Archive for December, 2014

Fiat Lux!

31 December 2014 | This 'n' that

hkiluxTime for Lux Helsinki light event again: the January 2014 festival (see photos here) brought 150,000 visitors from Helsinki, the rest of Finland and around the world to the city. It is organised by the City of Helsinki.

The artworks – 17 of them – will be on display in 13 places around the centre of Helsinki, from the courtyard of the Tori Quarters to Finlandia Hall. The light and media artists and sound designers come from Finland, Germany, France, Belgium and Japan.

Lux Helsinki is also part of as the International Year of Light and Light-based Technologies of the United Nations in 2015.

Darkness will slowly diminish, and there will be more light: it’s great that Helsinki winter – at times white with snow, at times not – will again (thanks to artists and the latest technology) be filled with colour for a while. Let light be made!

The magic box: childhood revisited

25 December 2014 | Essays, Non-fiction

Tin soldier and the cat. Illustration: Usko Laukkanen

The tin soldier and the Blue Cat. Illustration: Usko Laukkanen

A tribute to Oiva Paloheimo’s children’s novel Tinaseppä ja seitsemän (‘The Tinsmith and the Seven’, illustrated by Usko Laukkanen, WSOY, 1956)

I’ve happened upon this (Christmassy) text of mine – first published in Books from Finland back in 1995 – when sorting through my papers as I begin to contemplate my retirement. With it I would like to offer my goodbyes, and many thanks, to you – to our readers, for whom I have been commissioning, editing and writing texts for the past thirty-one years – it’s time to do other things; time to read the books that still remain unread…

A dusky winter’s afternoon. Outside, soft and grey, a little snow is falling. I am sitting in our living-room, in an armchair covered in a pale yellow boucle fabric, my legs curled up, eating a carrot. In my lap is a book which I have fetched from the library after school. Conversation, the faint clattering of crockery, a singing kettle, the smell of food: grandmother and mother are cooking supper in the kitchen. My little sister is asleep.

But these sounds and the room around me do not really exist: there is only the world of make-believe in which Tiina sets off on her adventures with the Blue Cat, the Tinsmith, the St Bernard dog, the star and the spider: that world is a magic box which is able to contain all of childhood. More…

To write, to draw

18 December 2014 | This 'n' that

Self-portrait: Tove Jansson with her creations. Picture: @Moomin Characters

Self-portrait: Tove Jansson with her creations. Picture: @Moomin Characters™

A new Finnish biography of Tove Jansson (1914–2001) was published in 2013; the artist and creator of the Moomins has been celebrated in 2014 in her centenary year. Tove Jansson. Tee tytötä ja rakasta by Tuula Karjalainen was published in English this autumn, translated by David McDuff, under the title Tove Jansson: Work and Love (Penguin Global, Particular Books).

The book was reviewed by The Economist newspaper on 22 November. Unsurprisingly, according to the review, Jansson was more interesting as a writer than as a painter:

’Jansson always saw herself first as a serious painter. She exhibited frequently in Finland, and won awards and commissions for large public murals. Her reputation there as a writer lagged far behind the rest of the world. Ms Karjalainen is a historian of Finnish art, and although she covers Jansson’s writing, it is the paintings that really interest her. This is a pity. Jansson was a more interesting writer than a painter, and her life sheds much light on her particular quality as a storyteller.’

Whereas Karjalainen concentrates on Jansson’s painting, another biography of Jansson, by the Swedish literary scholar Boel Westin (reviewed here) focuses on Jansson as a writer. Here, you can find a selection of Tove Jansson’s art.

A quotation from The Economist‘s review: ‘Her use of Moomins to defy the war is characteristic. Everywhere in her fiction there is the same sense of deflection and indirection. She hated ideologies, messages, answers. And it somehow fits that she fell in love with both men and women. Ambivalence was a kind of comfort to her. As one of her characters says, “Everything is very uncertain, and that is what makes me calm.’

Tove Jansson’s versatile brilliance as an artist, we think, is at its best in the way she combined illustration and text in her Moomin stories. Their (great) visual and philosophical value lies in the praise of freedom and independence of the mind: for everyone, young or old.

