In the news

And the winner is… Finlandia Prize for Fiction 2014

27 November 2014 | In the news

Jussi Valtonen. Photo: Markko Taina

Jussi Valtonen. Photo: Markko Taina

The winner of the prize this year, worth €30,000 and awarded on 27 November, is He eivät tiedä mitä he tekevät (‘For they know not what they do’, Tammi) by Jussi Valtonen (born 1974), a psychologist and writer. The novel – 558 pages – is his third: it focuses on the relationship of science and ethics in the contemporary world, with an American professor of neuroscience, married to a Finn, as the protagonist.

Professor Anne Brunila – who has worked, among other posts, as a CEO in forest and energy industry – chose the winner. In her awarding speech she said: ‘The novel is an astonishing combination of perceptive description of human relationships, profound moral and ethical reasoning, science fiction and suspense…. I have never encountered a Finnish portrayal of our present era that is anything like it.’

The other five novels on the shortlist of six were the following:

Kaksi viatonta päivää (‘Two innocent days’, Gummerus) by Heidi Jaatinen is a story of a child whose parents are not able to take care of her; Olli Jalonen’s Miehiä ja ihmisiä (’Men and human beings’, Otava) focuses on a young man’s summer in the 1970s. Neljäntienristeys (‘The crossing of four roads’, WSOY), a first novel by Tommi Kinnunen, is a story set in the 20th-century Finnish countryside over three generations. Kultarinta (‘Goldbreast’, Gummerus) by Anni Kytömäki is a first novel about generations, set in the years between 1903 and 1937, celebrating the Finnish forest and untouched nature. Graniittimies (‘Granite man’, Otava) by Sirpa Kähkönen portrays a young, idealistic Finnish couple who move to the newly-founded Soviet Union to work in the utopia they believe in.

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!

‘The Lion of the North’ wins the non-fiction Finlandia Prize

25 November 2014 | In the news

Thetieto Finlandia Prize for Non-Fiction 2014, worth €30,000 and awarded by Suomen Kirjasäätiö (The Finnish Book Foundation), went to the historian and author Mirkka Lappalainen on 19 November for her book on a 17th-century Swedish king.

The winning entry, entitled Pohjolan leijona, Kustaa II Adolf ja Suomi 1611–1632 (‘The Lion of the North. Gustavus II Adolphus and Finland 1611–1632’, Siltala), was chosen by from a shortlist of six finalists by Heikki Hellman, journalist and Dean of the School of Communication, Media and Theatre in Tampere. According to him, ‘Pohjolan leijona is an exceptionally well-written narrative for a non-fiction book; the author uses both earlier literature and numerous primary and secondary sources with great skill. Lappalainen succeeds in demonstrating how, during the reign of Gustavus II Adolphus, both Sweden and its easterly province, Finland, began to develop an organised society with its structure of officials and bureaucracy, how jurisdiction replaced the arbitrary rule of the aristocracy and how it was only then that Finland developed its role as part of Sweden. Pohjolan leijona sweeps the reader along and helps us to understand where we have come from and who we are.’

Hellman also commented on the growing practice of publishing non-fiction texts in English only: ‘Research is not done only for other scholars; it must also be relevant to people’s lives and be brought to their attention. We must also publish in our mother tongue, or else it will not survive as a language for research. This is one of the reasons why non-fiction is so necessary.’

Mirkka Lappalainen has received other prizes for her work. Susimessu (‘Wolf mass’), for example, was voted History Book of the year in 2010.

The Finlandia Junior Prize 2014

20 November 2014 | In the news

juniorMaria Turtschaninoff’s third fantasy book for young people, Maresi. Krönikor från röda klostret / Maresi. Punaisen luostarin kronikoita (‘Maresi. Chronicles of the Red Convent’, Schildts & Söderströms; Finnish translation by Marja Kyrö, publisher Tammi) was awarded the Finlandia Junior Prize, worth €30,000, on 20 November.

