Authors

Debt to life

28 May 2014 | Authors, Non-fiction

Kaarlo Sarkia (1902–1945). Photo: Ivar Helander (The Literary Archives/Finnish Literature Society)

Kaarlo Sarkia (1902–1945). Photo: Ivar Helander (The Literary Archives/Finnish Literature Society)

Joie de vivre, dream, death, love: Kaarlo Sarkia’s rhymed poetry made him one of the Finnish classics, even if he only had time to publish four collections. Like several unfortunate poets of the first half of the 20th century – among them Edith Södergran, Saima Harmaja, Katri Vala, Uuno Kailas – he died of tuberculosis. Poems from Unen kaivo (‘The well of dreams’, WSOY, 1936)

From the point of view of both form and content, Kaarlo Sarkia’s poem ‘Älä elämää pelkää’ (‘Don’t be afraid of life’, 1936) is among the best examples of Finnish poetry. It crystallises several typical themes and features of his work: a declamatory absoluteness and existential courage, a faith in beauty, and the presence of death.

Don’t be afraid of life,
don’t shut out its beauty.
Invite it to sit by your fire,
or should your hearth expire,
to meet it outside is your duty.
– – –
More…

The stars above

6 March 2014 | Authors, Reviews

Lars Huldén. Photo: Charlotta Boucht

Lars Huldén. Photo: Charlotta Boucht

The state of poetry in Finland has been the subject of heated debate in recent years. The focus of much of this attention has been so-called ‘experimental poetry’. Some commentators have gone as far as to suggest that, in its ability to reshape and reinvent itself, contemporary poetry serves as a model for other forms of literature.

In such a literary climate, a writer like Lars Huldén might easily be overlooked, a writer whose poems give honest expression to thoughts and moods. This Huldén achieves in a manner that is at once recognisable and inventive. His poems are, perhaps, close to what many assume poems should be: concise speech expressing the wisdom of experience and often revealing a clear sense of resignation – which is hardly surprising when you have reached the age of 88. More…

The princess who quit

27 February 2014 | Authors, Interviews

Alexandra Salmela. Photo: Heini Lehväslaiho

Alexandra Salmela. Photo: Heini Lehväslaiho

Interview with Alexandra Salmela, whose second book, Kirahviäiti ja muita hölmöjä aikuisia (‘The giraffe mummy and other silly adults’, Teos, 2013), is for children – and for those adults who admit their silliness

Once upon a time there was a boy called Sulo. Just a normal lad, more a middle-of-the-road character than winner material. And not even always brave, let alone cheerful. An ordinary sprog isn’t enough for Sulo’s parents, so they take the boy to a child repair shop. There, new parts are fitted to children: virtuoso fingers, football-feet and angel-faces.

In addition to Sulo, Alexandra Salmela’s Kirahviäiti ja muita hölmöjä aikuisia (‘The giraffe mummy and other silly adults’) introduces us to the misunderstood Flabby Monster, Adalmiina, who wings through trees like an ape, and a father who absentmindedly loses his head. The work is the second book by Alexandra Salmela, who was born in Bratislava, in what was then Czechoslovakia, and now lives in Tampere.

A-L E: How did the idea of a story-book come up? More…

In memoriam Mirkka Rekola 1931–2014

20 February 2014 | Authors, In the news

Mirkka Rekola. Photo: Elina Laukkarinen/WSOY

Mirkka Rekola. Photo: Elina Laukkarinen/WSOY

The poet and author Mirkka Rekola died on 5 February at the age of 82. From 1954 onwards she has written aphorisms, essays and 18 collections of poetry. Rekola was awarded many literary prizes, among them the Eino Leino prize (1979), the Finland prize (Suomi-palkinto, 1995) and the Dancing Bear poetry prize (1997). Her intellectual, linguistically brilliant poetry was not easy to translate – however, translations have appeared in Swedish, German, French, Hungarian, English and Macedonian.

The poet and translator Herbert Lomas wrote in his introduction to Rekola’s collection Valekuun reitti (‘The path of a false moon’) in 2004: ‘Mirkka Rekola was a minimalist before minimalism was invented.’ Her poems are, he said, ‘moments of crossing an edge towards an intenser awareness of the universe’s continuum, requiring us to wake up from sleep, as we do at times of heightened consciousness and love.’

At first light I put my hand
      in the hollow of a white willow –
once someone's cigarette box
had been left there –
      now a bird flew out
going seaward.
Touch of a wingquill on the back of my hand.
      It flew higher.
            In the evening
I felt its touch on my shoulder blade.

