Author: Pekka Tarkka

Delirium into art

Issue 4/1991 | Archives online, Authors

Sometimes with fury, sometimes with delight, the Finnish reading public has followed Hannu Salama’s career with unflagging interest for almost 30 years. For the past ten years, the author has let it be known that he has been working on a novel about the Finnish traitor Otto Wille Kuusinen, a henchman of Stalin entrusted with high office in the Kremlin, who managed to survive the worst years of his mentor’s terror.

Ottopoika (‘Otto the adopted’, 1991) is a disappointment in that it is not, in fact, a political novel about the chameleon-like Kuusinen, but rather a story about a Finnish writer, Risto Mikkola, Hannu Salama’s alter ego, whose intention it is to write a book about Kuusinen. Neither is this Mikkola a Kremlinologist of any description, but, patently, a prisoner of his upbringing: he spent his childhood among the proletariat of Tampere, an industrial city in central Finland sometimes known as the Manchester of Finland, whose suburb, Pispala, was a hotbed of Finnish communism. More…

How to survive in the fast lane

Issue 2/1991 | Archives online, Authors

Kjell Westö is very young, but he has enough historical sensibility to be able to understand small details and how they vary as epochs change. Reading him, I was reminded of one of the dustiest practitioners of the philosophy of art, the 19th-century Hippolyte Taine.

Taine was a dyed-in-the-wool positivist who sought connections between art and geology: just as the earth is overlaid with a layer of ‘soft mulch’ – last year’s decomposing leaves – so ‘the individual is overlaid with customs, ideals, spiritual or intellectual characteristics which last for three or four years; they are the creations of fashion and the moment’; among them are details of speech and clothing. Taine’s description, written around 1830, of the young literary hero, is unforgettable: the upstart ‘who has great passions and deep dreams, who is inspiring and lyrical, political and rebellious, humanitarian and reformist and enthusiastically consumptive, fateful looking with his tragic waistcoats and his arresting hair style’. More…

Writers from Pispala, the Red citadel: Lauri Viita and Hannu Salama

Issue 4/1988 | Archives online, Authors

Pispala is a Tampere suburb of some 7,000 inhabitants which has produced two top-class writers, Lauri Viita and Hannu Salama, as well as many others. In Finland it has the same kind of legendary status as London’s Bloomsbury, but how different it is from Bloomsbury!

No university, no museums, no old patrician mansions. Its little wooden houses are built higgledy-piggledy on a high moraine ridge from which a magnificent view opens out over two lakes and the river valley between them, where the chimneys of Tampere’s machine works, textile factories and paper mills rise. Pispala’s inhabitants have traditionally been factory workers whose contact with acting and literature has come through working men’s associations, sports clubs and local settlement houses. How is it that such surroundings gave rise to the birth of real literature? More…

The Nobel pursuit

Issue 2/1988 | Archives online, Authors

The award of the Nobel Prize for literature is always a combination of political expediency and literary judgement. The events leading up to the award of the prize to F.E. Sillanpää (1888–1964) tell us a great deal about successful strategies in the game called ‘How to win your Nobel Prize’.

At the beginning of the Thirties Sillanpää had the approval of Sweden’s literary public behind him, since translations of his early works – a large number of the important short stories he wrote during the 1920s as well as his novel Hurskas kurjuus (1919; English translation Meek Heritage, 1938) – had been very well received in Sweden. Sillanpää had many friends among Finland’s western neighbours and his robust and impressive figure was well known in the literary salons of Stockholm. More…

Too much or too little love

Issue 1/1987 | Archives online, Authors, Reviews

Rosa Liksom

Rosa Liksom. Photo: Pekka Mustonen.

On the October day last year on which Rosa Liksom‘s second collection of short stories, Unohdettu vartti (‘The forgotten quarter’), was published, she also opened an art exhibition of her own work. The occasion took the form of a kind of cross between performance art and a practical joke. Young women dressed in Finnish military uniforms carried out body searches on every newcomer, changed the guard and drilled, while crackers exploded in the gallery. Many people were of the opinion that it was all no more than a silly joke. Even the art critics were not enthusiastic: they felt that Rosa Liksom’s felt pen work was derivative of a certain Danish artist who himself had copied the cartoon-like stick-men of the so-called Chicago school. But all the same, there emerged from the pictures a funny story about the artist’s adventures among the underground youth of Russia from Leningrad to Vladivostock.