The winner was chosen by the scriptwriter and film director Johanna Vuoksenmaa who, in her awarding speech, said that it is ‘an exceptionally powerful fantasy book which, in addition to telling an exquisite, wise and exciting story, also provides a welcome correction to the gender division of fantasy book characters, which has been slightly skewed ever since Tolkien. Maresi reminds me that even today there are places in the world where readers are not sought for books, where knowledge is not on offer to young, thirsty minds. People’s opportunities to know and learn are limited and human rights trampled upon.’

The other five candidates were the following:

Written and illustrated by Saku Heinänen, Zaida ja lumienkeli (‘Zaida and the snow angel’, Tammi) is the story of a little girl whose school days are not always happy; Puiden tarinoita. Puuseppä (‘Stories by trees. The carpenter’, Books North) is a fairy-tale written by Iiro Küttner and illustrated by the graphic artist and cartoonist Ville Tietäväinen; Jyri Paretskoi’s first novel Shell’s Angles ja Kalajoen hiekat (‘Shell’s Angles and the Kalajoki sands’, Karisto) is a humorous story for young teenagers; Min egen lilla liten / Oma pieni pikkuruinen (‘My own tiny little thing’, Schildts & Söderströms, Teos) is a picture story about longing for closeness told by Ulf Stark and illustrated by Linda Bondestam; a picture book about a little squirrel by Mila Teräs, Olga Orava ja metsän salaisuus (‘Olga Squirrel an the forest’s secret’, Lasten Keskus) is illustrated by Karoliina Pertamo.

Prize for the best debut book

20 November 2014 | In the news

jugoThe Helsingin Sanomat literature prize for the best first work, written in Finnish, for 2014 was awarded on 13 November to Kosovo-born Pajtim Statovci, 24, for his novel Kissani Jugoslavia (‘Yugoslavia my cat’, Otava – see translated extracts here).

The choice was made by a five-strong jury from a total of 65 books. The prize, which was this year awarded for the 20th time, is worth €15,000.

Among the ten finalists were a collection of essays, three collections of poetry and six novels. According to the jury, Statovci’s novel, ‘drowns the reader, after a realistic description of events, in a dreamlike, lyrical vision. This kind of writing is not taught anywhere. The skill either resides in the writer or it doesn’t.’

Shortlist for Finlandia Prize for Non-Fiction 2014

13 November 2014 | In the news

logoThe shortlist for the Finlandia Prize for Non-Fiction 2014 – worth €30,000 – was announced on 5 November by the chairperson of the jury, Susanna Pettersson, Director of the Ateneum Art Museum. The works on the list of six are as follows:

Pohjolan leijona, Kustaa II Adolf ja Suomi 1611–1632 (‘The lion of the North. Gustavus II Adolphus and Finland 1611–1632’, Siltala) by the historian and author Mirkka Lappalainen deals with the implications of  actions of the mighty Swedish king on the part of the kingdom that was known as Finland.

Herkkä, hellä, hehkuvainen – Minna Canth (‘Sensitive, gentle, radiant – Minna Canth’, Otava) is a fresh biography of the Finnish pre-feminist author (1844–1897), a popularised version of a dissertation by Minna Maijala.

Karanteeni. Kuinka aids saapui Suomeen (‘Quarantine. How Aids came to Finland’, Siltala) by Hanna Nikkanen & Antti Järvi records the history of the disease, its arrival and consequences in Finland.

Operaatio Elop (‘Operation Elop’, Teos) by Pekka Nykänen & Merina Salminen is the story of the mobile phone company Nokia in its declining years and its Canadian CEO (2010–2013) Stephen Elop, who did not become the saviour of the company on the global market.

Usko, toivo ja raskaus. Vanhoillislestadiolaista perhe-elämää (‘Faith, hope and pregnancy’, Atena) by Aila Ruoho &Vuokko Ilola focuses on the family life, particularly the status of the woman, of a fundamentalist religious community in Finland.

