Search results for "witesman"

On the rocky road to a good translation

19 November 2010 | Essays, Non-fiction

You get the picture? A translation error in China. Photo: Leena Lahti

Why just three per cent? Translator Owen Witesman seeks an explanation for the difficulties of selling foreign fiction to the self-sufficient Anglo-American market. Could there be anything wrong with the translations?

I am a professional translator, and I have a secret: I don’t read translations.

I’m not alone. The literary website Three Percent draws its name from the fact that only about 3 per cent of books published in the United States are translations (the figure for Germany is something like 50 per cent). There are various opinions about why this is, including this one from Three Percent’s Chad Post writing at Publishing Perspectives.

Why do I say it’s a secret that I don’t read translations? Because people expect me to read translations, as if as a translator it were my sacred duty to show solidarity with my professional community. Or maybe I can’t be cosmopolitan otherwise. More…

Tough cookies

30 March 2008 | Authors, Interviews

Aino Havukainen and Sami Toivonen’s quirky duo Tatu and Patu delight readers of all ages. Interview by Anna-Leena Ekroos

Once upon a time there were two remarkably round-headed, thin-haired brothers. They were named Tatu and Patu and their principal personal attributes were curiosity and adventurousness. In the boys’s hometown of Outola (‘Oddsville’), things were done a little differently from around here. So when the boys leave their stomping grounds on an expedition into our world, perplexity and amusing situations ensue. More…

That’s life

4 March 2011 | Authors, Essays, Non-fiction, On writing and not writing

 In this series Finnish authors ponder their profession. If this is writing, there’s no method in its madness: Markku Pääskynen finds he wants to write as life allows, not bend his life to suit his writing

I was born in 1973. I’ve written six novels, and I’m working on my seventh. I’ve written short stories and essays, and translated. That may sound productive, but it isn’t: I can’t stand to sit in front of the computer for more than a couple of hours a day.

My work is elsewhere – in everyday chores: going to the store, taking out the trash, fixing meals, washing dishes, cleaning, playing with the kids. Normal days are full of work and messing around. And my literary work has to fit in with that. I don’t have it in me to write methodically. I do know how to keep deadlines and meet contracts, but the methodicalness is lacking. More…

Do you remember the yellow house?

14 February 2011 | Fiction, Prose

Extracts from the novel Enkelten kirja (‘The book of angels’, Tammi, 2010)

[Tallinn, summer] The past will not go away

and the present is insurmountable. Summer vacation has begun, the newspaper hasn’t come; it doesn’t get delivered here anyway. Can you remember the Isabelline yellow house? Remember the alley with the name that means hurry? Surely you remember the home with all the maps on the shelves, the important papers and the brass objects bought from nearby antique dealers? Also the rugs from North Africa and the obligatory cedar camel figurines on the windowsill. And so many glasses and plates and empty lighters in a cardboard box on the shelf on the left hand side of the kitchen.

Tallinn, June 7th. The floors creak. One step has split in half; some of the lights have burned out. This is a lovely home. A small window upstairs is ajar to the courtyard. Tuomas had latched it behind the Virginia creepers. The fountain in the courtyard is dry. On cold nights the smoke from the fireplace grows like a statue for the crows until it wraps around over the layered rooftops like a snake eating its tail. Russian men are repairing the attic of the house across the street for wealthy people to live in; they laugh in front of the window and smoke. Tuomas waves at them, and they wave back. The courtyard is creepy when it’s empty. Soon the neighbours would go about their day and quietly close their doors behind them, and two nearby churches would divide the hours into quarters, Russians and their gossip would make their way to the Alexander Nevski Cathedral, and the Estonians and their gossip would go to their own churches where a wise and peculiar, almost human scent would rise from between the headstones. Tuomas wouldn’t smell it, Aino would and would move to stand beneath the the center tower. More…

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

More…

Walking through a picture

30 June 2006 | Archives online, Authors, Reviews

The short stories of a painter-author Joel Pettersson (1892-1937) were hardly known by his contemporaries. Juha Virkkunen introduces one of them

Finland, the ‘land of a thousand lakes’, is also the land of at least 120,000 islands. In the largest cluster of islands, Åland, between Finland and Sweden, people cherish their old Swedish-language roots.

Åland has given birth to a unique literature which transcends the bounds of regionalism. Its best-known contemporary authors include Anni Blomqvist (1909-1990) and Ulla-Leena Lundberg (born 1947). They have described not only the hard life of fishermen, but also the changing living conditions of shipowners.

