In the news
10 April 2014 | In the news
At 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 takes place in the Finnish countryside, 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 agrarian 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…
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.)
13 March 2014 | In the news
The list of best-selling books – compiled by the Finnish Booksellers’ Association – shows that in February comedy was popular among readers. Number one on the Finnish fiction list was Fingerpori 7 (‘Fingerborg 7’, Arktinen Banaani), the latest comics book by Pertti Jarla, featuring silly stuff taking place in the city of Fingerpori.
Riikka Pulkkinen’s new novel, a romantic comedy entitled Iiris Lempivaaran levoton ja painava sydän (‘Iiris Lempivaara’s restless and heavy heart’, Otava) which was originally published in a weekly women’s magazine, was number four. A satirical television series featuring two silly women devoted to dating and clubbing has also resulted in a book written by the two actresses, Heli Sutela and Minna Koskela: Anne ja Ellu lomamatkalla (‘Anne and Ellu on holiday’, published by Annen ja Ellun tuotanto) made its way to the seventh place. Number eight was Pertti Jarla’s Fingerborg 4!
However, number two was a first novel about problems arising in a religious family, Taivaslaulu (‘Heaven song’, Gummerus), by Pauliina Rauhala. Number three was a first novel by an immigrant Somali woman, Nura Farah: Aavikon tyttäret (‘Daughters of the desert’, Otava) tells the story of women in Somalia in the second half of the 20th century.
On the non-fiction list, among cookbooks and diet guides, books on how to maintain a hormonal balance or how to wield a kettlebell sold well. A new biography, Tove Jansson (Tammi), telling the life story of the Moomin genius (1914–2001), the artist, painter, author and cartoonist, was number seven; the author is Tuula Karjalainen. (The book will be published in several countries this year, a World English edition in December.)
At the top of the best-selling children’s books list is a book entitled Muumit ja tekemisen taika – ‘The Moomins and the magic of doing’ (Tammi). This ‘Moomin’ book is written by Clive Alan: we know absolutely nothing about him (he is absent from his publisher’s list of authors!) – except that the name is a pseudonym.
Well, as before, it is our opinion that all the Moomin books really worth reading were created by Tove Jansson herself.
13 February 2014 | In the news
The Finnish Comics Society was founded in 1971 and has since 1972 it annually awarded the Puupäähattu prize to an established Finnish comics artist. The prize is not money but a honorary hat – named after a classic Finnish cartoon character, Pekka Puupää (‘Pete Blockhead’), by Ola Fogelberg and later his daughter Toto. The Puupää comic books were published between 1925 and 1975, and some of the stories were made into films.
The 2014 Puupää prize was awarded to illustrator and comics artist Terhi Ekebom (born 1971). Ekbom began work as a comics artist in the early 1990s. Using diverse techniques, she often depicts feelings and states of minds. Her work has been shown at the Angoulême comics festival and has been published in English, French, Swedish and Czech.
A special title, sarjakuvaneuvos or ‘comics councillor’, was also awarded to two people; the comic artist Harri ‘Wallu’ Vaalio, and to the director of FILI, Iris Schwank who, as part of the Finnish Cultural Spring project held in France in 2008, commissioned a Finnish comics exhibition which attracted widespread attention. In her role at FILI Schwanck has been an energetic promoter of international visibility for Finnish comics.
30 January 2014 | In the news
The book year 2013 showed an overall decrease – again: now for the fifth time – in book sales: 2.3 per cent less than in 2012. Fiction for adults and children as well as non-fiction sold 3–5 per cent less, whereas textbooks sold 4 per cent more, as did paperbacks, 2 per cent. The results were published by the Finnish Book Publishers’ Association on 28 January.
The overall best-seller on the Finnish fiction list in 2013 was Me, Keisarinna (‘We, tsarina’, Otava), a novel about Catherine the Great by Laila Hirvisaari. Hirvisaari is a queen of editions with her historical novels mainly focusing on women’s lives and Karelia: her 40 novels have sold four million copies.
However, her latest book sold less well than usual, with 62,800 copies. This was much less than the two best-selling novels of 2012: both the Finlandia Prize winner, Is, Jää (‘Ice’) by Ulla-Lena Lundberg, and the latest book by Sofi Oksanen, Kun kyyhkyset katosivat (‘When the doves disappeared’), sold more than 100,000 copies.