Tulisaarna. Einojuhani Rautavaaran elämä ja teokset (‘Fiery sermon. Life and works of Einojuhani Rautavaara’, Teos) by Samuli Tiikkaja (journalist, music critic and researcher) is a biography of the composer Einojuhani Rautavaara (born 1928).

The winner – according to the rules of the prize, it will be given to a deserving Finnish generalist non-fiction book – will be chosen by Heikki Hellman, journalist and Dean ofthe School of Communication, Media and Theatre in Tampere, on 19 November.

Winner of the Nordic Council Literature Prize

6 November 2014 | In the news

Kjell Westö. Photo: Kata Portin

Kjell Westö. Photo: Kata Portin

The Nordic Council Literature Prize 2014 went to Kjell Westö and his novel Hägring 38 (‘Mirage 38’, 2013; in Finnish, Kangastus 38). The prize, awarded since 1962 and worth €47,000, was given on 29 October at a ceremony in Stockholm.

Among the 13 nominees was another Finn, the poet Henriikka Tavi with her collection Toivo (‘Hope’, 2011).

The jury said: ‘The Nordic Council Literature Prize goes to the Finnish writer Kjell Westö for the novel Mirage 38, the evocative prose of which breathes life into a critical moment in Finland’s history [the time before the Winter War, 1939–1940] – one that has links to the present day.’ Here, more on Westö and his winning novel.

Translation prize to Angela Plöger

23 October 2014 | In the news

Angela Plöger, Frankfurt Book Fair, 8 October. Photo: Katja Maria Nyman

Angela Plöger, Frankfurt Book Fair, 8 October. Photo: Katja Maria Nyman

The 40th Finnish State Prize for the Translation of Finnish Literature of 2014 – worth €15,000 – was awarded to the German translator Angela Plöger at the Frankfurt Book Fair on 8 October.

Dr Angela Plöger (born 1942) studied Finnish and Fennistics in Berlin; she first came to Finland in the 1960s after having become interested in the Finnish language as a result of learning Hungarian.

‘I had been to the restaurant at the Helsinki Railway Station where Bertolt Brecht was thinking how the noblest part of a man is his passport, and how Finns are a people who keeps silent in two languages.’

Plöger then defected to West Germany, starting her career anew. She has also translated texts from Hungarian and Russian. In her speech in the Finnish Pavilion of the Book Fair Plöger said that in her opinion translating literature is the most fascinating profession in the world.

Her first translation of a Finnish novel was Tamara, by Eeva Kilpi, published in 1974. Among the most recent of the 40 novels Plöger has translated during the past five decades from Finnish are the novels Kätilö (‘Midwife’, 2011) by Katja Kettu and Kun kyyhkyset katosivat (‘When the doves disappeared’, 2012) by Sofi Oksanen. Among the other works Plöger has translated are novels by Leena Lander, Eeva-Kaarina Aronen, Anja Snellman, Kaari Utrio, Johanna Sinisalo, Risto Isomäki and Antti Tuuri, as well as a number of drama texts by Laura Ruohonen, Juha Jokela, Aki Kaurismäki, Pirkko Saisio and Sofi Oksanen.

The Minister for Culture and Housing, Pia Viitanen, thanked Plöger for her extensive and multi-faceted work in the field of language and literature and in promoting Finnish literary culture in Germany.

The prize, worth € 15,000, has been awarded by the Ministry of Education and Culture since 1975 on the basis of a recommendation by FILI – Finnish Literature Exchange.

Ice hockey and grumpiness – popular books in September

16 October 2014 | In the news

Ice hockey veteran: Teemu Selänne

Ice hockey veteran: Teemu Selänne

The September list of best-selling non-fiction compiled by Suomen Kirjakauppaliitto, the Finnish Booksellers’ Association, included books on mushrooming: a popular pastime that, finding fungi for dinner. However, number one was the biography of the most internationally successful (NHL) ice hockey player so far, Teemu Selänne (recently retired), entitled Teemu (Otava).