Joel Pettersson was both a painter and a writer, but his stories were not made available in printed form until in the 1970s; translations into Finnish were published in the 1990s. More…

An officer and a gentleman

31 December 2004 | Archives online, Authors, Reviews

A moment in the Chinese garden: from left, Eric Macartney. Kashgar, China, 1906. Photo: C.G.E. Mannerheim

A moment in the Chinese garden: from left, Eric Macartney. Kashgar, China, 1906. Photo: C.G.E. Mannerheim

A photograph from 1906 prompted Markus Nummi to write a 500-page novel about the people of the caravan route in China. One of his characters, the Finnish photographer and spy-explorer Carl Gustaf Mannerheim, in reality later became Finland’s sixth president. Where does fiction end and history begin? Anna-Leena Nissilä investigates

The city of Kashgar in Chinese Turkestan in the year 1906: a group of French explorers and a crowd of Swedish missionaries from the local province, along with other members of the European community and their children, have gathered together in an orchard to take a picture. Midilimanglar, keep still, says the photographer, Baron Carl Gustaf Mannerheim, and presses the shutter release. The admonition is without effect; the picture turns out restless. Little Eric can’t hold still; a baby girl is grabbing at a man’s hat; the adults are looking past the camera. For some reason the host of the event, an Englishman named Macartney, is standing a pace away from the rest of the group.

Almost a century later, the author Markus Nummi (born 1959) runs across Mannerheim’s snapshot and becomes inspired. He tells how the expansive and thematically wide-ranging historical novel Kiinalainen puutarha (‘The Chinese garden’, Otava, 2004) began to form around the photograph:

‘The photograph is the starting point for everything, the intersection and blink of an eye in which all of my story’s central characters are close to another. I was fascinated by the picture’s bustle: people looking every which way, all the fumbling about. And when you look at the picture more closely, you start to see different kinds of connections; when you look at where these people were coming from and where they went in their lives, you can start to imagine what is hidden behind the picture. I started to contemplate what the photographer saw at the moment the picture was taken, maybe angels?’ More…

Great leap forward

31 March 1998 | Archives online, Authors, Reviews

The popular Finnish children’s author Zachris Topelius (1818–1898) was also a brilliant chronicler of the coming of the industrial revolution to Finland. ‘A road made of iron?’ That is the reaction of Matti, farmer and crofter, when his local vicar tells him about the wonder of railway travel. Familiarity may have dulled the astonishment and excitement of the celebrated short story Rautatie (‘The railway’, 1884) by the classic writer Juhani Aho (1861–1941) – but that is an occupational hazard for classics. [The first English translation 2012, The Railroad, by Owen Witesman]

Even in remote areas of Finland the railway, this new industrial mode of transport, spread, at first as an almost incredible piece of news. ‘Thought he could trick me!’ snorts Matti on his way home from the vicarage. More…

No place to go

30 March 2008 | Archives online, Fiction, Prose

Extracts from the novel Lakanasiivet (‘Linen wings’, Otava, 2007)

The clothesline swayed in the wind. Helvi closed her eyes and felt herself flutter into the air with the laundry. She flapped her white linen wings, straining higher, now seeing below the whole small peninsula city, its damp rooftops glittering in the morning sun, the blue sighs of the chimneys, the steamboats toiling on the lake and the trains chugging on their tracks. The whole of heaven was clear and blue; only far off in the east were there white pillars roiling – whether smoke or clouds, Helvi could not tell.

She flew north on her linen wings and saw the great bridges leading to the city, on whose flanks the hidden anti-aircraft batteries gasped the fumes of gun oil and iron, and continued her journey over the land, following the straight lines of the telephone wires. She flew over wooded hills and deep green fields, finally arriving on the slope of the great hill where her daughter now lived, in hiding from the war. More…

The heart of reality

30 June 2007 | Archives online, Authors, Reviews

The experience of nature always inspired the poet Aaro Hellaakoski (1893–1952), but in his universe – composed of rhyme, rhythm and linguistic brilliance – existential questions remain vital.

