Accompanied by one or two sentences of the most gnomic kind, architect Mikko Metsähonkala’s illustrations speak volumes. The picture-stories in his book Toisaalta / (P)å andra sidan / In Other Wor(l)ds blend the real and the surreal using fairy tales, references to historical or fictional characters and episodes from everyday life.
(The Finnish composer Lauri Supponen was inspired by Metsähonkala’s ‘humaphone’ – see below –, and his composition The Dordrecht Humaphone was first performed at the Cheltenham Festival, England, in 2012, to favourable reviews.) More…
Short prose from Mahdottomuuksien rajoissa. Matkakirja (‘In the realm of impossibility. A travel book’, Teos, 2013). Texts by Katri Tapola, illustrations by Virpi Talvitie. Interview by Anna-Leena Ekroos
The first try
A reader doesn’t have to understand anything on the first try. You can always put a book aside and see if the second read will help. If the second, third, fourth, or even fifth read doesn’t help, that’s still all right. What is this constant compulsion to understand everything? There’s nothing wrong with not understanding – on the contrary, it is precisely the state of baffled befuddlement that hides the hope of light within it. I can’t understand any of this! I’m having fun! the reader happily exclaims, and goes on with his life, eyes overflowing with light. More…
Artist and writer Hannu Väisänen’s alter ego, Antero – who has appeared in Väisänen’s earlier autobiographical novels – is a young artist in his new novel Taivaanvartijat (‘The guardians of heaven’, Otava, 2013). Antero is invited to create the altarpiece for a new church. He rejects conventional, ecclesiastical ‘Sunday art’ and uses simple and versatile everyday symbols; his design contains an ordinary Finnish door key, familiar to everybody. The clergymen and laywomen are appalled: is this art, is it appropriate? In this extract the frustrated Antero takes a therapeutic break – on a roller-coaster
Now I need to get another beat into my head. What can help me forget those morose, curled up creatures, their strange commands and scents? I remember the roller-coaster. And I remember the ancient lore that it’s good to ride the roller-coaster with a lover before you attempt anything else. I go home quickly, throw down my sketch-book and my unnecessarily businesslike briefcase, exchange my suit, which was supposed to indicate devotion, for a windcheater, arrange my hair more carelessly, get on my bike and cycle to the funfair where I know the roller-coaster, the genuine, real, old-fashioned, clanking roller-coaster, to be.
Who could have been the first person to imagine the delights of the roller-coaster? Into whose happy capacity for daydreaming did it fall? Who saw those massive iron tentacles in their figure-eight shapes, those stretched and knotted rings of eternal joy? Who understood that on such a ride shame and anxiety would fall out of one’s pockets? It’s claimed that the first roller-coaster was invented by Catherine the Great. The monarch, with her multifarious patronage of culture, commissioned in Oranienbaum, St Petersburg, the first Montagne Russe amid the amusements of the wise: a Russian mountain with its ice-paths, raised into the air, which melted with the coming of spring. Who else could understand this organ-stirring amusement as deeply as the Great Wife with her hundreds of lovers. In the grip of mortal fear, I too always pray: before I am laid in earth, before the crematorium’s oven, take me once more to the roller-coaster. More…
Hotel Sapiens is a place where people are made to take refuge from the world that no longer is habitable to them; the world economy has fallen – like the House of Usher, in Edgar Allan Poe’s story – and with it, most of what is called a civilised society. A rapid synthetic evolution has taken humankind by surprise, and the world is now governed by inhuman entities called the Guardians. ‘Kuin astuisitte aurinkoon’ (‘As if stepping into the sun’) is a chapter from the novel Hotel Sapiens ja muita irrationaalisia kertomuksia (‘Hotel Sapiens and other irrational tales’, Teos, 2012), where several narrators tell their stories
The fog banks have dissipated; the sky is empty. I cannot see the sails or swells in its heights, nor the golden cathedrals or teetering towers. I would not have believed I could miss a fog bank, but that’s exactly what it’s like: its disappearance is making me uneasy. For all its flimsiness and perforations it was our protection, our shield against the sun’s fire and the stars’ stings. Now the relentlessly blazing sun has awakened colours and extracted shadows from their hiding places. The moist warmth has dried into heat and the Flower Seller’s herb spirals have dried up into skeletons. The leaves on the trees are full of bronze, sickly red and black spots. Though there is no wind and autumn is not yet here, they come loose as if of their own volition, as if they wanted to die.
This morning, as I was strolling up and down the park path as usual, I saw another shadow alongside my own.
– Ah, you’re back! I said. – I wondered what had happened to you after you lost your shadow; how did you manage to change into your own shadow yourself? More…
Poems from Huhtikuu (‘April’, 1932), Sateen jälkeen (‘After the rain’, 1935), Hunnutettu (‘Veiled’, 1936), Kaukainen maa (‘Distant land’, posthumous, 1937; all published by WSOY). Introduction by Vesa Haapala
ON THE SHORE
The wonderful pale clouds
cross the sky like wings.