Herman Lindqvist: Kun Suomi oli Ruotsi [When Finland was Sweden]

18 December 2014 | Mini reviews, Reviews

lindqvistKun Suomi oli Ruotsi
[When Finland was Sweden]
(original Swedish title: När Finland var Sverige, 2013)
Suom. [Translated from Swedish by] Heikki Eskelinen
Helsinki: WSOY, 2014. 497 pp., ill.
ISBN 978-951-0-40491-1
€44, hardback

The Swedish historian and journalist Herman Lindqvist is the author of dozens of popular non-fiction books. When Finland was Sweden is primarily intended for Swedish readers – an overview of the period when Finland was part of the Swedish kingdom – and it is partly based on new research. Finland became an integral part of the western neighbouring country in stages – including armed force – a process that was complete by the beginning of the fourteenth century. It remained an eastern borderland of the Kingdom of Sweden until the year 1809. The period was marked both by the rise of Sweden in the 16th century to become a great Baltic power and its decline in that role a hundred years later. Lindqvist connects up the different stages of Finland’s absorption into Sweden in a colourful and lively way. He shows how the influences went in both directions between the western and eastern part of the kingdom; the influence of the Finns could be seen both on the battlefields and in politics. The traces of the long time the two countries spent together are still visible today in both, thought in Finland they are stronger than in Sweden.

Translated by David McDuff

Is less really more? On new books for young readers

18 December 2014 | Articles, Non-fiction

Black as ebony: the last book in the ‘Snow White’ trilogy for young adults by Salla Simukka

Black as ebony: volume three of the ‘Snow White’ trilogy for young adults by Salla Simukka

This year has been an eventful for Finnish literature in many ways, not least in terms of young adults’ and children’s books. The full ramifications of Finland’s turn as the theme country at this year’s Frankfurt Book Fair will only be known with the passage of time, but more mega-success stories to stand alongside Salla Simukka’s Lumikki (Snow White, Tammi) trilogy for young adults – now sold to almost 50 countries – are eagerly awaited. Visitors to the Frankfurt Book Fair also got a look at Finland-Swedish illustration at the By/Kylä (‘Village’) stand, which presented varied works by nine illustrators and animators in a memorable exhibit.

Book sales continue to fall in Finland. The major general-interest publishers – WSOY, Tammi, and Otava – have cut back on Finnish titles and are concentrating on high-sellers and proven authors.

Books in series are now a dominant phenomenon in literature for children and young adults, aiming to win readers’ loyalty with their continuing stories and characters. Many longtime authors and illustrators of books for children and young adults have had to look for new contacts, and publishers are increasingly hesitant to launch debut artists. More…

Archives open!

12 December 2014 | This 'n' that

Illustration: Hannu Konttinen

Illustration: Hannu Konttinen

For 41 years, from 1967 to 2008, Books from Finland was a printed journal. In 1976, after a decade of existence as not much more than a pamphlet, it began to expand: with more editorial staff and more pages, hundreds of Finnish books and authors were featured in the following decades.

Those texts remain archive treasures.

In 1998 Books from Finland went online, partially: we set up a website of our own, offering a few samples of text from each printed issue. In January 2009 Books from Finland became an online journal in its entirety, now accessible to everyone.

We then decided that we would digitise material from the printed volumes of 1976 to 2008: samples of fiction and related interviews, reviews, and articles should become part of the new website.

The process took a couple of years – thank you, diligent Finnish Literature Exchange (FILI) interns (and Johanna Sillanpää) : Claire Saint-Germain, Bruna di Pastena, Merethe Kristiansen, Franziska Fiebig, Saara Wille and Claire Dickenson! – and now it’s time to start publishing the results. We’re going to do so volume by volume, going backwards.

The first to go online was the fiction published in 2008: among the authors are the poets Tomi Kontio and Rakel Liehu and prose writers Helvi Hämäläinen (1907–1998), Sirpa Kähkönen, Maritta Lintunen, Arne Nevanlinna, Hagar Olsson (1893–1979), Juhani Peltonen (1941–1998) and Mika Waltari (1908–1979).

To introduce these new texts, we will feature a box on our website, entitled New from the archives, where links will take you to the new material. The digitised texts work in the same way as the rest of the posts, using the website’s search engine (although for technical reasons we have been unable to include all the original pictures).



By the time we reach the year 1976, there will be texts by more than 400 fiction authors on our website. We are proud and delighted that the printed treasures of past decades – the best of the Finnish literature published over the period – will be available to all readers of Books from Finland.