The winner of the 2013 Finlandia Prize for Fiction, Riikka Pelo’s Jokapäiväinen elämämme (‘Our everyday life’, Teos) sold 45,300 copies and was at fourth place on the list. Pauliina Rauhala’s first novel, Taivaslaulu (‘Heaven song’, Gummerus), about the problems of a young couple within a religious revivalist movement that bans family planning was, slightly surprisingly, number nine with almost 30,000 copies.
The best-selling translated fiction list was – not surprisingly – dominated by crime literature: number one was Dan Brown’s Inferno, with 60,400 copies.
Number one on the non-fiction list was, also not surprisingly, Guinness World Records with 35,700 copies. Next came a biography of Nokia man Jorma Ollila. The winner of the Finlandia Prize for Non-Fiction, Murtuneet mielet (‘Broken minds’, WSOY), sold 22,600 copies and was number seven on the list.
Eight books by the illustrator and comics writer Mauri Kunnas featured on the list of best-selling books for children and young people, with 105,000 copies sold. At 19th place was an Angry Birds book by Rovio Enterntainment. The winner of the Finlandia Junior Prize, Poika joka menetti muistinsa (‘The boy who lost his memory’, Otava), was at fifth place.
Kunnas was also number one on the Finnish comic books list – with his version of a 1960s rock band suspiciously reminiscent of the Rolling Stones – which added 12,400 copies to the figure of 105,000.
The best-selling e-book turned was a Fingerpori series comic book by Pertti Jarla: 13,700 copies. The sales of e-books are still very modest in Finland, despite the fact that the number of ten best-selling e-books, 87,000, grew from 2012 by 35,000 copies.
The cold fact is that Finns are buying fewer printed books. What can be done? Writing and publishing better and/or more interesting books and selling them more efficiently? Or is this just something we will have to accept in an era when books will have less and less significance in our lives?
9 January 2014 | In the news
It seems that the Finlandia Prize does, as intended, have a strong influence in book sales. In December, a novel about the Russian poet Marina Tsvetaeva by Riikka Pelo, Jokapäiväinen elämämme (’Our everyday life’), which won the fiction prize in December, reached number one on the list of best-selling Finnish fiction.
The next four books on the list – compiled by the Finnish Booksellers’ Association – were the latest thriller by Ilkka Remes, Omertan liitto (‘The Omerta union’), a novel Me, keisarinna (‘We, the tsarina’), about the Russian empress Catherine the Great by Laila Hirvisaari, a novel, Hägring 38 (‘Mirage 38’), by Kjell Westö, and a novel, Kunkku (‘The king’), by Tuomas Kyrö.
The winner of the Finlandia Prize for Non-Fiction, Murtuneet mielet (‘Broken minds’), about the mentally crippled Finnish soldiers in the Second World War, also did well: it was number two on the non-fiction list. (Number one was a book about a Finnish actor and television presenter, Ville Haapasalo, who trained at the theatre academy in St Petersburg and became a film star in Russia.)
The ten best-selling books for children and young people were all Finnish (and written in Finnish): it seems that this time the buyers of Christmas presents favoured books written by Finnish authors.
19 December 2013 | In the news
The November list of best-selling fiction and non-fiction, compiled by the Finnish Booksellers’ Association (lists in Finnish only) features thrillers, new Finnish fiction and biographies.
Number one of the Finnish fiction list was the latest thriller by Ilkka Remes, Omertan liitto (‘The Omerta union’, WSOY). It was followed by the latest novels by Tuomas Kyrö, Kunkku (‘The king’, Siltala), and Kari Hotakainen, Luonnon laki (‘The law of nature’).
The translated fiction list consisted of best-selling crime writers: Dan Brown, Liza Marklund, Jo Nesbø. The Nobel Prize-winning author Alice Munro was number seven – and one of her books was at the top of the paperback fiction list.
Singing has inspired book-buyers so much that Soiva laulukirja (‘Singing songbook’, Tammi), edited by Soili Perkiö, was number one on the list of the books for children and young people: the push of a button delivers piano accompaniment to any of 50 Finnish songs – a clever idea. Perhaps it is popular with parents as entertainment for their kids on long car journeys?
