This ‘n’ that
11 April 2013 | This 'n' that
‘Just before the meeting Ludwig chickened out. In the ad he had bragged that he was a “sporty male with a sense of humour”. Would Patsy accept his illiteracy, brutal table manners and cruelty towards the peasants?’
One picture, few words: Mikko Metsähonkala’s artwork creates a moment in a universe – recognisable or completely strange – providing it with a laconic textual subtext. We feature some of his stories published in Toisaalta / (P)å andra sidan / In Other Wor(l)ds.
14 March 2013 | This 'n' that
Zacharias Topelius wrote every day for almost 70 years. His published works contain almost 16,000 pages.
As he was also the editor of the Swedish-language newspaper Helsingfors Tidningar which he published twice a week for 20 years, his output, counted in pages, is enormous.
Author, journalist, historian, critic and pedagogue Topelius (1818–1898) wrote poetry, hymns, travelogues, serials, articles, short stories, fairy tales, textbooks and plays.
As for Finnish translations, his historical serial Fältskärns berättelser (‘The barber-surgeon’s tales’, 1853–1867) and Läsning för barn (‘Reading for children’) are probably his most popular works.
In a bilingual (Swedish and Finnish), text-critical, annotated (and illustrated) project, entitled ‘Zacharias Topelius Skrifter’ (‘Z. T. writings’), Svenska Litteratursällskapet i Finland (the Society of Swedish Literature in Finland) will publish a large number of Topelius’s works in digital facsimile form. The selection grows continually.
13 March 2013 | This 'n' that
Jo kirkkahana aaltoo avaruus,
jo päivyt paistavi, jo hohtaa hanki,
vaan kaikkialla viel’ on hiljaisuus
ja taivas valju on ja maa on vanki.
Now bright swells in the heavens abound,
the days are sunny, snowdrifts gleam,
and yet silence still dwells all around,
the sky is pallid, a prisoner yet the soil.
We were so impressed by this astonishing ice sculpture, created by the artist Winter, that we wanted to share it with you – before, as the spring equinox has just been reached, it disappears for ever.
These hooded characters were created by the storm that sent waves up the trees growing on the waterfront of an islet, just before the lake Saimaa froze up late last year. They have been standing there for months, observed – and photographed – by hundreds of surprised skaters who pass them by on the 22-kilometre skating route.
Earlier these almost Biblical-looking figures seemed to be heading for south (the big photo), but as the changing temperatures and the March sun has now made their own adaptations in the marble-looking ice, the group now seems to be waving goodbye – until next winter, then?
The stanza is from the poem Maaliskuulla (‘In March‘, from the collection Maaliskuun lauluja, ‘Songs of March’, 1896) by Eino Leino (translation by yours truly).
28 February 2013 | This 'n' that
Translations of Finnish literature into English are booming, according to a new website set up by the Finnish-English Literature Translation Co-operative, or FELT.
Or at least there is a tiny boom, as translator Lola Rogers puts it in her contribution to ‘Reflections’ on the FELT website.
Whereas less than 20 translations were published between 1992 and 2002, the number of translations published in the decade from 2002 was more than 34.The reason, according to FELT, is the new availability of qualified literary translators, whom the new website has been created to represent; each of them (David Hackston, Emily Jeremiah, Kristian London, Lola Rogers, Owen Witesman) now have two or more published Finnish works of fiction under their belts.
A significant factor has been the training events organised by FILI, Finnish Literature Exchange, publisher of this magazine – and, we might dare to say, Books from Finland itself, which offers translators a forum (as well as payment) for translations of extracts from interesting or significant new work.
The FELT website is worth a visit by anyone with an interest in Finnish literature – or translation. As well as details of published and forthcoming work, there is a collection of essays on the art of translating particular works, from Kristina Carlson (also ex-Editor-in-Chief of Books from Finland) to the novelist Asko Sahlberg and the modernist poet Eeva-Liisa Manner.
15 February 2013 | This 'n' that
One day in the antediluvian times of dawning Beatlemania, a schoolboy in a Finnish small town found himself smitten head over heels by the new pop songs by (probably) the most famous band in the world ever (so far). Like some two billion other teenagers, he learnt by heart every single song the Beatles recorded. Yeah!
The schoolboy grew up and became the illustrator and writer Mauri Kunnas (born 1950), whose storybooks, mostly for children, have now been translated into 30 languages.
But his interest in the Fab Four never left him, and last year he published his illustrated history of John, Paul, George and Ringo, from the day they were born to the day when Please, Please Me / Ask Me Why became number one in the British Top 20 in 1962. As the book is partly written in his native local dialect, its title is Piitles. Tarina erään rockbändin alkutaipaleesta (‘Beatles. The story of the first stage of a rock band’, Otava, 2012).
In this 77-page graphic story the Beatles grow from babies into celebrities. The large number of hilarious visual details keeps the reader vigilant: for example, in their early days on Hamburg’s Reeperbahn John, Paul, George and Pete (Best) stay in lodgings behind a cinema that are less than hygienic, so on closer examination the lads turn out to be wearing underpants with yellow spots.