Ilosia aikoja, Mielensäpahoittaja (‘Happy times, you who take offence’, WSOY) is the third book in the popular humorous series by Tuomas Kyrö, and it tops the September list of the best-selling Finnish fiction.

Kyrö’s protagonist, this mielensäpahoittaja, the one who ‘takes offence’, is a 80-something grumpy old man living in the countryside and opposing most of what contemporary lifestyles are about. For in the olden days everything was better: for example, food wasn’t complicated and cars were easily repairable.

Apparently Finns can’t get enough of this grumpiness. What began as short monologues written for the radio has become a series of books, and Kyrö’s Mr Grumpy has also appeared on the stage as well as on the screen: the first night of the film, also entitled Mielensäpahoittaja (directed by Dome Karukoski), took place in September. Will there be much more to come, we wonder.

Number two was the latest thriller by Ilkka Remes (pseudonym) with a book entitled Horna (‘Hell’, WSOY), and on third place was the new book by Anna-Leena Härkönen, a novel about a married couple who become lotto winners, Kaikki oikein (‘All correct’, Otava).

First place of the best-selling books for children and young people was occupied by the Moomins – not the original story books or comics by Tove Jansson though, but by other ‘Moomin writers’ and illustrators, whom there have been surprisingly many after Jansson’s Moomin art was made reproducible; this time the book is entitled Muumit ja ihmeiden aika (‘The Moomins and the time of wonders’, Tammi). Another cause of wonder, we think.

Furies and angels: best-selling books in August

10 September 2014 | In the news

‘Apulanta’: a history of a rock band

On the August list of the best-selling non-fiction compiled by Suomen Kirjakauppaliitto, the Finnish Booksellers’ Association, are two translated books on furies and angels: number two is Hitler’s Furies: German Women in the Nazi Killing Fields by Wendy Lower (Atena), number three is Love from Heaven (Otava) by Lorna Byrne, an Irishwoman and writer of books about angels who claims she has met the Archangel Michael.

At the top of the list, however, was Apulanta, the story of the Finnish rock band of the same name (it translates as ‘Fertilizer’) by Ari Väntänen (Like).

The top three Finnish fiction books were new: the latest novel by Tuomas Kyrö, Ilosia aikoja, Mielensäpahoittaja (‘Happy times, the one who takes offence’, WSOY), a new novel, about a couple who wins the lottery by Anna-Leena Härkönen, Kaikki oikein (‘Direct hit’, Otava) and a first novel, Kissani Jugoslavia (‘My cat Yugoslavia’, Otava), by Pajtim Statovci (born 1990), the story of an Albanian family arriving in Finland as refugees.

Mielensäpahoittaja is a noun: Kyrö’s protagonist is an 80-something man who lives in the countryside and opposes most of what contemporary lifestyles have to offer. His favourite sentence used to begin with ‘so I took offence when…’ This is the third book in the surprisingly popular series, and Kyrö’s Mr Grumpy (who originates from monologues written for the radio) has also appeared on the stage as well as on the screen: the first night of the film Mielensäpahoittaja (directed by Dome Karukoski) took place in early September.

The Dancing Bear Poetry Prize 2014

7 August 2014 | In the news

Juha Kulmala. Photo: Kajaanin runoviikko, 2014

Juha Kulmala. Photo: Kajaanin runoviikko, 2014

The Dancing Bear Poetry Prize (Tanssiva karhu -palkinto), founded by Yleisradio, the Finnish Broadcasting Company and worth €3,500, is awarded annually to a book of poetry published the previous year. In July, at a poetry festival – Kajaanin runoviikko – in the north-eastern town of Kajaani, it was given for the 20th time.