The non-fiction list featured biographies of Jorma Ollila of Nokia fame, the banking tycoon Björn Wahlroos, Lauri Törni aka Larry Thorn who fought in three armies – those of Finland, Nazi Germany, and the US (he died in Vietnam in 1965) – an ice-hockey boss, Juhani Tamminen, and the sprinter Usain Bolt.
12 December 2013 | In the news
On the shortlist of the Runeberg Prize 2014 are eight books. Four of them are novels: Lapset auringon alla (‘Children under the sun’, WSOY) by Miki Liukkonen, Jokapäiväinen elämämme (‘Our daily life’, Teos) by Riikka Pelo (which was awarded the Finlandia Prize for Fiction in December), Pintanaarmuja (‘Scratches’, ntamo) by Maaria Päivinen and Terminaali (‘The terminal’, Siltala) by Hannu Raittila.
The other four books on the list are two collections of poetry, Pakopiste (‘Vanishing point’) by Kaisa Ijäs (Teos) and Öar i ett hav som strömmar by Henrika Ringbom (Schildts & Söderströms). Ahtaan paikan kammo (‘Claustrophobia’, Robustos) by Riitta S. Latvala is a collection of short stories, and Kopparbergsvägen 20 (‘Kopparbergsvägen Road 20’, Schildts & Söderströms) by Mathias Rosenlund is an autobiographical work.
The list was compiled by a jury of three: cultural editor and critic Elisabeth Nordgren, author and critic Irja Sinivaara and author Jouko Sirola.
The prize, worth €10,000, was founded by the Uusimaa newspaper, the City of Porvoo, both the Finnish and Finland-Swedish writers’ associations and the Finnish Critics’ Association. On 5 February, on the birthday of the national poet J.L. Runeberg (1804–1877), it will be awarded for the 28th time in his native town of Porvoo.
5 December 2013 | In the news
The director general of the Helsinki City Theatre, Asko Sarkola, announced the winner of the 30th Finlandia Literature Prize for Fiction, chosen from a shortlist of six novels, on 2 December in Helsinki. The prize, worth €30,000, was awarded to Riikka Pelo for her novel Jokapäiväinen elämämme (‘Our everyday life’, Teos).
In his award speech Sarkola – and actor by training – characterised the six novels as ‘six different roles’:
‘They are united by a bold and deep understanding of individuality and humanity against the surrounding period. They are the perspectives of fictive individuals, new interpretations of the reality we imagine or suppose. Viewfinders on the present, warnings of the future.
‘Riikka Pelo‘s Jokapäiväinen elämämme is wound around two periods and places, Czechoslovakia in 1923 and the Soviet Union in 1939–41. The central characters are the poet Marina Tsvetaeva and her daughter Alya. This novel has the widest scope: from stream of consciousness to interrogations in torture chambers and the labour camps of Vorkuta; always moving, heart-stopping, irrespective of the settings.’
The five other novels were Ystäväni Rasputin (’My friend Rasputin’) by JP Koskinen, Hotel Sapiens (Teos) by Leena Krohn, Terminaali (‘The terminal’, Siltala) by Hannu Raittila, Herodes (‘Herod’, WSOY) by Asko Sahlberg and Hägring 38 (‘Mirage 38’, Schildts & Söderströms; Finnish translation, Kangastus, Otava) by Kjell Westö (see In the news for brief features).
28 November 2013 | In the news
The Finlandia Prize for Non-Fiction 2013, worth €30,000, was awarded on 21 November to the historian Ville Kivimäki for his book Murtuneet mielet. Taistelu suomalaissotilaiden hermoista 1939–1945 (‘Broken minds. The battle ofor the nerves of Finnish soldiers 1939–1945’, WSOY).
