Archive for May, 2015

When the viewer vanishes

26 May 2015 | Essays, Non-fiction

Empty frame. Photo: 'Playingwithbrushes' / CC BY 2.0For the author Leena Krohn, there is no philosophy of art without moral philosophy

I lightheartedly promised to explain the foundations of my aesthetics without thinking at any great length about what is my very own that could be called aesthetics. Now I am forced to think about it. The foundations of my possible aesthetics – like those of all aesthetics – lie of course somewhere quite different from aesthetics itself. They lie in human consciousnesses and language, with all the associated indefiniteness.

It is my belief that we do not live in reality, but in metareality. The first virtual world, the simulated Pretend-land is inherent in us.

It is the human consciousness, spun by our own brains, which is shared by everyone belonging to this species. Thus it can be called a shared dream, as indeed I have done. More…

Hengen paloa & painettua sanaa. Renqvist-Reenpäät kustantajina 1815–2015. [A burning spirit & the printed word. The Renqvist-Reenpääs as publishers 1815-2015.]

25 May 2015 | Mini reviews, Reviews

Hengen paloa ja painettua sanaaJuhani Salokannnel
Hengen paloa & painettua sanaa. Renqvist-Reenpäät kustantajina 1815–2015. [A burning spirit & the printed word. The Renqvist-Reenpääs as publishers 1815-2015.]
Helsinki: Otava, 2015. 344 pp., ill.
ISBN 978-951-1-27838-2
47, hardback

Otava is currently Finland’s biggest book publisher, and is also active in the fields of newspapers, printing and bookshops. Almost from the beginning, the Reenpää (originally Renqvist) family has been at the head of this family business. Otava was founded in 1890, but 200 years ago a family forefather, Henrik Renqvist, who was studying for the priesthood began to publish religious books. In 1893 his grandson, Alvar Renqvist became Otava’s longstanding editorial director. Through his enthusiasm for Finnish-language literature and education, it was he who formed the basis for the publisher’s growth. His five sons and their sons guided the publishing house in the same spirit through some difficult times to the 21st century, and today the fifth generation is still at work there. The Reenpää family has had an important position in Finnish cultural life both as influential figures and as patrons. The writer Juhani Salokannel’s generously illustrated, well-designed work is based on wide source material and interviews with members of the Reenpää family and does not hold back from describing conflicts between some strong characters. The book is, indeed, a lively depiction of the Reenpääs’ history and work at Otava; a history of the publishing house as such has already been published.

Books from Finland to take archive form

22 May 2015 | In the news

The following is a press release from the Finnish Literature Society.

The Finnish Literature Society is to cease publication of the online journal Books from Finland with effect 1 July 2015 and will focus on making material which has been gathered over almost 50 years more widely available to readers.

Books from Finland, which presents Finnish literature in English, has appeared since 1967. Until 2008 the journal appeared four times a year in a paper version, and subsequently as a web publication. Over the decades Books from Finland has featured thousands of Finnish books, different literary genres and contemporary writers as well as classics. Its significance as a showcase for our literature has been important.

The major task of recent years has been the digitisation of past issues of the journal to form an electronic archive. The archive will continue to serve all interested readers at; it is freely available and may be found on the FILI website (

Much is written in English and other languages about Finnish literature: reviews, interviews and features appear in even the biggest international publications. The need for the presentation of our literature has changed. Among the ways in which FILI continues to develop its remit is to focus communications on international professionals in the book field, on publishers and on agents.

The reasons for ceasing publication of Books from Finland are also economic. Government aid to the Finnish literature information centre FILI, which has functioned as the journal’s home, has been cut by ten per cent.

Books from Finland was published by Helsinki University Library from 1967 to 2002, when the Finnish Literature Society took on the role of publisher. FILI has been the body within the Finnish Literature Society that has been responsible for the journal’s administration, and it is from FILI’s budget that the journal’s expeses have been paid.

Enquiries: Tuomas M.S. Lehtonen, Secretary General of the Finnish Literature Society, telephone +358 40 560 9879.

Riitta Nikula: Suomalainen rivitalo. Työväen asunnosta keskiluokan unelmaksi. [The Finnish terraced house. From worker housing to middle-class dream.]

