Search results for "veijo meri"

Arms and the man

30 June 1999 | Archives online, Authors, Interviews

The work of Veijo Meri (born 1948) has a secure place in the canon of Finnish prose of the second half of the 40th century. One could say Meri is a man’s writer – especially favoured by men who have been at war. The male characters of his short stories, novels and plays find themselves in absurd and surprising situations in a world governed by chance. They are not, however, heroes, but everyday anti-heroes who are depicted by their author with laconic humour. Since the 1980s, Meri has turned to historical essays.

Meri is an unbelievably prolific speaking machine; hardly have I set foot inside his house when he is already, in his speech, strolling along the shore of the Pacific Ocean with Matti Kurjensaari, his late writer friend. The academic and writer Veijo Meri turned 70 on New Year’s Eve in 1998. The event was celebrated in the theatre, and a book was published about the writer and his work. And, of course, his birthday itself was celebrated: he no longer wishes to escape his age. ‘Can’t feel a thing,’ Meri says on the massive leather sofa in his living-room. Mrs Eeva Meri starts making coffee. ‘I’m just trying to understand that I’ve turned 70: when was it that I got to be so old?’ On his 50th birthday, he felt something: ‘It’s a threshold.’ That had, in fact, been preceded by some improvement in life; after the age of 45, apparently, one no longer suffers from hangovers and all the most sensitive nerves have stopped working.’ The world has become extremely familiar. There’s nothing mysterious hidden behind the hedge, on the other side of the horizon. You tend to avoid thinking about death, because it begins to seem a pity that you will have to leave the world, now that you finally feel at home here.’ More…

Veijo Meri’s errant heroes

30 September 1981 | Archives online, Authors

Veijo Meri. Photo: Irmeli Jung / Otava.

Veijo Meri. Photo: Irmeli Jung / Otava.

At the funeral of F. E. Sillanpää, the Nobel prize-winner, Veijo Meri was one of the pall-bearers, representing the younger generation of Finnish writers. The coffin was heavy and it suddenly began to slip the hands of the bearers just as they reached the church doors. A tiny stone in one of his shoes was causing Meri the most intense agony. It was a critical moment. Novels, short stories and plays by him are full of such situations. The characters stumble and are confused. The more difficult the situation, the more comic it often is.

Veiio Meri (born 1928) grew up in army barracks in the small town of Hämeenlinna. His childhood and youth were overshadowed by the war – as is reflected in many of his works. His first book, Ettei maa viheriöisi (‘Lest the land grow green’, 1954) is a collection of short stories about a lonely soldier wandering on both sides of the lines. More…

In memoriam Veijo Meri 1928-2015

29 June 2015 | In the news

Veijo Meri. Photo: Irmeli Jung / Otava.

Veijo Meri. Photo: Irmeli Jung / Otava.

The writer Veijo Meri died on 21 June after a long illness.

Best-known for his war fiction, Meri was one of the towering figures of Finnish literature in the second half of the 20th century. Born in Viipuri in eastern Finland, subsequently ceded to the Soviet Union, he wrote novels, short stories, poetry, stage and radio plays and essays.

He came to prominence with his novel Manillaköysi (‘The manila rope’, 1957), which tells the tragicomic story of a soldier who tries to smuggle a rope home from the front during the Second World War. War and the army were central subjects for this anti-war writer, who deals with his subject with caustic humour, often focussing on loneliness, anxiety and sexual pressures.

A fresh voice in Finnish prose, breaking with its realist tradition, Meri was a film buff who used rapid changes of angle, compression and close-up to emphasise the strangeness and inexplicability of what he wrote about. His is manly prose, much admired by high-achieving male readers. Among the work we have published in Books from Finland is Underage, a short story that brilliantly illustrates Meri’s terse, masculine style; it is accompanied by an interview by Maija Alftan and Meri’s own essay on the art of the short story.