Quiet and enchanting
the open water sings.
The sand has grown weary
of the waves’ caressing play.
Now come in perfect quiet,
now come here, right away…
Erään ihailijan päiväkirjasta (‘From the diary of an admirer’), a story published in the collection of short prose Taskunovellit (‘Pocket stories’, edited by Vilja-Tuulia Huotarinen; Karisto, 2013)
Dear Diary, I have met a wonderful man. He is tender, handsome and clever. It is a real piece of luck that fate didn’t throw us together until now: I’m embarrassed at the very thought that he might have seen me a couple of years ago, as an immature and childish sixth-former. His name is Petri Tamminen and he’s a writer. Writers are gorgeous. Not all of them, of course, some of them think too much of themselves and appear e.g. on television, but Petri is gorgeous.
Dear Diary, he has shown me the road to a new world: we went to the Åland islands. Petri doesn’t like Helsinki, he wants to get away from the beaten track of everyday life. The sun sank into the horizon at Eckerö, and my soul floated up into the summer night. This is love. In the morning, in the hotel bed, he recited a poem for me. I have read all his novels and I know that one day they will receive the recognition they deserve, but in his deepest self he is a poet.
Dear Diary, we went fishing. Petri caught a sea-trout. It was enormous. He gathered herbs from a shoreline meadow, seasoned the fish and baked it over the embers. We ate with our fingers, fed each other. Delicious. Certain much weaker chefs try to make their names by preparing food e.g. on television. Losers. More…
Such straining and pasteurising is going on in the city that Arabs and other Muslims, the unemployed, drunkards, poor people and lunatics have been eliminated. By chance I became a cultural figure, and I was invited to a cultural evening whose invitation had been personally written by the Anarchist. At the restaurant table sat the Anarchist, the Psychoanalyst and the Psychologist’s boyfriend, 20 years younger, the Journalist, the Gift-Shop Owner, a Librarian and the Deputy Rector of a community college. Accompanying me to the restaurant, too, were the Wolf and the Deer, who hadn’t been invited. Sparse white fur grew on the Wolf’s narrow muzzle and there were teeth missing from his mouth. The Deer was beautiful, with huge eyes. And of course both of them were drunk. I asked them to come along because I believed that intellectuals are warm-hearted and open-minded. A really dumb idea. More…
‘Mahtisana’, a short story from the collection Lapsia (‘Children’, 1895). Introduction by Mervi Kantokorpi
Mother and Dad hadn’t said a single word to each other since lunchtime. The children, Maija and Iikka, were quiet, too. They sat apart, Iikka on the chair at the end of the sofa, where he could see the moon through the window, and Maija next to the window looking out on the street, where children moved about on skis and sleds. They didn’t dare make a sound, not even a whisper to ask for permission to go outside. It had been so quiet all that Sunday evening that when Mother spoke, encouraging them to go out and play, both of them nearly jumped.
They left without saying a word, Maija creeping quite silently. Even out in the courtyard she and Iikka still spoke in whispers as they decided which hill to go to. They didn’t really want to go anywhere, but when they came out to the street and could hear the happy shouts of children from every direction, it refreshed their spirits. Maija sat Iikka down on the sled and set off at a run, pulling him behind her. She felt as if her gloomy mood was falling away in pieces to be trampled underfoot.
A few streets down there was a large crowd of boys on the corner. They decided to go and see what was happening. More…
Memory, winter and everyday are studied in Tua Forsström’s new collection of poems, En kväll i oktober rodde jag ut på sjön (‘One evening in October I rowed out on the lake’, Schildts & Söderströms, 2012). Introduction by Michel Ekman
I fell through the papers laid aside
I came to a place where I was supposed to stay
for four nights but I stayed four years
Someone said: you have caused the council considerable expense
I said: this is my situation
A brave little cat came to my rescue
I could see what I wanted in the dark
at night and no one saw me
It was like a dream but I wasn’t dreaming
I was not afraid and I could pass through chalcedony
I could pass through quartz crystals
I could pass through sad and sick
On the bottom in the mud coins from many lands lay gleaming
We wish for anything between heaven and earth
All that we see and cannot see and lost
I do not recognise myself, and no one sees me More…
Extracts from the novel Mr. Smith (WSOY, 2012). Introduction by Tuomas Juntunen
I have a confession to make.
I couldn’t have lived on my salary. Most people would solve this by taking out a loan, living on credit. I’ve never lived in debt. Instead I’ve had to make my modest capital grow by investing it – through the company, of course, because irrespective of their colour governments generally understand companies better than small investors. You have to make money somewhere other than the Social Security Office.
Work doesn’t make money; money makes money.