18 May 2015 | Mini reviews, Reviews

Suomalainen rivitaloRiitta Nikula
Suomalainen rivitalo. Työväen asunnosta keskiluokan unelmaksi.
[The Finnish terraced house. From worker housing to middle-class dream.]
Helsinki: Suomalaisen Kirjallisuuden Seura (The Finnish Literature Society), 2014. 252 pp., ill.
ISBN 978-952-222-568-9
€ 37, hardback

In her extensive, well-researched book on the semi-detached house, Professor Emerita of Art History Riitta Nikula describes the housing history of a typical well-to-do Finn as setting off from a flat in an apartment building, continuing to a terraced house and ending up in a house of his or her own. In Finland rivitalo (simply, ‘row house’) became increasingly popular in the 1960s and the majority of houses of this type were built during the two decades that followed. However, in her book Nikula concentrates on the years 1900–1960, the decades of rapid industrialisation and urbanisation. In the 1930s Finland was eager to follow the renewal of town planning and architecture that was taking place elsewhere in Europe, and the rivitalo houses were part of the project of modernism. After the war the government funding system helped people to become owners of the properties they lived in, and the rivitalo became popular in growing towns. Prominent architects such as Eliel Saarinen, Alvar Aalto, Hilding Ekelund, Viljo Revell, and Kaija and Heikki Siren have all contributed to the development of this form of architecture. Nikula has travelled widely, in Europe and in Finland, researching this mode of living (the index of literature referred to alone fills seven large pages). The plentiful photographs and illustrations complement the text well.

For your eyes only

11 May 2015 | This 'n' that


Photo: Steven Guzzardi / CC BY-ND 2.0

Imagine this: you’re a true bibiophile, with a passion for foreign literature (not too hard a challenge, surely, for readers of Books from Finland,…). You adore the work of a particular writer but have come to the end of their work in translation. You know there’s a lot more, but it just isn’t available in any language you can read. What do you do?

That was the problem that confronted Cristina Bettancourt. A big fan of the work of Antti Tuuri, she had devoured all his work that was available in translation: ‘It has everything,’ she says, ‘Depth, style, humanity and humour.’

Through Tuuri’s publisher, Otava, she laid her hands on a list of all the Tuuri titles that had been translated. It was a long list – his work has been translated into more than 24 languages. She read everything she could. And when she had finished, the thought occurred to her: why not commission a translation of her very own? More…

New from the archives

11 May 2015 | This 'n' that

Juhani Peltonen

Juhani Peltonen. Photo: C-G Hagström / WSOY.

This week’s pick is, like last week’s, a period piece – this time a cry for help from the 1980s in the work of Juhani Peltonen (1941-1998).

Like Runar Schildt’s short story Raketen, written shortly before Finland gained independence from Russia and was almost immediately plunged into civil war, these pieces by the multitalented Juhani Peltonen, who wrote plays for stage and radio as well as short stories, novels and poems, were published shortly before major and irrevocable change.

In the short story ‘The Blinking Doll’, we are a year short of the fall of the Berlin Wall, and it seems as if things are never going to change. We follow two forty-year-old lawyers, Juutinen and Multikka, as they trudge along the beach in one of the charming resort towns of the west coast in which they have spent a couple of days dealing with a minor felony case.

They’re both forty, and divorced, disillusioned with their jobs and with the world; and both are infatuated with one of their colleagues, a woman whom they call ‘The Blinking Doll’.

There is, Peltonen says, a ‘pact of friendship and mutual assistance between the men’ – a jocular reference to the notorious treaty of 1948 in which Finland was obliged to resist attacks on the Soviet Union through its territory, and to ask for Soviet aid if necessary. In 1988, this seemed as if it were written in stone – and the men’s emotional lives are similarly petrified. They discuss their isolation, their lack of purpose, their inexplicable weeping fits. The most painful thing, says Multikka, is love; or, says Juutinen, and which comes to the same thing, the lack of it.

As Erkka Lehtola, our then Editor-in-Chief, remarks in his introduction, Peltonen – Finnish literature’s best-known comi-tragedian, he calls him – focuses on the difficulty of loving in a violent, mechanical, oppressed world. Is it the passage of twenty-five years that imbues his writing with such a poignant sense of stasis and futility? There is a sense of desperation, barely controlled. As one of his poems has it,

Too abundant in the course of the evening
Cries for help from the heart of stifled detail, legato.


