For more than 20 years journalist Leena Liukkonen has been thoroughly involved with Russian culture, commerce, language and psyche. The subtitle of her new book of essays Venäläiset tulevat! (‘The Russians are coming!’) is ‘What we think and know about them’, and refers to the fact that the Finns do not really know their eastern neighbours very well. Liukkonen writes with insight about the differences in history, mentality and world view
Extracts (under original subtitles) from Venäläiset tulevat! Mitä me heistä luulemme ja tiedämme (Siltala, 2013)
WAR, REMEMBERING AND FORGETTING
In café conversations with other visitors to Russia, we often react with exasperation to the fact that discussions in Finland only ever start with the Winter War. Sometimes we wonder why the threshold between us and our neighbour to the east is still so high. My own living contact with the past, however, makes it clear to me that everything the elderly carry round with them could not have been simply shaken off with the passage of time. Nor can the next generation just break away from it. My own experience also reminds me how distant our eastern neighbour was during peacetime. After all, a very few have made the long journey to the country next door. To many people, the old story was the only story there was about Russia. More…
The original virtual reality resides within ourselves, in our brains; the virtual reality of the Internet is but a simulation. In this essay, Leena Krohn takes a look at the ‘shared dreams’ of literature – a virtual, open cosmos, accessible to anyone, without a password
How can we see what does not yet exist? Literature – specifically the genre termed science fiction or fantasy literature, or sometimes magic realism – is a tool we can use to disperse or make holes in the mists that obscure our vision of the future.
A book is a harbinger of things to come. Sometimes it predicts future events; even more often it serves as a warning. Many of the direst visions of science fiction have already come true. Big Brother and the Ministry of Truth are watching over even greater territories than in Orwell’s Oceania of 1984. More…
The wars that Finland fought 70 years and a couple of generations ago continue to be a subject of fiction. Last year saw the appearance of three novels set during the years of the Continuation War, 1941–44
In reviews of Finnish books published this past autumn, young women writers’ portraits of war were pigeonholed time and again as a ‘category’ of their own. This gendered observation has been a source of annoyance to the writers themselves.
Jenni Linturi, for instance, refused to ruminate on the impact of her sex on her debut novel Isänmaan tähden (‘For the fatherland’, Teos), which describes the war through the Waffen-SS Finnish volunteer units and the men who joined them [1,200 Finnish soldiers were recruited in 1941, and they formed a battalion, Finnishche Freiwilligen Battaillon der Waffen-SS].
The work received a well-deserved Finlandia Prize nomination. Tiring of questions from the press about ‘young women and war’, Linturi (born 1979) was moved to speculate that some critics’ praise had been misapplied due to her sex. The situation is an apt reflection of the waves of modern feminism and the reasoning of the so-called third generation of feminists, who reject gender-limited points of view on principle. More…
In this essay Katri Mehto ponders the enigma of the horse: it is an animal that will consent to serve humans, but is there something else about it that we should know?
A person should meet at least one horse a week to understand something. Dogs help, too, but they have a tendency to lose their essence through constant fussing. People who work with horses often also have a dog or two in tow. They patter around the edge of the riding track sniffing at the manure while their master or mistress on the horse draws loops and arcs in the sand. That is a person surrounded by loyalty.
But a horse has more characteristics that remind one of a cat. A dog wants to serve people, play with humans – demands it, in fact. With a dog, a person is in a co-dependent relationship, where the dog is constantly asking ‘Are we still US?’ More…
Translating poetry is natural, claims Tarja Roinila; it is a continuation of writing it, for works of poetry are not finished, self-sufficient products. But is the translator the servant of the meaning – or of the letter?
I am sitting in a cafe in Mexico City, trying to explain in Spanish what valokupolikiihko, ‘light-cupola-ecstasy’, means. And silmän valokupolikiihko, ‘the light-cupola-ecstasy of the eye’.
I take to praising the boundless ability of the Finnish language to form compound words, to weld pieces together without finalising the relationships between them, never mind establishing a hierarchy: the eye is a light-cupola, the eye is ecstatic about light-cupolas, light creates cupolas, the cupola lets out the light, the eye, in its ecstasy, creates a light-cupola. More…
In this essay, Olli Löytty imagines himself in a revolving door that is able to spin his old family home and its inhabitants backwards in time – as far as prehistory. In addition to his own family’s past, Löytty zooms back into the history of the world’s great changes, for a moment playing the part of a cosmic god examining our globe
An essay from Kulttuurin sekakäyttäjät (‘Culture-users’, Teos, 2011)
If a film camera had stood outside my home from the time when it was built, I would rewind the movie it made from the end to the beginning. The story would begin with my children, one autumn morning in 2011, walking backwards home from school. The speed of the rewind would be so fast that they would quickly grow smaller; I, too, would get thinner and start smoking. I would curiously seek out the point where my wife and I are seen together for the last time, stepping out of the front door, back first, and setting out on our own paths, to live our own separate young lives.
