Author: Mervi Kantokorpi
Herkkä, hellä, hehkuvainen – Minna Canth
[Sensitive, gentle, radiant – Minna Canth]
Helsinki: Otava, 2014. 429 pp., ill.
There are two sure methods of preserving the freshness of the works of a classical author in a reading culture that is increasingly losing its vigour.
The first is to give a high profile to new interpretations of them, either in the form of scholarly lectures or of artistic re-workings, such as dramatisations, librettos or film scripts. Another unbeatable way to keep them alive as a subject of discussion is an updated biography, through which the author is seen with new eyes.
Minna Canth (1844–1897) is now celebrating her 170th anniversary, and she is fortunate in both respects. Having begun her literary career in the late nineteenth century, she still continues to be Finland’s most significant female writer.
Her influence on the role of women in society and, in particular, her promotion of girls’ education, is the cornerstone of Finland’s social equality. In the twenty-first century Canth’s plays are still receiving new interpretations, and they have also been made into operas and musicals. (Read her short story, ‘The nursemaid’, here.) More…
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…
In contemporary poetry the ‘lyric I’ of previous decades often hides behind language; the poem’s speaker is not the poet him/herself, narrative is not the norm. The website of a Finnish family magazine in 2007 discussed this: ‘OMG, this thing called contemporary poetry – crap!’; ‘Who knows what kind of psychopharma the writer’s on!’; ‘No meanings, just words one after the other. Why can’t people write something sensible?’ But the writer – and the reader – of contemporary poetry deliberately ventures onto the boundaries of language, and art requires readers (listeners, viewers) to make the decision of what they consider ‘sensible’. Mervi Kantokorpi explores and interprets two new collections of poetry
I read two of this spring’s new collections of poetry one after the other: Kivirivit (‘Stone lines’, Otava 2013) by Harry Salmenniemi and Pysty hiljaisuus (‘Vertical silence’, Teos 2013) by Miia Toivio. The experience was perplexing.
These two works are completely different from one another as regards their individual poetics, and yet the similarities between the themes that arise from them was arresting. Both works seem to inhabit an internal world of sorrow and depression, a world where the function of poetry is to forge and show its readers a path out of the anxiety. In their silence – and even emptiness – both collections have two faces: one lit up, the other darkened by grief. More…
The best-known work of author Teuvo Pakkala (1862–1925) is Tukkijoella (‘On the log river’, 1899), Finland’s most-performed play. The song-studded comedy set in motion a phase of ‘logger romanticism’ in Finnish literature which later spread to film as well. Like the cowboy of the old west, the wandering lumberjack became the prototype for the Finnish masculine adventurer.
The entertaining musical play was a blockbuster. Pakkala’s works of more literary significance, however, encountered more difficulty. His short story collections on the lives of children – Lapsia (‘Children’, 1895) and Pikku ihmisiä (‘Little people’, 1913) – were greeted with flattering acclaim, but marked the author as hopelessly ‘effeminate’, as the critics put it. The stories were read as a kind of child-rearing guide, or even as tales for children. It wasn’t until much later, in the second half of the 20th century, that these psychological studies of children were re-examined as early gems of the short story form by a contemporary of Freud. More…
Helsingfors: Schildts & Söderströms, 2012. 364 p.
€ 23.25, hardback
Helsinki: Teos & Schildts & Söderströms, 2012. 365 p.
Suomennos [Translated by]: Leena Vallisaari
€ 28.40, hardback
Ulla-Lena Lundberg (born on the island of Kökar, Åland, 1947) is already the author of an extensive list of award-winning books, but her new novel Is (‘Ice’) is undoubtedly her most impressive work. It is written in a classic genre, an epic bound by time and place, in which the sensitive portrayal of characters and details takes a strongly ethical direction. Is describes life in a outer archipelago in the late 1940s, where a young priest arrives with his small family. In his calling he is a man devoted to the Word: helpful, friendly, naïvely unsuspecting in his philanthropy. His wife is cast in a different mould: a practical, at times apparently emotionless survivor, who runs a large household single-handed. The couple becomes part of the community of small islands and its harsh living conditions. At times the ice that shuts the island off from the outside world melts into freedom, only to lapse again into a cold that rudely limits human destinies. Barren nature and a community spirit reverting to early Christianity take the measure of each other in the novel’s dramatic events.
Translated by David McDuff
[The ice-cream vendor]
Helsinki: Tammi, 2012. 300 p.
€ 36.20, hardback
The Finnish novel of the 2000s has been successfully set in other cultures. Like Kristina Carlson and Sofi Oksanen, Katri Lipson went her own way as an author in her award-winning debut novel Kosmonautti (‘Cosmonaut’, 2008), which was set in the Soviet Union of the 1980s. In her second novel Lipson (born 1965), who works as a doctor in Helsinki, portrays life in post-war Czechoslovakia. The novel begins with the making of a film. The director wants to work without a script, which is only in her head. The filming proceeds chronologically, so that the actors will not anticipate what happens to the characters in the future. The film tells the story of a man and a woman’s flight from danger in 1942. Although they do not know each other, they pretend to be a married couple and hide in the countryside. What will be their fate during the war and afterwards is left to the reader; the characters can be combined with those appearing in the novel’s later stages, in the 1960s and even the 1980s. Lipson’s technique boldly breaks with the supremacy of narrative and calls into question the construction of historical truth.