The Books from Finland digitisation project continues, with a total of 388 articles and book extracts made available on our website so far. Each week, we bring a newly digitised text to your attention.

A perfect storm

11 May 2015 | Fiction, Prose

Bracing the waves

Bracing the waves. Ivan Aivazovsky, 1890.

According to Petri Tamminen, Finns are burdened by the need to succeed. Instead, he argues they should learn to fail better.

Part comedy, part tragedy, part picaresque novel, with a dash of Joseph Conrad – Tamminen’s new book, Meriromaani. Eräitä valoisia hetkiä merikapteeni Vilhelm Huurnan synkässä elämässä (‘A maritime novel. A few bright moments in Captain Vilhelm Huurna’s sombre life’, Otava, 2015) is set in an indeterminate seafaring past of the 18th or 19th century. It tells the story of the world’s most unsuccessful sea captain, Vilhelm Huurna who, one by one, sinks all the ships he commands.

Tamminen (born 1966) is a master of very short prose – this miniature novel is a a huge undertaking in the context of his work as a whole – and at Books from Finland we’re big fans. You can read more of his work here.

We join the story as Huurna, leaving behind him a failed romance in Viipuri, sets sail for Archangel, on the far north coast of Russia.


An excerpt from Meriromaani. Eräitä valoisia hetkiä merikapteeni Vilhelm Huurnan synkässä elämässä (‘A maritime novel. A few bright moments in Captain Vilhelm Huurna’s sombre life’, Otava, 2015)

The sun shone on the Arctic Ocean night and day, and the voyage went amazingly well, as did all the tasks and jobs that Huurna particularly feared beforehand.

Ships lay in Archangel harbour like objects on a collector’s shelf. They were waiting for timber cargo from the local sawmills where work was at a standstill because the mills lacked the machines and machine parts that they were now bringing them. When their cargo had been unloaded and the machines installed, timber began arriving from the sawmills. They found themselves at the end of the queue, and after the other ships had departed, one by one, they were still waiting in Archangel. That suited Huurna; in the first few days of his stay he had become acquainted with two English merchants and, through them, had received invitations to parties. He had stood in salons drinking toasts to the honour of this or that and made the acquaintance of some charming ladies into whose eyes he wished to gaze another time. He was quite moved by the whirl of this unexpected social life, and brightened at the thought that there was really nothing to complain about in his life apart from the fact that he happened still to be a bachelor. More…

New from the archives

11 May 2015 | This 'n' that

Sinikka Tirkkonen

Sinikka Tirkkonen. Photo: Otava.

Short short prose from Sinikka Tirkkonen

This week, a short story by Sinikka Tirkkonen (born 1954), which we published in 1988 – a piece of confessional prose, ‘comfortless and depressed’, as Tero Liukkonen’s introduction has it, about life in a bleakly solipsistic world; the kind of writing, one’s inclined to say with hindsight, that only the young, or at least the not very old, have the leisure to produce.

‘Things are only right for me,’ says the unnamed narrator, ‘when they bring grief and distress in their train, when they pile up guilt feelings, harsh self-criticism and self-denial… All my life I’ll be deprived of something, always – full of cares, fears, terrible agonies. I’ve no right to live.’ There’s a train journey north, two women in a car on a long drive across Lapland, work, a husband’s unfaithfulness, pointlessness….

It’s beautifully done, though, with an appealing poetic minimalism. Enjoy!


The Books from Finland digitisation project continues, with a total of 388 articles and book extracts made available on our website so far. Each week, we bring a newly digitised text to your attention.

Images of war

5 May 2015 | This 'n' that


A soldier playing his accordion. Photo: SA-kuva

Between 1939 and 1944 Finland fought not one, but three separate wars – the Winter War (1939-45), the Continuation War (1941-44) and the Lapland War (1944-45).

