old man living in the countryside and opposing most of what contemporary lifestyles are about. For in the olden days everything was better: for example, food wasn’t complicated and cars were easily repairable.
Apparently Finns can’t get enough of this grumpiness. What began as short monologues written for the radio has become a series of books, and Kyrö’s Mr Grumpy has also appeared on the stage as well as on the screen: the first night of the film, also entitled Mielensäpahoittaja (directed by Dome Karukoski), took place in September. Will there be much more to come, we wonder.
Number two was the latest thriller by Ilkka Remes (pseudonym) with a book entitled Horna (‘Hell’, WSOY), and on third place was the new book by Anna-Leena Härkönen, a novel about a married couple who become lotto winners, Kaikki oikein (‘All correct’, Otava).
First place of the best-selling books for children and young people was occupied by the Moomins – not the original story books or comics by Tove Jansson though, but by other ‘Moomin writers’ and illustrators, whom there have been surprisingly many after Jansson’s Moomin art was made reproducible; this time the book is entitled Muumit ja ihmeiden aika (‘The Moomins and the time of wonders’, Tammi). Another cause of wonder, we think.
Artist and author Tove Jansson (1914–2001) is known abroad for her Moomin books for children and fiction for adults. A large selection of her letters – to family, friends and lovers – was published for the first time in September. In these extracts she writes to her best friend Eva Konikoff who moved to the US in 1941, to her lover, Atos Wirtanen, journalist and politician, and to her life companion of 45 years, artist Tuulikki Pietilä.
Brev från Tove Jansson (selected and commented by Boel Westin and Helen Svensson; Schildts & Söderströms, 2014; illustrations from the book) introduced by Pia Ingström
7.10.44. H:fors. [Helsinki]
exp. Tove Jansson. Ulrikaborgg. A Tornet. Helsingfors. Finland. Written in swedish.
to: Miss Eva Konikoff. Mr. Saletan. 70 Fifty Aveny. New York City. U.S.A.
Now I can’t help writing to you again – the war [Finnish Continuation War, from 1941 to 19 September 1944] is over, and perhaps gradually it will be possible to send letters to America. Next year, maybe. But this letter will have to wait until then – even so, it will show that I was thinking of you. Curiously enough, Konikova, all these years you have been more alive for me than any of my other friends. I have talked to you, often. And your smiling Polyfoto has cheered me up and comforted me and has also taken part in the fortunate and wonderful things that have happened. I remembered your warmth, your vitality and your friendship and felt happy! At first I wrote frequently, every week – but after about a year most of it was returned to me. I wrote more after that, but the letters were often so gloomy that I didn’t feel like saving them. Now there are so absurdly many things I have to talk to you about that I don’t know where to begin. Koni, if only I’d had you here in my grand new studio and could have hugged you. After these recent years there is no human being I have longed for more than you. More…
Brev från Tove Jansson
Urval och kommentarer Boel Westin & Helen Svensson
[Letters from Tove Jansson, selected and commented by Boel Westin & Helen Svensson]
Helsingfors: Schildts & Söderströms, 2014. 491 pp., ill.
In Finnish (translated by Jaana Nikula):
Kirjeitä Tove Janssonilta
Nothing could be more mistaken than to describe Tove Jansson as ‘Moominmamma’. In her statements she was both cutting and complex – conflict-ridden and full of paradoxes. And she was nobody’s mamma.
Tove Jansson (1914–2001) became world famous (especially ‘big’ in Japan) with her Moomins – the characters of her illustrated books for children (1945–1970) – and her books for adults are a part of her work that is at least as interesting. Her training, ambition and artistic passion were, however, focused on painting.
