[Our everyday life]
Helsinki: Teos, 2013. 526 p.
At the centre of Riikka Pelo’s second novel are the Russian poet Marina Tsvetaeva (1892–1941) and her daughter Ariadna Efron (1912–1975). This broad historical novel depicts the mental landscape of Russia during the period between the two great wars, from the 1920s to the 1940s. The mother is a religious believer and idealist, her daughter a more pragmatic empiricist. The family’s fate is controlled by the Soviet state apparatus, which sends it into exile in Paris where Tsvetaeva’s husband Sergei Efron takes a job as a secret police informer in an organisation devoted to the repatriation of Soviet emigrés. In the 1930s they return to Moscow, where life under the watchful eye of Stalin is filled with difficulty and paranoia. Pelo portrays the awkward relationship between mother and daughter with particular vividness. The indisputable star of the family is the mother – her ambition extends to her daughter, who to her disappointment is more interested in the visual arts than in poetry. The historical characters of Pelo’s impressive novel live their contradictory lives in decades of social upheaval.
Translated by David McDuff
In contemporary poetry the ‘lyric I’ of previous decades often hides behind language; the poem’s speaker is not the poet him/herself, narrative is not the norm. The website of a Finnish family magazine in 2007 discussed this: ‘OMG, this thing called contemporary poetry – crap!’; ‘Who knows what kind of psychopharma the writer’s on!’; ‘No meanings, just words one after the other. Why can’t people write something sensible?’ But the writer – and the reader – of contemporary poetry deliberately ventures onto the boundaries of language, and art requires readers (listeners, viewers) to make the decision of what they consider ‘sensible’. Mervi Kantokorpi explores and interprets two new collections of poetry
I read two of this spring’s new collections of poetry one after the other: Kivirivit (‘Stone lines’, Otava 2013) by Harry Salmenniemi and Pysty hiljaisuus (‘Vertical silence’, Teos 2013) by Miia Toivio. The experience was perplexing.
These two works are completely different from one another as regards their individual poetics, and yet the similarities between the themes that arise from them was arresting. Both works seem to inhabit an internal world of sorrow and depression, a world where the function of poetry is to forge and show its readers a path out of the anxiety. In their silence – and even emptiness – both collections have two faces: one lit up, the other darkened by grief. More…
Scientific editor: Laura Gutman
Editor: Susanna Luojus
Helsinki: Suomalaisen Kirjallisuuden Seura (the Finnish Literature Society), 2013. 179 p., ill.
Texts in Finnish and Swedish, summaries in English
This work was published simultaneously with the opening of the exhibition ‘Art Déco and the Arts. France–Finlande 1905–1935’, running at the Amos Anderson Art Museum in Helsinki from March to 21 July. Antiquity was the primary source of inspiration for this broad artistic movement in France, after the breakthrough of Fauvism in 1905. In Finland this antimodern – and yet at the same very modern – movement manifested itself most clearly in industrial art, in the 1920s in classicism and 1930s in functionalism. But from early on, Finnish painters and sculptors also kept an eye on the French art and artists – among them Maurice Denis, the spokesman of the antimodernists. The dialogue between the visual and the performative arts (theatre and dance) in Finland is also examined. Samples of Art Deco architecture are mostly absent, as the emphasis is on painting and sculpture. Some less well-known artists of the period (painter Nikolai Kaario, sculptor and engraver Eva Gyldén) are introduced. The exhibition and the richly illustrated book introduce both Finnish and French works – from many museums and collections in France – of both industrial and fine arts, in pictures and in words by nine specialists, offering the reader fresh and interesting comparisons.
Valokuva taiteeksi. Photography into Art. Hannula & Hinkka -kokoelma / Collection
Toimituskunta [Edited by] Erja Hannula, Jorma Hinkka, Sofia Lahti, Tuomo-Juhani Vuorenmaa
English translation: Jüri Kokkonen
Helsinki: Aalto University School of Arts, Design and Architecture, Aalto ARTS Books (Musta Taide 4/2012; publication series of The Finnish Museum of Photography 44.) 209 p., ill.
It has been typical of Finland that it lacks collections of international photography, private or public. In the politically turbulent 1970s interest in photography began to grow. The Hippolyte Gallery, run by artist Ismo Kajander, exhibited international photography by Diane Arbus, Eugène Atget and Édouard Boubat, among others. The graphic designer Jorma Hinkka (also Art Director of Books from Finland, 1998–2006) began making posters for Hippolyte ‘out of pure enthusiasm’, and designing books by Finnish photographers, among them Pentti Sammallahti, Ismo Hölttö, Jorma Puranen and Merja Salo. As a result of spending so much time with ‘the black art’ (as it was called by a Finnish pioneer of photography, I.K. Inha, in 1908), Hinkka and his art director spouse Erja Hannula began to collect samples of it. After 30 years, in 2012, they donated more than two hundred photographs by almost a hundred artists to The Finnish Museum of Photography. The social status of the black art has risen considerably since the 1970s, as has professionalism in the field. This book presents excellent reproductions of the collection of photos, taken within a century and a half; the variety of styles and subjects chosen surprise with its richness.