The winner was Juha Kulmala: his collection, entitled Pompeijin iloiset päivät (‘The merry days of Pompeii’, Savukeidas, 2013), is written in the vein of the ‘beat’ tradition of the poet’s home town of Turku; the landscape of the poems includes Finland and regions in Southern Europe.

The other finalists were Ville Hytönen, Harry Salmenniemi, Pauliina Haasjoki, Sinikka Vuola and Ralf Andtbacka. The prize jury, chaired by the poet Harri Nordell, chose the winner from almost 200 collections.

Yleisradio also awards a prize for the best poetry translation (Kääntäjäkarhu-palkinto) of the year, worth €1,100; this time it went, for the first time, to an anthology. Entitled 8+8. Suomalaista ja virolaista runoutta / Eesti ja Soome luulet (‘8+8. Finnish and Estonian poetry’, NyNorden, 2014) and edited by the Estonian poet and writer Eeva Park, the book contains poems by eight Estonian and eight Finnish poets, all published in Estonian and in Finnish, translated by twelve translators.

Crime, no punishment

24 June 2014 | In the news

tikliSummer is the season for crime – where buying and reading books is concerned. When spring ends and summer begins, several whodunits and thrillers appear on the list of best-selling books compiled by the Finnish Booksellers’ Association. However, on the translated fiction list Donna Tartt rules with her novel The Goldfinch (Tikli, WSOY).

For the third time since March, number one on the Finnish fiction list in May was Tommi Kinnunen’s first novel, Neljäntienristeys (‘The crossing of four roads’, WSOY). In March this title reached the top after favourable reviews – in the Helsingin Sanomat daily paper in particular.

The narrative spans a century, beginning in the late 19th century, and is set mainly in Northern Finland. The Swedish publisher Norstedts was the first to buy the translation rights.

The next two on the list are crime novels: Cowboy (Otava) by Reijo Mäki and Mustat sydämet (‘Black hearts’, Crime Time) by Seppo Jokinen. The new ‘granny crime’ book by Minna Lindgren, the sequel to her Kuolema Ehtoolehdossa (‘Death at Twilight Grove’, 2013, Teos), entitled Ehtoolehdon pakolaiset (‘Twilight Grove refugees’) is number five; the resourceful 90-year-plus protagonists may not be criminals themselves, but odd things are certainly happening in the home for the elderly again. Lindgren’s first book is making its way into other languages as well.

Soiva laulukirja (‘The singing songbook’, Tammi), edited by Soili Perkiö, tops the list of books for children and young people: the push of a button delivers a piano accompaniment to any one of 50 Finnish songs. It may prove to be particularly popular with parents as entertainment for their kids on long car journeys.

Five of the other nine of the best-selling books on the translated fiction list – on which Tartt was number one – are about serial killers and other murderers.

The non-fiction list is headed by a collection of messages from the spiritual world: the pop star Katri Helena (born 1945) who debuted in 1963, has written down what she feels her dead loved ones have chosen to tell her. Taivaan tie (‘Heaven road’, Otava) deals with love, conscience, good deeds and the good life. One might wonder though why this selection of aphoristic observations is included in the non-fiction category.

On the list there are also books on baking cakes and cooking, and, as usual in summer, on nature, as people retreat to their summer homes to lie in hammocks to listen to birdsong and read about serial killers.

Still selling best

8 May 2014 | In the news

Celebrity in Russia: Ville Haapasalo on the cover of Et kuitenkaan usko... (’You won't believe it anyway...’)

Celebrity in Russia: Ville Haapasalo on the cover of Et kuitenkaan usko… (’You won’t believe it anyway…’)

Not a lot of new titles made it to the list of the best-selling books – compiled by the Finnish Booksellers’ Association – in April, it seems. Number one on the Finnish fiction list was still Tommi Kinnunen’s first novel, Neljäntienristeys (‘The crossing of four roads’, WSOY).