Anyone who has read Boel Westin’s excellent biography – now available in English, Tove Jansson: Life, Art, Words – ‘knows’ all this, but to experience it through Jansson’s own letters, in an alternating process of reflection and recreation, brings the problems close to the reader in quite a different way: one that is shocking, but also deeply human. More…
Rosa Liksom’s first book, in 1985, was a collection of short prose; she has also written novels, children’s books, plays, comic and picture books. Her new book, Väliaikainen (‘Temporary’, Like, 2014) – a return to her signature very short prose – features beasts, machines and men
He’s there in the living room. We’ve gotta be very quiet. I left the computer on, and the reading lamp. I’ll go in and turn them off, quietly. Or the computer at least. I can watch Emmerdale on the little tv in the kitchen. You wait here. OK, I turned off the computer but I left the lamp on so I wouldn’t wake him up. I put his nap blanket over him. He’s laying on his left side now. That’s good. Whenever he wakes up on his right side he gets awfully grumpy. Let’s go in the kitchen so we don’t disturb him. The poor guy. It’s been hours since he’s had a good sleep. You know, I think it’s the depression again. It started on Monday when he was supposed to go to his guide’s job.He didn’t taste his breakfast, even though I brought it to him in bed. I had to go to the hospital, my shift was starting, and he just laid there in the bedroom with his eyes open… I don’t know how long it’s gonna last this time. Last month he was depressed for three days. I think it’ll pass more quickly this time because he’s napping a little bit, and licking his paw now and again.
2 October 2014 | This 'n' that
‘All our tales, stories, and creative endeavours are stories about ourselves. We repeat the same tale throughout our lives, from the cradle to the grave.’ CA
‘Throughout a work’s journey, the writer filters meanings from the fog of symbols and connects things to one another in new ways. Thus, the writer is both a seeker of meaning and a giver of meaning.’ OJ
‘Words are behind locks and the key is lost. No one can seek out another uncritically except in poetry and love. When this happens the doors have opened by themselves.’ EK
‘I realised that I had to have the courage to write my kind of books, not books excessively quoting postmodern French philosophers, even if that meant laying myself open to accusations of nostalgia and sentimentality.’ KW
‘If we look at the writing process as consisting of three C:s – Craft, Creativity and Chaos – each one of them is in its way indispensable, but I would definitely go for chaos, for in chaos lies vision.’ MF
‘In the historical novel the line between the real and the imagined wavers like torchlight on a wall. The merging of fantasy and reality is one of the essential features of the historical novel.’ KU
‘The writer’s block isn’t emptiness. It’s more like a din inside your head, the screams of shame and fear and self-hatred echoing against one another. What right have I to have written anything in the first place? I have nothing to say!’ PT
‘…sometimes stanzas have to / assume the torch-bearer’s role – one / often avoided like the plague. / Resilient and infrangible, the lines have to / get on with their work, like a termite queen / laying an egg every three seconds / for twenty years, / leaving a human to notice / their integrity. ’ JI
In 2007 when Books from Finland was a printed journal, we began a series entitled On writing and not writing; in it, Finnish authors ponder the complexities, pros and cons of their profession. Now our digitised archives make these writings available to our online readers: how do Claes Andersson, Olli Jalonen, Eeva Kilpi, Kjell Westö, Monika Fagerholm, Kaari Utrio, Petri Tamminen and Jouni Inkala describe the process? Pain must coexist with pleasure…
From 2009 – when Books from Finland became an online journal – more writers have made their contributions: Alexandra Salmela, Susanne Ringell, Jyrki Kiiskinen, Johanna Sinisalo, Markku Pääskynen, Ilpo Tiihonen, Kristina Carlson, Tuomas Kyrö, Sirpa Kähkönen – the next, shortly, will be Jari Järvelä.
Ove Enqvist & Heikki Tiilikainen: Linnakesaaret. Rannikkolinnakkeiden elämää sodassa ja rauhassa [The fortress islands. The life of the coastal bastions in war and peace]
Linnakesaaret. Rannikkolinnakkeiden elämää sodassa ja rauhassa
[Fortress islands. The life of coastal bastions in war and peace]
Helsinki: Tammi, 2014. 301 pp., ill.
Finland’s coastal artillery was created after independence in 1918 to protect the country’s long coastline. Part of the system was, however, built in the early 20th century during the period of Russian rule for artillery batteries that were formed to provide security for St Petersburg. This carefully constructed and handsomely illustrated ‘coffee table book’, by two former bastion officers and non-fiction authors, charts the history of the coastal artillery until the decommissioning of the service: in 1998 its functions were transferred to other branches of the military. The main emphasis is on the early history, and nearly half of the book is devoted to a portrayal of the Second World War period. During the Winter and Continuation Wars the coastal artillery played a major role in Finland’s defence. Fierce artillery battles took place on the fortress islands, and there was also hand-to-hand fighting on them. The book presents a comprehensive account the development and operation of the bastions and the artillery in both wartime and peacetime. Light is shed on the diverse aspects of the working lives and recreations of soldiers and civilians in the harsh and demanding conditions of the outer islands.