23 May 2013 | Reviews
En resa i Finland
[A journey in Finland (1873)]
Helsinki: Svenska litteratursällskapet i Finland, 2013. 173 p., ill.
Utgivare [Editor]: Katarina Pihlflyckt
(Stockholm: Atlantis förlag, 2013. ISBN 978-91-7353-616-5)
The birth of Finland as a country came as a surprise to those who lived there.
It was created by Napoleon and Alexander I, becoming a reality following Russia’s victory over Sweden in the so called Finnish War. In 1809 Alexander exalted Finland as ‘a nation among nations’, however the new nation still needed to feel like a nation. The Russian rulers supported gentle and non-political nationalism in Finland, in the hope that it would mentally distance the country from Sweden. In this tranquillity, the sense of community they had envisioned grew in Finland.
For this, there were three key factors, all of which stemmed from the 1830s. Elias Lönnrot published the Kalevala, the national epic, proving that Finnish mythology and culture did indeed exist. The poet J.L. Runeberg (who would later become known as the national poet) gave Finland an appearance that was an ideology. He depicted a poor, pious and simple people, a harsh and beautiful wilderness, and with his poems he described the Finnish War, that Finland had lost, as a heroic battle of the people, fought for Finnish values. More…
Eveliina Talvitie: Keitäs tyttö kahvia. Naisia politiikan portailla [Put the kettle on, girl. Women on the ladder of politics]
Keitäs tyttö kahvia. Naisia politiikan portailla
[Put the kettle on, girl. Women on the ladder of politics]
Helsinki: WSOY, 2013. 332 p., ill.
In 1906 Finnish women were the first in Europe to obtain the right to vote, and Finland, like the other Nordic countries, is viewed as a model of equality. Journalist and author Eveliina Talvitie examines the role of women in politics. She has interviewed seventeen Finnish female politicians, more than half of whom have served as cabinet ministers. Among them are former President Tarja Halonen and Elisabeth Rehn, who has long worked on international assignments – between her and the youngest politician in the book there is a 52-year age gap. The interviewees describe the different aspects of the progress of their careers, their successes and setbacks. At the end of each chapter the author considers the challenges faced by female politicians from a particular point of view, backing up her conclusions with supplementary interviews. Not all of the politicians in the book have been handicapped because of their gender, but the work clearly demonstrates that, even in a relatively egalitarian country, female politicians are still treated differently from men, and their career paths can often be more difficult than those of their male colleagues.
Translated by David McDuff
Panu Rajala: Hirmuinen humoristi. Veikko Huovisen satiirit ja savotat [The awesome humorist. The satires and logging sites of Veikko Huovinen]
Hirmuinen humoristi. Veikko Huovisen satiirit ja savotat
[The awesome humorist. The satires and logging sites of Veikko Huovinen]
Helsinki: WSOY, 2012. 310 p.
Author Veikko Huovinen (1927–2009) became widely popular with the publication of his novel Havukka-ahon ajattelija (‘The backwoods philosopher’, 1952). Huovinen, who trained as a forest ranger, spent his life mainly in north-eastern Finland and did not like publicity; the author and theatre scholar Panu Rajala deals with Huovinen’s biography relatively briefly, focusing on a thematic analysis of Huovinen’s extensive and thematically rich output of novels and short stories. He places the the books in the context of Finnish literature, and also examines their film and television adaptations. Huovinen was an intellectually conservative, a highly original humorist; among his books are satirical biographies of Hitler and Stalin. His prose fiction, set in the natural wilds of the North, has not always won the appreciation of pro-modernist critics. Huovinen’s lively and original language is not easy to translate – for example, his only work published in English is a beautiful documentary novel Puukansan tarina (‘Tale of the forest folk’), which received a Finlandia Prize nomination in 1984.
Translated by David McDuff
8 May 2013 | Reviews
Saamelaiset suomalaiset: Kohtaamisia 1896–1953
[Sámi, Finns: encounters 1896–1953]
Helsinki: Suomalaisen Kirjallisuuden Seura, 2012. 528 p., ill.