In March this title reached the top after favourable reviews – in the Helsingin Sanomat daily paper in particular. The narrative spans a century beginning in the late 19th century and takes place in the Finnish countryside.

Number two – again – was another first novel about problems arising in a religious family, Taivaslaulu (‘Heaven song’, Gummerus, 2013) by Pauliina Rauhala. Number three was the latest crime/police novel by Seppo Jokinen, Mustat sydämet (‘Black hearts’, Crime Time).

On the translated fiction list, after George R.R. Martin’s A Dance with Dragons – top of the list in March too – is Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch. Another donna (Donna Leon) was number three with her Beastly Things.

On the non-fiction list number one was a book on the Finnish actor / television journalist Ville Haapasalo’s life – and adventures during his travels in Russia, where he is a big celebrity and film star – by Haapasalo, Kauko Röyhkä and Juha Metso (Docendo). Number two was an autobiographical book by Katri Helena, a pop star who began her career in the 1960s.

The selection among the 20 best-selling books included, as usually, autobiographies and biographies, cookery, books about birds and nature. And Moomins. Books about Moomins and their creator Tove Jansson (1914–2001) certainly will rule this year – Jansson’s centenary.

Favour and fame: becoming a best-seller

10 April 2014 | In the news

neljantienristeysAt the top of the list of best-selling books – compiled by the Finnish Booksellers’ Association – in March was the first novel by Tommi Kinnunen, a teacher of Finnish language and literature from Turku. In Neljäntienristeys (‘The crossing of four roads’, WSOY) the narrative spans a century beginning in the late 19th century and is set mainly in Northern Finland, focusing on the lives of four people related to each other. Undoubtedly well-written, it continues the popular tradition of realistic novels set in the 20th-century Finland.

Finland is a small country with one exceptionally large newspaper, Helsingin Sanomat (read by more than 800,000 people daily). The annual literary prize that carries the paper’s name is awarded to a best first work, and candidates are assessed throughout the year.

In February the paper’s literary critic Antti Majander declared in his review of Kinnunen’s book: ’Such weighty and sure-footed prose debuts appear seldom. If I were to say a couple of times in a decade, I would probably be being over-enthusiastic. But let it be. Critics’ measuring sticks are destined for the bonfire.’ More…

Potentially translatable

27 March 2014 | In the news

The daily paper Aamulehti, published in Tampere, and the bookshop Tulenkantajat (‘The torch-bearers’), in the same city, founded in 2013 a prize called Tulenkantajat* for a Finnish-language writer whose book, published in the previous year, is estimated to have the ‘best export potential’. The first jury selects four to six candidates, the second chooses the winner. The prize is worth €5,000.

The winner of the 2014 prize was announced on 24 March: it is the graphic novel Vain pahaa unta (‘Just a bad dream’, WSOY) by the father-daughter team Ville Tietäväinen and Aino Tietäväinen; see our feature; we have also reviewed three other finalists on the list of six.

The remaining finalists were the crime novel Niiden kirjojen mukaan teidät on tuomittava (‘You will be judged according to your books’, Atena) by Kai Ekholm, Piippuhylly (‘The pipe shelf’, WSOY), short stories by Katja Kettu, the novel Hotel Sapiens (Teos) by Leena Krohn, the novel Herodes (‘Herod’, WSOY) by Asko Sahlberg and Kirahviäiti ja muita hölmöjä aikuisia (‘The giraffe mummy and other silly adults’, Teos), a picture book for children by Alexandra Salmela and Martina Matlovičová.

Who can say whether the books on this shortlist will be ‘exported’, i.e. translated prolifically? Time will tell.

*) The mid 1920s saw the foundation of a group of writers called the Torch-Bearers; it first published intensely personal nature poetry but later began to import European influences into Finnish literature. The Torch-Bearers aimed for the experience of citizenship of the world as unity between people without denying one’s own fatherland or nationality. (See Vesa Mauriala’s article here.)