Meri’s minimalist style has something in common with American authors such as Ernest Hemingway and Raymond Chandler, and with the film-makers Sergei Eisenstein, Charlie Chaplin and Ingmar Bergman.

A prodigious talker and reader as well as a writer, Meri was very much at home in his skin. ‘You tend to avoid thinking about death,’ he wrote at the onset of middle age, because it seems a pity that you will have to leave the world, now that you finally feel at home here.’

Meri’s work has been translated into 24 languages.

Death of a poet

31 December 1989 | Archives online, Articles

Over the last two decades, contemporary Finnish opera has not only become popular at home but has emerged as a significant force on the international music scene. Aulis Sallinen’s The Horseman, The Red Line and The King Goes Forth to France, and Joonas Kokkonen’s The Last Temptations all had their premieres in the 1970s and 1980s and have already earned respected places in the repertory of the Finnish National Opera and the Savonlinna Opera Festival, where performances are sold out months in advance.

The visit by the National Opera to New York’s Metropolitan Opera House in 1983 attracted widespread attention from press and public alike, and its productions of The Red Line and The Last Temptations were for the most part enthusiastically received. Finnish opera earned further international prestige from the joint commissioning of Sallinen’s The King by the Royal Covent Garden Theatre in London and the Savonlinna Festival, and from later performances by companies in Germany and the United States. More…

Human destinies

7 February 2014 | Articles, Non-fiction

To what extent does a ‘historical novel’ have to lean on facts to become best-sellers? Two new novels from 2013 examined

When Helsingin Sanomat, Finland’s largest newspaper, asked its readers and critics in 2013 to list the ten best novels of the 2000s, the result was a surprisingly unanimous victory for the historical novel.

Both groups listed as their top choices – in the very same order – the following books: Sofi Oksanen: Puhdistus (English translation Purge; WSOY, 2008), Ulla-Lena Lundberg: Is (Finnish translation Jää, ‘Ice’, Schildts & Söderströms, 2012) and Kjell Westö: Där vi en gång gått (Finnish translation Missä kuljimme kerran; ‘Where we once walked‘, Söderströms, 2006).

What kind of historical novel wins over a large readership today, and conversely, why don’t all of the many well-received novels set in the past become bestsellers? More…

Love and war

31 December 2000 | Archives online, Authors, Reviews

Väinö Linna ‘s famous war novel, Tuntematon sotilas (The Unknown Soldier), was editorially censored, with the author’s agreement, on its first publication in 1954. But, as Pekka Tarkka discovers, the English translation that appeared three years later was outrageously falsified

Tuntematon sotilas (The Unknown Soldier) is a story about Finnish soldiers fighting Soviet forces in Second World War. When it came out in 1954, it immediately gained an almost incredibly important place in the hearts of Finnish readers: it sold 160,000 copies in the first year, it has been made into a movie twice, and over the years, it has been one of the steadiest sellers of Finnish literature, reaching a record figure of more than 600,000 copies. More…

Life and letters

30 September 1989 | Archives online, Authors, Interviews

Meeting grey-suited Jarkko Laine on a Helsinki street, few would guess that he is a poet. His black briefcase seems more likely to contain accounts and computer printouts than Chinese poems or short stories by Raymond Carver. Few would imagine, either, that this friendly, smiling, gentle poet chairs the Finnish Writers’ Union, a post he has held since 1987.

And even fewer would guess that this is the most characteristic poet of post-war Finland, an ‘urbanist’, ‘child of Marx and Coca-Cola’, ‘mouthpiece for his generation’, ‘Nordic beatnik’, ‘the Gladstone Gander of Finnish literature, who succeeds in everything he sets his hand to’…

‘Sometimes it seems to me that people still brand me as a young poet,’ says Jarkko Laine, whose work is prolific and diverse: poetry, prose and journalism, in his capacity as editor-in-chief of the literary journal Parnasso. More…

The Knife

31 December 1989 | Archives online, Drama, Fiction

First performed in 1989 at the Savonlinna Opera Festival. Veitsi (‘The knife’, 1984) is set in Helsinki. The opera is composed by Paavo Heininen and the libretto is by the novelist, poet, playwright Veijo Meri. Veitsi is not a traditional opera, but ‘music-drama’. Introduction by Austin Flint


(Pamppu takes Havinen and the Poet to the Publisher’s office)

Hello there, you great novelist!
This is really a surprise,
as though you’d blown the door off its hinges.