Luonnossa: Vuoropuhelua Nils-Aslak Valkeapään tuotannon kanssa
[In nature, a dialogue with the works of Nils-Aslak Valkeapää]
Helsinki: Maahenki, 2011. 288 p., ill.
The study of the Sámi people, like that of other indigenous peoples, has become considerably more diverse and deeper over recent decades. Where non-Sámi scholars, officials and clergymen once examined the Sámi according to the needs and values of the holders of power, contemporary scholarship starts out from dialogue, from an attempt to understand the interactions between different groups. More…
[The cannibal’s friendship]
Helsinki: Teos, 2012. 402 p.
Marjo Niemi’s third novel may be described with the adjective ‘intemperate’. The book’s narrator is a thirty-something woman who is inclined to ranting. A friend’s suicide drives her to depression, which breaks out in endless criticism of her friends’ lifestyles. Her tolerance is tested not only by her hedonistic friends but also by an entire continent: she wallows in endless diatribes about the history of Europe and its injustices. The bubbling text forms a meta-level, a book within a book. Only writing seems meaningful: ‘I am really not going to write about my life, because life is a ridiculous joke compared to literature.’ The Great Novel that is being built by the narrator gradually opens out into a story about a mental hospital psychiatrist and one of his patients who has suffered a loss of memory. The author sees her work as a ‘poetic allegory of Europe ‘, but it is also a study of friendship, guilt, envy, and the difficulty of doing good. Caricature of an almost grotesque kind is skilfully combined with straight talking in this clever contemporary novel. Niemi (born 1978) is a dramaturge by training.
Translated by David McDuff
Nils Erik Villstrand: Valtakunnanosa. Suurvalta ja valtakunnan hajoaminen 1560–1812 [The constituent state. Great power and disintegration 1560–1812]
Valtakunnanosa. Suurvalta ja valtakunnan hajoaminen 1560–1812. Suomen ruotsalainen historia 2
[The constituent state. Great power and disintegration 1560–1812. Finland’s Swedish history 2]
[Swedish-language original: Riksdelen. Stormakt och rikssprängning 1560–1812, 2008]
Suom. [Finnish translation by] Jussi T. Lappalainen, Hannes Virrankoski
Helsingfors: Svenska litteratursällskapet i Finland, 2012. 424 p., ill.
This book is the second volume in a four-part series on the Swedish history of Finland. Finland was part of Sweden until 1809, when as a result of war between Sweden and Russia it came under the control of the latter; the change of governance was more or less ratified in a meeting of the Swedish Crown Prince and the Russian Tsar at Turku in 1812. Finland was reunited with its eastern region of ‘Old Finland’, which had long been a part of Russia. In his fascinating book Villstrand examines the Swedish period from several angles, using the viewpoints both of the elite and of the common people. He also reviews the conceptions of the scholars of the time, and portrays the life of the administrative and ecclesiastical circles. A special chapter is devoted to the ‘Finnish period’ of 1721–1809, when Finland gained a particular importance because of the growing threat from Russia. Finland was in many respects an equal part of Sweden, and when the country was ceded to Russia as a Grand Duchy, its old administrative and social systems were largely preserved intact. Swedish also survived for a long time, especially as the language of culture. The book’s apt illustrations are a splendid adjunct to its content.
Translated by David McDuff
Kari Tarkiainen: Ruotsin Itämaa. Esihistoriasta Kustaa Vaasaan [Sweden’s Eastland. From prehistoric times to Gustav Vasa]
Ruotsin Itämaa. Esihistoriasta Kustaa Vaasaan
[Sweden’s Eastland. From prehistoric times to Gustav Vasa].
[Finlands svenska historia del 1: Sveriges Österland. Från forntiden till Gustav Vasa, 2008; Finland’s Swedish history vol. 1, translated into Finnish by the author]
Helsingfors: Svenska litteratursällskapet i Finland, 2010. 331 p., ill.
The historian and archivist Kari Tarkiainen is starting a four-volume series with the general title ‘Finland’s Swedish history’: it forms part of a project funded by Finland’s Swedish-language cultural organisations. This book examines Finland’s prehistoric, medieval and early modern periods, with special emphasis on the two-way relations between Swedes and Finns, and their mutual influence. Initially Finland’s annexation by Sweden from the 12th to the 14th century as ‘Österland’ (Eastland) was a process that involved many stages and also some belligerence, as the Republic of Novgorod in the east also laid claim to the region. Settlements of Swedish-speakers were established on the Åland islands and the coasts; the Swedish Catholic Church (replaced during the Reformation by the Lutheran Church) and the Swedish-language administrative and social system extended their influence on the country, even though Finnish remained the principal language of Finns. Finland remained part of Sweden until the early 19th century. Ruotsin Itämaa is a fascinating book, which draws on archeology, linguistics and onomastics, and is beautifully illustrated.