The small world of Finnish fiction will be even more accessible to the great English-speaking universe. Read on!

Encounters with a language

12 December 2014 | Articles, Non-fiction

Mistranslation: illustration by Sminthopsis84/Wikimedia

Mother tongue: not Finnish. How do people become interested enough in the Finnish language in order to become translators? In the olden days some might have been greatly inspired by the music Sibelius (as were the eminent British translators of Finnish, David Barrett or Herbert Lomas, for example, back in the 1950s and 1960s). We asked contemporary translators to reminisce on how they in turn have become infatuated enough with Finnish to start studying and translating this small, somewhat eccentric northern language. Three translators into English, one into French, German and Latvian tell us why


Esko-Juhani Tennilä: Jäämeri kutsuu. Koillisväylä, Murmansk ja Suomen mahdollisuudet [The call of the Arctic Sea. The Northeast Passage, Murmansk and Finland’s opportunities]

11 December 2014 | Mini reviews, Reviews

tennilaJäämeri kutsuu. Koillisväylä, Murmansk ja Suomen mahdollisuudet
[The call of the Arctic Sea. The Northeast Passage, Murmansk and Finland’s opportunities]
Helsinki: Into Publishing, 2014. 332 pp., ill.
ISBN 978-952-264-197-7
€26, paperback

Esko-Juhani Tennilä is a Lapland-born editor, left-wing politician, former MP and author. The call of the Arctic Sea is a travel book and reportage book about Russia’s Murmansk and the neighbouring areas. Murmansk is a major port city whose harbour is ice-free in winter, and it is the largest city in the Arctic Circle. Nearby there are large ore, gas and oil resources. Global warming is beneficial to the region’s operating environment. Tennilä provides a fluent and well-backgrounded account of the experiences of entrepreneurs, politicians, decision-makers and ordinary people; he also meets Finns and Skolts, the Russian Sámi. Many foreign (e.g. Norwegian) companies are interested in the area. There is also activity by Finnish firms, but according to Tennilä not enough, and the Finnish State has not been able to actively take advantage of the economically important and interesting opportunities within the region along its northern border.

Translated by David McDuff

Oh misery me

3 December 2014 | Non-fiction, Tales of a journalist

Illustration: Joonas Väänänen

Illustration: Joonas Väänänen

The Finnish media never pass up an opportunity to post articles on our favourite miseries, says columnist Jyrki Lehtola: Finns are great at wallowing in self-denigration, so it sells well. And life is always better somewhere else, isn’t it? At least in ‘Europe’ it is

They should never have let us Finns into Europe. Or North America, South America, Australia, Africa, Asia.

Another Nordic country might perhaps suit us, or Albania or Russia. We could visit them.

Europe doesn’t suit us. Europe makes us even more stupid than we already are. Europe makes us think less of ourselves and more of other people. More…

Mirkka Lappalainen: Pohjolan Leijona. Kustaa II Aadolf ja Suomi 1611–1632 [Lion of the North. Gustavus Adolphus and Finland, 1611–1632]

3 December 2014 | Mini reviews, Reviews

Pohjolan_kansiPohjolan Leijona. Kustaa II Aadolf ja Suomi 1611–1632
[Lion of the North. Gustavus Adolphus and Finland, 1611–1632]
Helsinki: Siltala, 2014. 321 pp., ill.
ISBN 978-952-234-242-3
€31.50, hardback

The book presents a diverse and vivid history of the reign of Gustavus Adolphus – possibly the most important ruler in Swedish history – his era and his impact on Finland. When he rose to the throne at the age of just 17 in 1611, Finland was a strategically important region because of the threat posed by Russia and Poland. Among other things the king organised a meeting of representatives of the estates in Finland, the Regional Parliament of 1616 – even though he felt distrust of the Finnish people, who had supported the Polish King Sigismund, who had sought the Swedish crown. When the threat from the East had been repelled, Finland remained as a marginal corner of the world, which mainly provided taxes and soldiers. In 1630 the King, as a Lutheran soldier of faith, took his troops to Germany to fight in the Thirty Years War, and fell in 1632. However, in the period described the Swedish state, with Finland as a part of it, became a centralised state led by the King and his Chancellor Axel Oxenstierna, a system of government that was one of the most efficient in Europe. Lappalainen received the Finlandia Prize for Non-Fiction 2014 for her book.

Translated by David McDuff