These pages are terrific. Take a look at them. More…

Choosing a play

30 September 1981 | Archives online, Fiction, Prose

A short story from Leiri (‘The camp’). Introduction by Vesa Karonen

The local amateurs were having their theatre club meeting on a Friday evening in the main part of the parish hall. It was late August, the light was beginning to fade and no one had remembered to put the lights on. First the stage grew dark, then the floor, then the ceiling. The light lingered on the inside wall for the longest. There were creaks and groans from the rooms at the back and from the attic. The caretaker had been moving around in there about three in the afternoon, and his traces lingered, as they do in old buildings.

“Something of that sort but short, and it’s got to be bloody funny,” said the chairman, a carpenter called Ranta.

In the store cupboard there were 108 old scripts. Tammilehto, the secretary, hauled out about 30 scripts onto the table. His job was running a kiosk down the road.

“Nothing out of date,” said Ranta.

“There’s got to be a bit of love in it, I say,” said Mrs Ranta.

She had a taxi-driver’s cap on her head and was wearing a man’s grey summer jacket, a white shirt and a blue tie. Her car could be seen from the window. It was in the yard. She always parked her car so it could be seen from inside. More…

The Comb

30 September 1981 | Archives online, Fiction, Prose

A short story from Tilanteita (‘Situations’, 1962). Introduction by Vesa Karonen

The young man’s comb dropped behind the radiator under the window. The young man crouched down to look and felt with his fingers in between the pipes and along the floor. No trace of the comb.

Lose something on a train and it eludes you. A train ticket I left once – just placed it long enough on the window ledge for it, too, to fall behind the radiator. Couldn’t find it. The conductor came along, said “Any new fares! Tickets please.” I just sat still, totally unconcerned, until he’d gone. I’m sure there are little details which give the game away to conductors, they know who’s just got on.

New passengers are always somehow fresher, more alert. In winter, I hear, they look at the passengers’ feet. If there’s snow round the edges of the shoes, no need to hesitate. A lot of people are done for by looking straight in their eyes. Offenders always look straight back and then in the middle try to look somewhere else entirely. I was careful not to look steadily into the conductor’s eyes. It was easy when I concentrated on the way the long ventilator cords swung back and forth from the ceiling. They all swung in the same direction but some cords were a bit behind the others. Perhaps it was because the cords were all slightly different in weight and length. Now I remember – it’s not the weight that counts, just as it’s not weight that affects the way a pendulum swings. When the conductor had gone I began to look for my ticket again. I went on looking for it all the way to Tampere. The young man, too, would obviously go on looking for his comb until he got where he was going, without finding it. More…

Boys Own, Girls Own? –
Gender, sex and identity

30 December 2008 | Essays, Non-fiction

Knowing good and evil: Adam and Eve (Albrecht Dürer, 1507)

Knowing good and evil: Adam and Eve (Albrecht Dürer, 1507)

In Finnish fiction of the present decade, both in poetry and in prose, there seems to be at least one principle that cuts across all genres: an overt expression of gender, writes the critic Mervi Kantokorpi in her essay

Relationships and family have always been central concerns of literature; questions about gender and individual identity have received a new emphasis in Finnish literature from one season to the next. The gender roles represented in contemporary literature appear to become ever more stereotypical. The question is no longer only of the author consciously setting his or her gender up as the starting point for expression, as has already long been the case with modern literature written by women. More…


30 June 1999 | Archives online, Essays, Non-fiction

From Novellit (‘The Short stories’, Otava 1985). Interview by Maija Alftan

The short story is a matter of expectancy and reception. So it has to offer surprises. It has to reward the waiting.