Only her closest friends knew which of the soldiers in the gallery was Rosa Liksom, which her clones. Rosa Liksom is a pseudonym, and her little game of hide and seek has already lasted a couple of years. We know of her that she was born in Lapland, studied anthropology, has travelled in both East and West and lived for a long time in Copenhagen. Her writing was published for the first time in an anthology of the work of young authors, Kalenteri 84 (‘Calendar 84’, 1984). Her first work, the short story collection Yhden yön pysäkki (‘One-night stand’) was published in 1985 and achieved considerable success. More…

Reality versus morality

Issue 3/1982 | Archives online, Authors

Eila Pennanen

Eila Pennanen. Photo: Anonymous (Suomen Kuvalehti 1965) via Wikimedia Commons

Reviewing Eila Pennanen‘s second collection of essays, which appeared earlier this year under the delightfully ambiguous title of Kirjailijatar ja hänen miehensä (‘The authoress and her… man? … men? … husband?… husbands?’), a critic called attention to the heading she had chosen for her essay on Bernard Malamud: ‘Malamud’s ignoble hero’. His comment on this was that the moral judgment implicit in such a title would be both pointless and valueless if Pennanen had maintained it with logical consistency throughout the essay. If in fact she does no such thing, it is because she knows how to look at a character, however ignoble, with an eye for subtleties and a great deal of psychological insight. This is something one often notices about Eila Pennanen: she is apt to begin by labelling somebody or something ‘good’ or ‘bad’, and even to sound quite defiant about it, but she is never, in the end, content to leave it at that. I once heard her give a lecture on Joel Lehtonen. She startled her audience by the vehemence with which she avowed the feelings of loathing or sympathy aroused in her by characters or events in Lehtonen’s books. Her cheeks blazed as she talked. Then, just as unexpectedly, she chided herself for exaggerating, took back a lot of what she had said, laid bare the reasons for Lehtonen’s contradictoriness, and left her hearers in a condition of fruitful perplexity. Whatever they may have thought or felt about the ‘moral approach’ to criticism, they were left in no doubt as to the wit and intelligence of its leading Finnish exponent. More…

Pekka Tarkka on Antti Tuuri

Issue 2/1981 | Archives online, Authors

Antti Tuuri

Antti Tuuri. Photo: Jouni Harala

A character in one of Antti Tuuri’s short stories, a German engineer, remarks: “It has always seemed to me that the Finnish language doesn’t contain individual words – it is just an effusion from a state of mind.” The quotation is taken out of context but it serves as a good description of the slow and sentimental or atmospheric tradition of prose style developed by a number of Finnish writers. This is a category which does not include Antti Tuuri (born 1944). His prose is crisp, clear and concrete in the Indo-European manner. It is not in the least ‘an effusion from a state of mind.’ He uses ‘individual words’ precisely, concrete observations, descriptions of specific phenomena; it is not rare to find numerals in his text.

Tuuri’s style undoubtedly owes something to his training and background. He qualified as an engineer and has worked in a number of posts requiring a high level of technical skill and business ability: he was technical supervisor in a newsprint works and in a wallpaper factory, he has sold Finnish printing equipment abroad and has trained engineers in his field. When Tuuri became Chairman of the Union of Finnish Writers in 1980 he brought to the Union’s administration the modern and professional management techniques that are characteristic of his approach. More…

On Arto Melleri

Issue 1/1981 | Archives online, Authors

Arto Melleri

Arto Melleri, 1982. Photo: Pekka Turunen.

Arto Melleri (born 1956) is an experimenter, and, though still young, has lready explored a vanety of forms. He made an unusual start by writing, early in the 1970s, for a series called Kontakti-kirjat (‘Contact Books’): these were intended for a teenage audience and consisted of short stories and confessions written by young people. It is possible Melleri now feels some embarrassment at this debut. It did, however, get him off to an early start in poetry, and his first volume, Slaageriseppele (‘A bouquet of hit-tunes’, 1978) contains a faintly nostalgic piece about a teenage boy who churns out poems for the local newspaper in Ostrobothnia and collects his pittance for them.

Melleri is also involved in the theatre. He has studied at the Finnish School of Drama, and worked as dramaturg in the Finnish Radio Theatre. Together with Jukka Asikainen and Heikki Vuento, he wrote the script of the play Pete Q, which was a big hit in the summer of 1978, when it was performed by a scratch fringe group of actors bored with the conventional theatre with some gifted young drama students, and directed by the talented young Arto af Hällström. It is an avant-garde play, cutting through the current theatrical shibboleths, and establishing the point of view of the new theatrical generation. More…