From Valekuun reitti, translated by Herbert Lomas

 

The party’s not yet over

14 November 2013 | Authors, Interviews

Minna Lindgren. Photo: XX

Minna Lindgren. Photo: Ville Palonen

Ordinary, boring, controlled life in an old folks’ home takes an interesting turn as crimes are committed. But daily tramrides in Helsinki, the virtues of friendship and general joie de vivre are enjoyed by 90-year-plus-old ladies who refuse to act as expected – as Bette Davis put it, old age is no place for sissies. Minna Lindgren is interviewed by Anna- Leena Ekroos

Welcome to Twilight Grove, a Helsinki home for the elderly – the bright, institutional lighting in its parlour creating an atmosphere like a dentist’s office, the odd resident dozing on the sofas, waiting for the next meal. The menu often includes mashed potatoes, easy for those with bad teeth. Residents seeking recreation are offered chair aerobics, accordion recitals, and crafts. A very ordinary assisted living centre, or is it? In Minna Lindgren’s novel, Kuolema Ehtoolehdossa (‘Death at Twilight Grove’, Teos), the everyday life of a home for the elderly is the setting for absurd and even criminal happenings, suspicious deaths and medical mix-ups.

Anna-Leena Ekroos: You’re a journalist and writer. Formerly you worked for the Finnish Broadcasting Company. In 2009 you won the Bonnier journalism prize for an article of yours about the last phases of your father’s life, and his death. Kuolema Ehtoolehdossa is your first novel. How did it come into being?

Minna Lindgren: I’ve always known I was a writer but the mere urge to write isn’t enough for a novel – you have to have a meaningful story. The more absorbed I became in the life of the old, the more important it felt to me to write this story. Writing a novel turned out to be carefree compared to working as a journalist. Many of the stories I heard would have become bad social porn in the media, dissolved into banality, but in a novel they become genuinely tragic, or tragicomic, as the case may be. More…

Love and marriage

31 October 2013 | Authors, Interviews

Sanna Tahvanainen. Photo: Cata Portin

Sanna Tahvanainen. Photo: Cata Portin

Victoria, a lonely, restricted child, grows up to be a mother of nine; in the eyes of the world, she is enormously powerful. The love she feels for her husband is equally strong. In constant, troubled search of herself as a woman, Victoria lives a long life.
Sanna Tahvanainen’s character is a queen – but her novel, Bär den som en krona (‘Wear it like a crown’, 2013) a surprising, rich portrait of a woman, is almost completely lacking in descriptions of Victoria’s regal duties. This extract is set at the opening of the London International Exhibition of Industry and Art in 1851. Janina Orlov interviews the author.

JO: How did you decide on Queen Victoria? I remember you once commented that you only had a very general picture of her, but once you started rooting around you must have found a wealth of information.

ST: I didn’t make any sort of concrete decision to write a book about her; she fascinated me in a peculiar way. I would return to her every time I was working on a new collection of poetry; I’d already written so much poetry that there was almost a hint of routine about it all, this was something I could really get my teeth into. Because we know so little about Victoria’s childhood, I actually had quite a lot of freedom. Of course, there are reams of books about her! But I’ve never found a novel about her.

JO: How did you go about creating her voice? More…

On subterranean spaces

30 August 2013 | Authors, Reviews

Zinaida Lindén. Photo: Janne Aaltonen

Zinaida Lindén. Photo: Janne Aaltonen

A melancholic diplomat’s wife in Turku recalls her childhood in 1970s Leningrad. This is how one might describe the new novel by Zinaida Lindén – then one might be surprised encountering nuance after nuance that challenge our expectations.

The melancholy in Lindén’s novel isn’t soft and misty; it is sharp and metallic. The life of the protagonist Galina, a diplomat’s wife, is far from glamorous, and consists mostly of standing over the ironing board in the family’s one-bedroom flat, ironing shirts for her conscientious and overworked husband at the consulate. The 1970s Leningrad of her memories is not an arena for ideology or culture, but serves as the backdrop for an intimate familial drama, in which the child always remained on the outside and was eventually left alone after the death of her parents. More…

Me by myself

20 June 2013 | Authors, Essays, Non-fiction, On writing and not writing

Writer's block

In this series, Finnish authors ponder their profession. Jyrki Kiiskinen casts light on the process of getting his books written: who is it that actually does the job?

People think I am a writer. But I am not. At literary events they sometimes come up and praise my most recent work, if they have happened to like it, not knowing that I have not written a single book. I try to ignore negative criticism, although it is not easy to put up with being blamed for other people’s work. I accept praise unhesitatingly, on those rare occasions when I receive it, although it feels strange.

It’s as if the person I’m talking to thinks I was someone else. He talks about the book’s style, its characters and its narrative voice, supposing that they are my invention.

At that moment I feel like a trickster. But I can’t be bothered to correct the misconception. I slurp my red wine happily and nod in false modesty, gazing deep into my interlocutor’s eyes. I keep chatting, to give him the impression that he’s met a living writer, myself – the person behind my words.