The surprises are caused by the known and the familiar. Often some mis­hap is needed; the most crucial can be some social fix. The story’s limited space provides three states, brought about by a change in the environment: the past, the future and the passing moment. They create a special, unique phase of life for one of the characters. A return to the past leads to the new – not to the previous, situation – and this isn’t in anyone’s control. Short stories often contain arbitrariness. More…

A poet’s perspective

31 December 1986 | Archives online, Authors, Reviews

Aila Meriluoto. Photo: Pertti Nisonen

Aila Meriluoto. Photo: Pertti Nisonen

When Aila Meriluoto burst on to the world of Finnish poetry 40 years ago in the autumn of 1946 she was at once hailed as a youthful prodigy. Praised lavishly by the leading critics, the 22-year-old poet’s first collection, Lasimaalaus, sold in phenomenal numbers: in a couple of years it went through eight editions, or 25,000 copies, which in Finland is still a record figure. Today total sales are well over 30,000.

Two poems attracted particular attention. One was Kivinen Jumala (‘God of stone’), a poem of defiance unleashed by the experience of wartime bombing, in which God is portrayed as having changed into a stone statue, and people as having hardened correspondingly. It was the first reaction of the younger generation to the war – abusive, strong and inevitable, the proclamation of the death of the kind, just God.

The other central poem of the collection was Lasimaalaus (‘Stained glass’) from which the collection took its name: a taut post-symbolist vision and a dazzling synthesis of the oneness of the world. Baudelaire, master of correspondances, might well have been satisfied with it. More…


30 June 1999 | Archives online, Fiction, Prose

A short story from Leiri (‘Camp’, Otava 1972). Interview by Maija Alftan

In the dark and wet the tram seemed like a stale-smelling and badly-lit waiting room at a country station, its Post Office Savings Bank advertisement set out of reach of vandalising underage hands. The conductress was two-thirds out of sight behind her desk: a small person. I glanced at the time stamped on my ticket. My only timepiece.

It was the time of day when you can see your own face in the window and through to the outside as well. I stood in the doorway, hanging onto the bar. As the tram turned into the narrow canyon of Aleksanterinkatu, the street seemed like some kind of cellar. Fantastic, how the world darkens at the end of the year. And then, when it’s at its darkest, everything goes totally white. The low-slung cars seemed to be slinking round the tram’s feet. More…

Translation prize

27 August 2010 | In the news

Rami Saari. Photo: Charlotta Boucht

This year the Finnish Government Prize for Translation of Finnish Literature – worth € 10,000 – was awarded to the poet, translator, linguist and literary critic Rami Saari who translates into Hebrew.

Saari (born 1963) has studied and taught Hebrew, Semitic languages and Finno-Ugric Language Studies at universities in Helsinki, Budapest and Jerusalem. He has been the editor of the Israeli section of the international poetry website since 2002 and has edited a book series for Ha-kibbutz hameuchad which publishes predominantly Nordic and Baltic literature.

Saari, who has also published seven collections of his own poetry, now lives in Athens. He has also translated Albanian, Spanish, Catalan, Greek, Portuguese, Hungarian and Estonian fiction.

Among the Finnish writers Saari has translated are Daniel Katz, Eeva Kilpi, Eino Leino, Veijo Meri, Timo K. Mukka, Sofi Oksanen, Arto Paasilinna, Raija Siekkinen, Eeva Tikka, Sirkka Turkka and Mika Waltari.

Rami Saari received his award in Helsinki on 25 August from the minister of culture and sports, Stefan Wallin. The prize has been awarded by the Ministry of Education and Culture since 1975 on the basis of a recommendation from FILI – Finnish Literature Exchange.