At that time my grandmother still lives in the house with her two daughters and their husbands, and lodgers upstairs. The next time I would slow the rewind would be the point where, at the age of 18, finally move out of the house. The freeze-frame reveals a strange figure: almost like me, but not quite. In the face of the lanky youth I seek my own children’s features.
When I let the film continue its backwards story, I seek glimpses of myself as a child. Even though we lived in distant Savo [in eastern Finland], we went to see my grandmother in the city of Tampere relatively often. We called her our Pispala grandmother, although her house was located to the west of the suburb limit, in Hyhky. I follow the arrival of my grown-up cousins, their transformation into children, the juvenation of my grandmother and her daughters, the changing lodgers. At some point the film becomes black-and-white. More…
In many of Leena Krohn’s books metamorphosis and paradox are central. In this article she takes a look at her own history of reading and writing, which to her are ‘the most human of metamorphoses’. Her first book, Vihreä vallankumous (‘The green revolution’, 1970), was for children; what, if anything, makes writing for children different from writing for adults?
Extracts from an essay published in Luovuuden lähteillä. Lasten- ja nuortenkirjailijat kertovat (‘At the sources of creativity. Writings by authors of books for children and young people’, edited by Päivi Heikkilä-Halttunen; The Finnish Institute for Children’s Literature & BTJ Kustannus, 2010)
What is writing? What is reading? I can still remember clearly the moment when, at the age of five, I saw signs become meanings. I had just woken up and taken down a book my mother had left on top of the chest of drawers, having read to us from it the previous day. It was Pilvihepo (‘The cloud-horse’) by Edith Unnerstad. I opened the book and as my eyes travelled along the lines, I understood what I saw. It was a second awakening, a moment of sudden realisation. I count that morning as one of the most significant of my life.
Learning to read lights up books. The dumb begin to speak. The dead come to life. The black letters look the same as they did before, and yet the change is thrilling. Reading and writing are among the most human of metamorphoses. More…
In these pictures by Ulla Jokisalo and texts by Anna Kortelainen, truths and mysteries concerning play are entwined with pictures painted with threads and needles. Jokisalo’s exhibition, ‘Leikin varjo / Guises of play’, runs at the Museum of Photography, Helsinki, from 17 August to 25 September.
Words and images from the book Leikin varjo / Guises of play (Aboa Vetus & Ars Nova and Musta Taide, 2011)
Why just three per cent? Translator Owen Witesman seeks an explanation for the difficulties of selling foreign fiction to the self-sufficient Anglo-American market. Could there be anything wrong with the translations?
I am a professional translator, and I have a secret: I don’t read translations.
I’m not alone. The literary website Three Percent draws its name from the fact that only about 3 per cent of books published in the United States are translations (the figure for Germany is something like 50 per cent). There are various opinions about why this is, including this one from Three Percent’s Chad Post writing at Publishing Perspectives.
Why do I say it’s a secret that I don’t read translations? Because people expect me to read translations, as if as a translator it were my sacred duty to show solidarity with my professional community. Or maybe I can’t be cosmopolitan otherwise. More…
A chapter from Vapaasti versoo. Rönsyjä puutarhasta (‘Freely sprouting. Runners from the garden’, Kirjapaja, 2010)
If you sit in your garden and feel a bit like you’re tucked uncomfortably at the end of the dock in a guest berth, the reason is this: the garden hasn’t yet found a place in your muscle memory. Because it is only at the point when the garden has settled into your muscle memory, into your senses in as many ways as possible, that it will feel like your own. And that, of course, takes working in the garden, not just sitting in it.
So you should know your rose – not just its lovely smell but also the memory that you get from the shovel handle of when you planted it, or even the memory of the prick of its thorn on your finger. You can anchor every little detail in your senses, and it doesn’t even take much imagination. The scent of thyme on your fingertips, the downy fluff of a pasque flower against your palm, the silken glow of a peony opening in the morning sunlight – or the sumptuous mist of the wee hours of a summer morning twining over everything, and the rare experience of wading through it. More…
Short prose from Muita hyviä ominaisuuksia (‘Other good characteristics’, Otava, 2010)
On the first day we played getting-to-know-you games. On the second day we played real Finnish baseball out behind the university. On the third day we travelled to the countryside. Classes started sometime at the end of the second week. We watched the movie One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. The professor slurped Coke, chain smoked, and rewound the video back and forth: Nurse Ratched’s plump face filled the screen and then in the next image where her face had been there was a basketball Jack Nicholson was squeezing.
It was the autumn of 1992, and I was studying film and communications theory in Copenhagen.
The excursion to the country frightened me, a shy bacteriophobic neurotic. The Danes thought the camping centre’s shared mattresses and group cooking were hygge – cozy. There is no way a dictionary translation could ever cover all the forms of cosiness the Danes achieve together. I fled the camping centre on the first morning. On the train to Copenhagen I recognised all the usual post-escape feelings: shame, fear, guilt, loneliness and overwhelming euphoria. More…