More…

Journeys to nearby places

18 April 2013 | Authors, Interviews

Virpi Talvitie & Katri Tapola. Photo: xxx

Workmates: Virpi Talvitie and Katri Tapola. Photo: Teos

Short texts and vibrant illustrations merge composing capricious situations in Katri Tapola and Virpi Talvitie’s adult picture book. Mahdollisuuksien rajoissa. Matkakirja (‘In the realm of impossibility. Travel book’, Teos, 2013) turns the ordinary pleasantly askew

It is a different kind of travel book: instead of faraway places, it explores things nearby, where our gaze and our thoughts don’t usually pause – the little things at the bottom of a pocket, in a dark closet full of outdoor gear, quiet moments in noontime traffic.

The travellers are perhaps Nobody in Particular, or somebody called Random. We keep on travelling, but we don’t get any farther than the corner store. What’s small becomes large, what’s supposedly large shrinks. Our self-image is off-kilter, there’s a hole in our CV, and the world is pleasantly tilted.

A-L E: The book is in the form of short prose – a page, half a page. What was it like to write these compact texts?

K T: I love having constraints; the short form is very rewarding. Focus and compactness make your whole life clear. And this has been good for me to learn because I’m naturally prone to long, extended forms of expression. More…

Winter journey

1 November 2012 | Authors, Reviews

Tua Forsström. Photo: Mao Lindholm

The Finland-Swedish poet Tua Forsström publishes rarely, and so when she does the expectations are always high. It is a pleasure to note that her new book, En kväll i oktober rodde jag ut på sjön (‘One evening in October I rowed out on the lake’), once again lives up to them.

Forsström’s poetry is simultaneously concrete and existential, rooted in attention to the everyday and open to symbolic readings. The highly-charged images in her poems mostly grow out of the sort of things that anyone can observe around them. More…

Dear diary

18 October 2012 | Authors, Extracts, Non-fiction, poetry

The poet and translator Pentti Saarikoski (1937–1983) was a legend in his own lifetime, a media darling, a public drinker who had five children with four women. His oeuvre nevertheless encompasses 30 works, and his translations include Homer and James Joyce. The journalist Saska Saarikoski (born 1963) has finally read all that work – in search of the father whom he seldom met. The following samples are from his annotated selection of Pentti Saarikoski’s thoughts over 30 years, Sanojen alamainen (‘Servant of words’, Otava, 2012; see Figuring out father)

I try to write books whose reading will bring enjoyment, in other words not entertaining ones.
Suomentajan päiväkirjat
(‘Translator’s diaries’, 1970)

The term ‘world literature’ was invented by Goethe to describe the importance of Goethe.
Päiväkirjat (‘Diaries’, 1978)

A work of art is bad if it ‘makes you think’. About something other than itself. What is wrong with ‘art for art’s sake’ – or bread for bread’s sake? Art is art and bread is bread, and people need both in their diet.
Päiväkirjat (‘Diaries’, 1978) More…

The ruins of civilisation

31 August 2012 | Authors, Reviews

Juha Seppälä. Photo: WSOY

The eponymous central character of Juha Seppälä’s new novel Mr. Smith (WSOY, 2012) is almost an omnipotent man who moves freely in time and space, from Tsarist Russia to contemporary Los Angeles. He claims that he is a ‘sovereign individual’; sovereignty and individuality are traits that Seppälä’s protagonists have always striven towards.

On the other hand, he also says that he is a ‘necessary evil’ fulfilling the role of a protagonist in a novel. His name refers to anyone and everyone; he is, in a way, a minimalist relic of an individual.

On one level there is the suggestion that he is the alter ego of his creator: the author’s surname refers to a smith (seppä). 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…

In the same boat

29 May 2012 | Authors, Interviews, Reviews

Pauliina Haasjoki. Photo: Tommi Tuomi

For the poet Pauliina Haasjoki, a writing process can begin in many ways, but particular periods – residencies, for example – are dedicated to writing. She attempts to create a cross-swell of influences in which she may read, watch movies, listen to music, have conversations and wander, collecting memories.

In the end, beginning to write becomes easy. Haasjoki may put music on to play, for example, for a certain time and use it to write ‘the poetry that belongs to that time, which sort of jostles there, waiting, because I have put it there.’

Haasjoki’s writing career began in Turku in the 1990s: she was studying literary theory at the university and was a witness to the birth of the poetic movement that developed there. Haasjoki has published five volumes of poetry, of which the latest,  Aallonmurtaja (‘Breakwater’), was published in 2011. More…

Madness and method

10 May 2012 | Authors, Reviews

Juha Hurme. Photo: Stefan Bremer

One day during Advent in Helsinki the narrator in the novel Hullu (‘The lunatic’, Teos, 2012), a middle-aged man, goes mad.

Complete confusion fills his mind. He thinks he must be dead, but nevertheless manages to knock on the door of the mental hospital. To his amazement, he is admitted to the yellow building.

Because the boundaries between reality and self are, for him, completely blurred, he believes that the people in the hospital know absolutely everything about his unsuccessful life, and that he must expect humiliations and punishments. The people in white coats are aliens, or perhaps holograms. More…