You have to let money do the work.
This is nothing short of a profound human tragedy: most people are forced to waste the majority of their lives, to use it in the service of complete strangers, for unknown purposes, doing something for money that they would never do if they didn’t have to. The most shocking thing is that people actively seek out this state of affairs, strive towards it; it is a goal towards which society lends us its full support, no less.
Such wage slavery is called ‘work’. More…
A story from the collection of fiction and non-fiction, Salattuja voimia (‘Hidden powers’, Teos, 2012)
And just as Gran Paradiso is the highest peak in unified Italy, the only mountain whose rugged, perpetually snow-capped summit reaches a height of over thirteen thousand feet (there are rumours that, on a clear day, you can see the peaks of both Mont Blanc and the Matterhorn from the top), so we know that the largest and most splendid mountain creature throughout Europe is the ibex, which grazes on the slopes of Gran Paradiso – the ibex, the alpine goat, the distant ancestor and modern-day cousin of our own homely goat, the French bouquetin and the German Steinbock.
The male ibex can be the size of a foal, about three feet tall, and its curved horns, like Oriental daggers decorated with rippling patterns, can grow to reach the same length as the creature’s own height. Local folklore tells us that, in the olden days when the mists of the distant Ice Age still hung heavy in the gullies of Valle d’Aosta and Valle d’Orso, herds of ibexes could still be seen further down the mountain slopes, but because the ibex loves the cooling mountain winds and values the cold, which keeps predators from the valleys at bay, they moved up to the most inhospitable terrain and made it their home.
But there was one beast that followed the ibex up these paths, sowing fear and causing death and destruction – and that beast was man. More…
A ‘short special’: a previously unpublished text (written in the 1960s) from Luonnonkierto (‘Nature’s circle’, Siltala, 2012). Introduction by Jarmo Papinniemi
The pop song is a wide, mysterious world. It is like an ocean. Like a snow-covered desert. Like a rose garden. Like a perfume factory. The pop song is as mysterious as spring. The pop song is as whimsical as the restroom of the city hotel in Samarkand. The pop song is as coarse as your father’s eldest brother. Pop songs snag everyone, especially the young and the old. The best pop songs are foreign, because the words make no sense. Pop stars rise into the sky. Lovely young women step into the arena smelling of perfume and sing about love or tell playful stories about animals or nursery rooms. And then on the other end of life the stars go out and start to look for a place to be buried. But before dying they drone on in their gruff voices about the temptations of the big city, and love, which in a certain sense tortured and wore out those concerned…
Up here in Finland, we write and set pop songs to music as well. But I have to say that they aren’t any good. We also translate and water down a lot of foreign hits as well. Well, of course they’re all popular and people hum them in parishes in the city and in the country, but from a critical perspective they stink. Usually the weak point of a pop song is its execrable lyrics. More…
In her fifth collection of poems, Pauliina Haasjoki explores night flights, water, islands, sandy beaches where time is found stratified in stones and fossils. Interview by Teemu Manninen
Poems from Aallonmurtaja (‘Breakwater’, Otava, 2011)
Man cannot hide in the night, his desire will betray him.
Man turns toward the lights, light sparkles as though it were close at hand
even if it is far away.
Lights, which offer themselves like jewels to the one who sits in the plane above them, are already in their viewers’ eyes even if they have only just begun to stream from their source. A city-jewel swaying in the black night air.
A solitary light on the surface of an island. Seen close up it is a soft-lit lamp which casts light only on the table and the faces around it, but from above, at a distance of kilometres, it is an immediate spot, a straight line that aims at the viewer and pierces her. A fierce light-beam.
Extracts from the novel Hullu (‘The lunatic’, Teos, 2012). Introduction by Soila Lehtonen
I found myself standing in front of the noticeboard. The rules were on a sheet of paper:
Ward 15 5-C
Breakfast 8:00 AM
Lunch 11:45 AM
Dinner 4:30 PM
Evening Snack 7:30 PM
We recommend leaving money, valuables, and bankbooks for storage in the ward valuables locker. We take no responsibility for items not left in the locker! Money may be retrieved 1–3 times per day. Use of mobile phones on the ward by arrangement.
M–F 2–7 PM
Sa–Su 12–7 PM
Use of one’s own clothing by individual arrangement. Clothing care individual. Washer and dryer available for use in the evenings after 6 PM.
Arranged individually according to health condition. Outdoor pass does not include the right to leave the area.
Vacations arranged during morning report, according to health condition.
Smoking is only allowed on the smoking balcony! Smoking prohibited from 11 PM to 6 AM.
Pastor Karvonen available by appointment.
These were impossibly difficult rules. I read them through three times and simply did not understand. ‘Clothing care individual.’ ‘Outdoor pass does not include the right to leave the area.’
What did these sentences mean? With whom did you schedule the pastor and how? And why? More…