The other works on the shortlist of six were as follows: 940 päivää isäni muistina (‘940 days as my father’s memory’, Teos; a book on Alzheimer’s disease) by Hanna Jensen, Kokottien kultakausi: Belle Epoquen mediatähdet modernin naiseuden kuvastimina (‘The golden era of the cocottes: the media stars of Belle Epoque as mirrors of modern femininity’, Finnish Literature Society) by Harri Kalha, Viipuri 1918 (‘Vyborg 1918’, Siltala) by Teemu Keskisarja, Suomi öljyn jälkeen (‘Post-oil Finland’, Into) by Rauli Partanen, Harri Paloheimo and Heikki Waris and Vapaalasku – tieto, taito, turvallisuus (‘Freestyle – knowledge, skill, safety’, Kustannus Oy Vapaalasku) by Matti Verkasalo, Jarkko-Juhani Henttonen and Kai Arponen.
The prize-winner was chosen by the director of the Ateneum Art Museum, Maija Tanninen–Mattila. In her celebratory speech she said: ‘The symptoms of many psychologically disturbed soldiers remained untreated during the war. For many, their symptoms appeared only after the war. Their experiences have remained unexpressed in language, the history of those who lack history. Ville Kivimäki has given voice to these experiences… and succeeded in writing a book that speaks across the generations.’
In his acceptance speech Ville Kivimäki (born 1976) commented: ‘The great majority of the war generation is now dead, and the words of a youngish scholar cannot, even when successful, reach those traumatic experiences whose depth we can never fully understand. But all the same, I would like to take this opportunity to say something that should have been said years ago: the psychological injuries of the war were war wounds in exactly the same sense as physical ones. In the end anyone could suffer a psychological breakdown.’
The Finlandia Junior Prize 2013 was awarded on 26 November, also worth €30,000. It went to Kreetta Onkeli for her book Poika joka menetti muistinsa (‘The boy who lost his memory’, Otava).
Arto, 12, gets such a massive fit of laughter that he loses his memory and needs to find his identity and his home in contemporary Helsinki.
The winner was chosen from the shortlist of six by Jarno Leppälä, a media personality and member of the popular stunt group Duudsonit, the Dudesons. At the award ceremony he said:
‘Poika joka menetti muistinsa is, in my opinion, a well-written story about how young people in society are put on the same starting line and expected to do equally well in all circumstances – often irrespective of the fact that their starting points may actually be very different, and completely independent of the young people themselves.’
Kreetta Onkeli (born 1970) explained in her award speech how her aim was to write a proper, old-fashioned novel for children: ‘Not hundreds of pages of magic tricks but ordinary, real contemporary life that children could identify with.’ In her opinion the current, massive trend of fantasy has narrowed the scope of children’s literature.
The following five books made it on to the shortlist: Poika (‘The boy’, Like), about a boy who feels he was born in the wrong gender by Marja Björk, Hipinäaasi, apinahiisi (onomatopoetic pun, ‘Donkeymonkey’, Tammi), about bullying and friendship, written by Ville Hytönen and illustrated by Matti Pikkujämsä, Isä vaihtaa vapaalle (‘Father on his own time’, WSOY), an illustrated story about children with too busy parents, written by Jukka Laajarinne and illustrated by Timo Mänttäri, Aapine (‘ABC’, Otava), an illustrated primer written by Heli Laaksonen in her own south-western dialect and illustrated by Elina Warsta and Vain pahaa unta (‘Just a bad dream’, WSOY) by graphic designer and writer Ville Tietäväinen and his daughter Aino, a book on a child’s nightmares.
Finlandia literary prizes are awarded by Suomen Kirjasäätiö, The Finnish Book Foundation, established in 1983.
The first Finlandia Prize for Fiction was awarded in 1984. This year it will be announced on 3 December.
28 November 2013 | In the news
On 14 November Helsingin Sanomat Literature Prize, the Helsinki newspaper’s prize for the best first work of the year, worth €15,000, was awarded for the 19th time.
The jury made its choice from 90 first works, and this time the prize was awarded to a youngest writer ever, the poet Erkka Filander (born 1993), for his collection Heräämisen valkea myrsky (‘The white storm of awakening’; available as a pdf at the home page of the publisher, Poesia).
According to the jury, this poetry is ‘ecstatic poetry, pulsing with the joy of living… there is no place in Filander’s poetry for cynicism or irony. Thus his writing appears, in the context of contemporary poetry, exceptionally open and sincere.’