Translated by David McDuff
[Baltic Finnic mythology]
Helsinki: Finnish Literature Society, 2013. 536 p., ill.
€ 45, hardback
Academician and Professor Emeritus of Folklore Anna-Leena Siikala presents a overview of her research. The book also makes use of the latest research in other fields in order to chart Baltic Finnic folk poetry, shamanism and folk beliefs. The Kalevala, Elias Lönnrot’s epic poem based on Finnish folklore, forms only a part of the poetry written in Kalevala metre. Although the poem is often perceived to be Finno-Karelian in origin, around half of its material is also known in Estonia: many of the poems and myths have links to Uralic and Germanic tradition. By means of numerous examples Siikala illustrates the different styles of folk poetry, its manifestations of vernacular religion and its rich mythology. In Finland the poems became modified over the centuries, influenced by the Christian faith, among other things. In different areas the figure of the divine hero Väinämöinen has acquired different emphases: it is less a question of mythology than of mythologies. The book’s illustrations are rich and informative, and the work is a unique treasure trove in its field.
Translated by David McDuff
Kotomaamme outo Suomi
[Finland, our strange homeland]
Helsinki: Teos, 2013. 264 p.
€ 27, paperback
Jukka Sarjala, ex-director general of the Finnish National Board of Education and bibliophile, is the author of several works of non-fiction, mainly in the field of history. In this book he focuses on the phenomena and events that characterised early twentieth-century Finland, some of them rather peculiar. In a couple of dozen chapters written in a humorous and conversational style the author does not conceal his own opinions, for example, on the foolishness of politicians. Much of the writing is devoted to the era of Finnish independence and the Finnish Civil War, as well as to episodes from political history, such as the story of the attempt to import to the newly independent country a German-born prince as King of Finland, the vagaries of the political far right and far left, the recruitment of Finnish Reds into the British Army – and the horse that gave rise to a small rebel movement. Sarjala draws many fascinating portraits of early twentieth-century figures, for example the utopian socialist Matti Kurikka and the founder of a party that in some ways anticipated the present-day True Finns [Perussuomalaiset], the talkative politician Veikko Vennamo (1913–1997). Although the book lacks footnotes and a bibliography, it demonstrates its author’s extensive reading.
Translated by David McDuff
21 March 2013 | Reviews
Suomen romanien historia
[A history of Finland’s Romani people]
Toimittanut [Edited by] Panu Pulma
Helsinki: Suomalaisen Kirjallisuuden Seura (the Finnish Literature Society), 494 p., ill.
The Romani people set out from India around a thousand years ago; there are those who even claim that they originated in Egypt long before that. This latter account was favoured among the Romani in Europe, and so their leaders took to styling themselves the Dukes of ‘Egypt Minor’ or ‘Little Egypt’.
The Romani of Europe are generally considered to have come from northern India in the 15th century. They arrived in Finland – which at that time was part of Sweden – in 1512.
Five hundred years later, it seems a fitting time to publish Suomen romanien historia, a volume edited by Panu Pulma, PhD, a university lecturer in Finnish and Nordic history, with chapters contributed by a total of 14 additional experts.
The Romani who reached Stockholm, also in 1512, were said to be from ‘Egypt Minor’. This purported connection with Egypt is the origin behind the English word gypsy. The Swedish word zigenare (related to the German Zigeuner) did not come into use until the 17th century. More…
Helsinki: Schildts & Söderströms, 2012. 294p.
Helsinki: Otava, 2012. 333 p.
Suom. [Translated by] Tuula Kojo
The immigrant novel has not played a significant role in contemporary Finnish literature; since the wave of Russian refugees in the early 19th century, there have been few immigrants to Finland. In her short story collection Camera Obscura (2009) Johanna Holmström (born 1981) managed to combine realism and fantasy in a fascinating way; her new novel, Asfaltsänglar, is the directly yet eloquently told story of two young immigrant sisters. Leila, bullied at school, is becoming a drop-out, while Samira, who has tried to live according to western norms, lies unconscious after an unexplained accident. Their Finnish mother is a fanatical convert to Islam and their father comes from the Maghreb region. The novel confronts claustrophobic Arabic family culture and western ideals of freedom, taken so far that people completely lose any sense of responsibility for one another, with the adults’ betrayal of their children playing a key role. Holmström goes to great lengths to give a balanced portrayal of both cultures and show why her characters act as they do, even when the results are tragic.
Translated by Claire Dickenson