Translated by David McDuff
The wars that Finland fought 70 years and a couple of generations ago continue to be a subject of fiction. Last year saw the appearance of three novels set during the years of the Continuation War (1941–44), written by Marja-Liisa Heino, Katja Kettu and Jenni Linturi
In reviews of Finnish books published this past autumn, young women writers’ portraits of war were pigeonholed time and again as a ‘category’ of their own. This gendered observation has been a source of annoyance to the writers themselves.
Jenni Linturi, for instance, refused to ruminate on the impact of her sex on her debut novel Isänmaan tähden (‘For the fatherland’, Teos), which describes the war through the Waffen-SS Finnish volunteer units and the men who joined them [1,200 Finnish soldiers were recruited in 1941, and they formed a battalion, Finnische Freiwilligen Battaillon der Waffen-SS].
The work received a well-deserved Finlandia Prize nomination. Tiring of questions from the press about ‘young women and war’, Linturi (born 1979) was moved to speculate that some critics’ praise had been misapplied due to her sex. The situation is an apt reflection of the waves of modern feminism and the reasoning of the so-called third generation of feminists, who reject gender-limited points of view on principle. More…
20 May 2011 | Reviews
In the 21st century, poetry written in various dialects has drawn new audiences to poetry readings. A common feature of, for example, Sinikka Nopola’s short prose about the family, written in the dialect of the Tampere area, and Heli Laaksonen’s poetry, which is written in the dialect of south-west Finland, is the enormous popularity of live performances by the authors. Their audiences love to hear them read in dialect, because the texts are funny, and they sound even funnier when read aloud.
Heli Laaksonen (born 1972) has, ever since her first collection, Pulu uis (‘Pigeon swimming’, 2000), been Finland’s best-selling poet. Her three collections and audio books have achieved sales figures that are astonishing in the Finnish context – tens of thousands of copies. Her fourth collection, Peippo vei (‘The chaffinch took it’, Otava, 2011), has been at the head of bookseller’s sales lists throughout March and April. More…
Parnasso 1951–2011. Kirjallisuuslehden kuusi vuosikymmentä.
[Parnasso, 1951–2011. Six decades of a literary journal]
Helsinki: Otava, 2011. 559 p., ill.
€ 45.90, hardback
The 60-year history of Parnasso, Finland’s longest-running literary journal, is a chronicle of the assimilation of ‘the modern’ into Finnish literature. Matti Suurpää – a long-time contributor, and former head of the SKS publishing house – singles out the 1958–1965 period under the editorship of Kai Laitinen (professor of literature, Editor-in-Chief of Books from Finland from 1976 to 1990) as the era with the broadest editorial scope. Finnish modernist literature, developed during the 1950s, had by then staked out its territory, and the journal consolidated its power to promote it. Laitinen published an excellent themed issue on Finland-Swedish literature to rehabilitate and reintegrate writing by Swedish-speaking authors into the field of Finnish literature. Subsequent editors considered it important to include translations of foreign literature in Parnasso. As the archives of the journal have been lost, Suurpää carried out a close reading of the annual volumes. The result is an eminently clear and readable work in which a wealth of extracts of writing and discussions illuminate the story of the modernisation of Finnish literature.
Translated by Ruth Urbom
5 April 2011 | Reviews
One of the more attractive aspects of Finnish literature is the juxtaposition of poetry-writing generations. 2011 sees the debut of both the 82-year-old Martta Rossi and new poets born in the 1980s.
Compared to them, the 87-year-old Aila Meriluoto is an old hand: Tämä täyteys, tämä paino (‘This fullness, this weight’, WSOY, 2011) is her 14th volume of poetry.
Since her first collection, which appeared 65 years ago, the grande dame has published more than 20 works: poetry, prose, diaries, books for children and young people, biographies and translations, among them poetry by Harry Martinson and Rainer Maria Rilke. More…
30 September 2010 | Reviews
Poikakirja (‘The boy’s own book’), Olli Jalonen’s 13th novel to date, continues an ongoing narrative often nominally examining the author’s own family history. In this novel the first-person narrator is the young ‘Olli’ in his first years at school, and his story is the present-tense monologue of a boy between the ages of 7 and 10. The choice of the present tense underlines a certain sense of ‘perpetual now’ in the intensive narrative of childhood.
Jalonen (born 1954) is one of the acknowledged masters of contemporary Finnish prose. His expansive novel Yksityiset tähtitaivaat (‘Private galaxies’, 1999) was an astonishing demonstration of the author’s desire to combine his cyclical understanding of history with a highly sensitive depiction of humanity. The work brought together three of his earlier novels and shaped them into an entirely new composition: at over 800 pages, it would be no exaggeration to call the resulting work a kind of symphony. More…