Man is a being tied to an intersection. Like some creature floating helplessly in the water, he sees shadows of the infinite in the surface and senses the depths beneath the surface, but neither is within his grasp. The poet Aaro Hellaakoski often uses the surface of water, two-dimensional space, as a symbol of the fate of man. Expertise in the natural sciences and experience with research, both rare for a poet, left their mark on Hellaakoski’s lyrics; he received his doctorate in geography in 1929 and had a long career as a schoolteacher. More…

Elmo’s fire

30 June 2008 | Archives online, Fiction, Prose

Extracts from the novel Elmo (WSOY, 1978)

After returning to Finland and Kainalniemi, Elmo got to feel like a celebrity. The various sport clubs were insufferably keen on getting Elmo into their training rings, but Elmo rebuffed them. He had belonged to Kainalniemi Sweat since he was a little boy, and that was enough for him. His mind was occupied by other matters. In the end, even his mother and father began to wonder at his attitude.

‘Why don’t you just go, since they keep asking, and since you do seem to have some talent in that direction,’ his mother urged as she made Sunday coffee from the can Elmo had brought as a gift.

‘Right. Somewhere down the road you could snatch a few gold medals out from under the noses of the others, just for the hell of it,’ his father said. More…

A long list of good novels

27 November 2014 | In the news

lit.award.dublin.The longlist for the International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award 2015 has been announced and, among the 142 translated novels – from 39 countries and 16 original languages – are two from Finland.

Mr Darwin’s Gardener by Kristina Carlson (Peirene Press, UK, 2012), a novel set in the 1860s England, is translated by Emily and Fleur Jeremiah (see the extracts in Books from Finland).

Cold Courage, a thriller by Pekka Hiltunen (Hesperus Press, UK), is translated by Owen Witesman. Both entries were nominated by Helsinki City Library.

Among the authors writing in English are Margaret Atwood, J.M. Coetzee, Roddy Doyle, Stephen King, Jhumpa Lahiri, Thomas Pynchon and Donna Tartt.

This literary award was established by Dublin City, Civic Charter in 1994. Nominations are made by libraries in capital and major cities throughout the world, on the basis of ‘high literary merit’. In order to be eligible for consideration in 2015 a novel translated into English must be first published in the original language between 1 January 2009 and 31 December 2013.

The award for a translated novel is worth €75,000 to the author, €25,000 to the translator. The shortlist of ten titles will be announced by an international panel of judges in April 2015, the winner in June.

We’ll be keeping our fingers crossed for our ex-Editor-in-Chief Kristina Carlson!

Marginal notes

4 June 2009 | Essays, Non-fiction

Fast food for thought? Culture meets business.

Fast food for thought? Culture meets business. – Illustration: Joonas Väänänen

Extracts from a collection of writings, Ulkona (‘Outside’, Siltala, 2008)

Literature – and ‘serious’ writing in particular, the kinds of texts we publish in Books from Finland – is often seen as lost, irrelevant, pushed out to the edge of mainstream popular culture. But, argues Hannu Raittila, the margin is actually the area of greatest freedom. Everything worthwhile happens there – and business would do well to imitate art, rather than the other way round

It is easy to see culture as a marginal part of society, if viewed from an economic perspective. It is easy to see literature, for its part, as a marginal phenomenon even when compared with other areas of culture – pop music, for example. More…

Hatefully yours

23 December 2011 | Non-fiction, Tales of a journalist

Illustration: Joonas Väänänen

In the new media it’s easy for our pet hatreds to be introduced to anyone who is interested. And of course everyone is interested, how else could it be? Jyrki Lehtola investigates

Twitter, Facebook, Twitter, Twitter, Twitter, Facebook, Twitter, how can we get the revenue model to work by using our old media, Twitter, Facebook, Twitter, Twitter, hey, what about that revenue model of ours, Twitter.

The preceding is a poignant summary of what the Finnish media was like in 2011 when the rules of the game changed like they have changed every year. And we still don’t even fully understand what the game is supposed to be. More…

Special effects

14 June 2012 | Authors, Reviews

Veikko Huovinen. Photo: Harri Nurminen

Depictions of simple country folk who live close to nature, diabolical satire of the powers that be, playful rambling tales.

The humour of Veikko Huovinen has two dimensions: it is learned, intelligent, and insightful, but it is also exuberant and folksy. Critics have made comparisons to Nikolai Gogol and Mark Twain, and not without reason.

Huovinen (1927–2009) began writing stories in 1949 and published his final work in 2007, two years before his death. This half century saw the birth of a broad and multifaceted library, including a good number of works that do not fit any genre as such – Huovinen called his works that lay in the interstices between the short story, causerie and satire ‘short specials’. More…