We have become used to black-and-white images of the conflict, with their distancing effect. Among the 160,000 images in the Finnish Wartime Photograph Archive, however, are some 800 rare colour photographs from the Continuation War, which bring the realities of fighting much closer. The events pictured leap out of history and into the present. More…

Pekka Lassila: Maininki [Surge]

5 May 2015 | Mini reviews, Reviews

Pekka Lassila: MaininkiPekka Lassila
Maininki [Surge]
Helsinki: Tammi, 2014. 278 pp., ill.
ISBN 978-951-31-8126-0
€36, hardback

This book is a journal of a ‘survival project’: a continuous kayak voyage of 1,300 kilometres along the Finnish coast, from the eastern border (Russia) to the northwestern one (Sweden). Pekka Lassila (born 1959) is a photojournalist who, in an attempt to find a way out of the crisis of losing a job he had heald for thirty years, set off on his voyage in May, when the ice had only just melted. Nights were spent mostly in a tent; all washing up had to be done with sea water. Lassila blogged daily for newspapers by the power of his solar-charged phone and tablet. This solitary endeavour seems slightly obsessive at first – but the stories about the geography and history of the places passed by and the descriptions of the personal daily marine routines turn out to be interesting, never repetitive. The shallow west coast, the Gulf of Finland, even proves to be dangerous: the waves, growing rough, threaten to crush the kayak on the rocks, but Lassila’s paddling skills and luck save him. The photographs, taken each day, illustrate the voyage well (even though it is irritating that there are no captions!). Reaching his goal, after 31 days, Lassila manages to complete his ‘project’ – but confesses that he may only later fully understand the reasons why he set out.

New from the archives

5 May 2015 | This 'n' that

Runar Schildt

Runar Schildt

It’s a period that seems sometimes to have disappeared from view – Helsinki in the final years of Russian rule – but Runar Schildt’s short story brings it vividly to life. The characters – Sahlberg the baker and his mortal enemy, Johansson from the customs service; the restaurant-owner Durdin and Elsa, daughter of a commissionaire at the Senate, around whom the story revolves – spend a lazy but sexually charged summer Sunday in their villas just outside Helsinki, their hidden emotions all too familiar to those of a later age…

As the story’s translator, the formidably erudite George C. Schoolfield, remarks in his introduction, Runar Schildt (1888-1925) has often been hailed as a Finland-Swedish classic. There’s a quality of aesthetic decadence in his work that makes him very much a product of his time. There’s nothing, in Raketen, with its solid, belle epoque atmosphere, to foreshadow the change that was so soon to engulf Finland, with the granting of independence in 1917 and the bitter civil war that followed. Schildt was in Helsinki during the months when it was ruled by the Red side in the civil war; afterwards, he served as a clerk in the terrible detention camp for Red prisoners of war on Suomenlinna island. It was a new world, in which all the old certainties were questioned. Timid, conservative and something of a dandy (his friend Hans Ruin said he always looked as if he had stepped out of a bandbox), Schildt may well have felt out of tune with the times. By 1920 he had ceased to write the prose at which he excelled, and had turned to drama, with which he had much less success.

Schildt shot himself, in 1925, in the courtyard of the old university clinic in Helsinki. He was not yet 40.

Read the short story

Alpo Rusi: Etupiirin ote [The grip of the sphere of influence]

4 May 2015 | Mini reviews, Reviews

Alpo Rusi: Etupiirin oteAlpo Rusi
Etupiirin ote [The grip of the sphere of influence]
Helsinki: Gummerus, 2014. 411p.
ISBN 978-951-20-9715-9
€34.90, hardback

In his work Etupiirin ote, the scholar, writer and former ambassador Alpo Rusi provides an interesting and polemical analysis of Finland’s foreign and security policies, particularly with regard to its neighbour, Russia / the Soviet Union. His premise is that from the 18th century onward Finland has, sometimes more broadly, sometimes more narrowly, formed part of the Russian sphere of influence. He gives a brief account of the end of the period of Swedish rule (until 1809) and that of Russian rule (1809-1917), as well as of the early decades of Finnish independence. The main emphasis of the book is on the period beginning with the Second World War. Rusi has a personal perspective on much recent history. He bases his evaluations on many diverse, sometimes controversial, sources and expresses strong opinions in his account, for example, of ‘Finlandisation’, Soviet influence on Finnish politics with its negative side effects. Rusi strongly criticises decision-makers who, as late as the 1980s and 1990s, believed in the desirability of trade with the east and the permanence of the Soviet Union, despite signals to the contrary. Following the collapse of the Soviet Union, Finland joined the European Union, but even as a member its attitudes towards, for example, Nato and Russia, have been problematic in many ways. Rusi ends his book on the theme of the Ukraine crisis, presenting his own proposal for the development of foreign and security policies.