14 November 2013 | In the news
One of the following six novels will be awarded this year’s Finlandia Prize for Fiction, worth 30,000 euros: Ystäväni Rasputin (’My friend Rasputin’) by JP Koskinen, Hotel Sapiens (Teos) by Leena Krohn, Jokapäiväinen elämämme (‘Our everyday life’, Teos) by Riikka Pelo, Terminaali (‘The terminal’, Siltala) by Hannu Raittila, Herodes (‘Herod’, WSOY) by Asko Sahlberg and Hägring 38 (‘Mirage 38’, Schildts & Söderströms; Finnish translation, Kangastus, Otava) by Kjell Westö.
Half of the writers have already won the Finlandia Prize once, namely Krohn (1992), Raittila (2001) and Westö (2006).
Four of the six works deal with a historical character or history: Koskinen with the Russian ‘holy man’ Rasputin, Pelo with the Russian poet Marina Tsvetaeva, Sahlberg with Herod the Great of Judea. Westö goes back to the year 1938 in Finland.
Raittila’s realistic novel takes place on contemporary airports. Krohn, again taking a look at an unknown future, presents the reader with a imaginary Earth which no longer is habitable to humans.
The runners-up were chosen by a jury – appointed by the Finnish Book Publishers’ Association – of three: the journalists Nina Paavolainen and Raisa Rauhamaa and the translator Juhani Lindholm. The winner of the 30th Finlandia Prize for Fiction will chosen by theatre manager of the Helsinki City Theatre and actor Asko Sarkola, and announced on 3 December.
31 October 2013 | In the news
The Nordic Council’s five culture prizes were for the first time awarded together at a Gala at the Oslo Opera House on 30 October. The show was broadcast by all the Nordic public service channels.
The winners of the Nordic Council Children and Young People’s Literature Prize 2013 – worth about €43,000 – are Seita Vuorela and Jani Ikonen from Finland. Karikko (‘The reef’, see our review) written by Vuorela and illustrated by Ikonen is the first work to be awarded the newly established Nordic Council Children and Young People’s Literature Prize.
Another Finnish winner this time was the violinist Pekka Kuusisto (born 1976) who won the Nordic Council Music Prize (also worth €43,000). ‘Pekka Kuusisto is a violinist in the absolute elite and with as much unique creativity as musicality,’ said the Adjudication Committee.
The oldest of the five prizes is the Literature Prize, first awarded in 1962. It was followed by the Music Prize (1965), the Nature and Environment Prize (1995), the Film Prize (2002) and the Children and Young People’s Literature Prize (2013).
24 October 2013 | In the news
Six Finnish poets, edited by Teemu Manninen – a poet himself – is the tenth volume in a series of bilingual anthologies bringing contemporary poetry from around Europe to English-language readers.
One of the poets introduced is a Finland-Swede, Matilda Södergran, whose poems are presented in their original Swedish alongside the English translations. The other poets, all of whom write in Finnish, are Vesa Haapala, Janne Nummela, Henriikka Tavi, Katariina Vuorinen and Juhana Vähänen. Their translators are Emily & Fleur Jeremiah, Lola Rogers and Helen R. Boultrum.
In his introduction Teemu Manninen briefly outlines the developments of contemporary Finnish poetry around the turn of the 21st century. The poets chosen were born in the 1970s and 1980s; their work could be characterised variously as experimental, surrealist, minimalist and ironic.
According to Manninen, during the last couple of decades, a ‘do-it-yourself’ culture has sprung up among people interested in performing poetry, organising independent festivals and clubs, and disseminating their work via the Internet. New, cheaper methods of publishing printed books have also contributed to a growing interest in poetry and to its popularity. Even so, contemporary poetry is not something that attracts large crowds; people involved in this sort of ‘literary activism’ tend to know each other well.
So, ‘in Finland, poetry is a family affair,’ notes Manninen. ‘The familial communality has to be acknowledged if one is to understand the kind of poetry currently being written in Finland….’ It mostly lives and thrives independent of large publishers, newspapers and literary prizes.
The anthology series is entitled New Voices from Europe and Beyond; it is published in the UK by Arc Publications in co-operation with Literature Across Frontiers.