Julia Lennon, Klaus Voormann, Astrid Kirchherr, Stuart Sutcliffe, Cynthia, Brian Epstein, George Martin: the faces in the gallery of characters are instantly recognisable. Piitles illustrates how Beatlemania was born, and it is truly the work of a faithful fan.
10 January 2013 | This 'n' that
In our odd quiet moments we occasionally amuse ourselves by checking out what’s happening in the bear village of Kuusamo, in the north-east of Finland, by watching ‘bear TV’ (the bears speak Finnish only with the staff, but the link offers plenty of expressive action without words).
The brown bear (Ursus arctos) – feared, respected and even mythical animal of the ancient Finns – can weigh more than 400kg. It can run fast (60km/h) and scare the pants off people in the woods, although it always avoids humans if possible. There are approximately 900–1300 wild bears in Finland. This large, intelligent beast hibernates from October to April. Omnivorous, it eats meat as well as plants and berries – carrots, too, if it can lay its paws on them.
Kuusamon suurpetokeskus (The Predator Centre) in Kuusamo has given home to several bears who have lost their mother when cubs or injured in accidents. The bears regard Sulo Karjalainen, their carer – beartaker? – their dear pal, or even mum.
It is really heart-warming to watch him and Pasi Jäntti socialising with their furry friends, who politely – or occasionally slightly rudely – devour the healthy treats that they are given in exchange for posing in several little home movies on their ‘bear TV’ website. In them, the endearing giants – Juuso, Niisku, Vyöti and others – lick Sulo’s cheek, have a bath, and Juuso tests a specially made bear weighing machine and, getting sleepy, a man-made lair with Sulo, his dear pal.
Dangerous? Texts on the videos point out that only the staff can enter the bears’ home.
Sulo bears a scar on his cheek, yet he is perfectly fearless. With the largest mammal in Europe, there is a risk involved…
21 December 2012 | This 'n' that
Finland is used to feeling pretty good about itself when it comes to education. In the widely respected PISA tests – the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development’s exams in science and literacy – Finnish schoolchildren have, since the turn of the century, been outperforming most of their peers.
A shock came in 2009 when the tests revealed that Finnish kids were only third-best at reading, and sixth in maths; but by this time they were competing against the newly participating Asian countries, with their huge concentration on education.
Now, however, a new league table, drawn up by the education publishers Pearson, places Finland right at the top (2006–2010, 40 countries). Second place is held by South Korea; third is Hong Kong. The Pearson analysis uses a broader set of criteria, using not just test results but broader measures such as how many people go to university. In a result that is causing some puzzlement in the United Kingdom, Britain is rated sixth. Entirely, say critics, because British universities are so easy to get into.
The results are indeed flattering to Finland – but Finnish children’s motivation to learn is among the weakest in the survey’s countries. In reading, mathematics and the sciences Finns’ attitudes and application were low. It looks as if Finnish children consider school a place to hang out with their friends, not a place for teaching and learning. Countries where competition is stronger breed different attitudes.
So here’s the Finnish paradox: kids here hate school – yet still end up at the top of the list.
Must be something in the water.
21 December 2012 | This 'n' that
Tove Jansson’s Moomin books are widely cherished by children and adults alike. They are funny and charming yet haunting and profound. Lovable Moomintroll; practical and sensible Moominmama; spiky Little My; the terrifying yet complex monster, Groke – Jansson’s creations linger in the mind.
The first ever Moomin book – The Moomins and the Great Flood (Småtrollen och den stora översvämningen, 1945) – was published in the UK in October by Sort Of Books, but Jansson’s writing for adults is also achieving recognition in the English-speaking world.
A Winter Book, a selection of 20 stories by Jansson (Sort Of Books, 2006) was the trigger for a recent event on London’s South Bank. Along with journalist Suzi Feay and writer Philip Ardagh, I was invited to talk about Jansson’s work in general and about these stories in particular.
As Ali Smith notes in her fine introduction to the collection, the texts are ‘beautifully crafted and deceptively simple-seeming’. They are, as she puts it ‘like pieces of scattered light’. She also refers to the stories’ ‘suppleness’ and ‘childlike wilfulness’.
‘The Dark’, for example, offers an apparently random set of snapshots of childhood. Arresting images abound – swaying lamps over an ice rink, swirls in the pattern of a carpet that turn into terrible snakes – to create a tapestry of childhood. It’s like a dream: of ice and fire, fear and safety, a mixture that recalls the secure yet scary world of Moomin valley.
‘Snow’, too, conjures childhood fear. The house that features in this story is unhomely or uncanny, to refer to Freud, and seems haunted by the ghosts of other families. The story ends with the shared resolution between mother and child to return to a place of safety: ‘So we went home.’
The combination of scariness and safety, of comfort and unease, is one of the things that makes Jansson (1914–2001) such a powerful writer, not only for children – although questions of security and fear might have especial resonance in early life – but also for adults, who continue to be haunted by the unknown, but also tempted by it.
The South Bank event also gave participants and audience the chance to talk about other works by Jansson. The Summer Book (Sommarboken, 1972) notably, is a delicate and deft evocation of a summer spent on an island.
The narrative charts the relationship between a grandmother and granddaughter, and at the same time probes such profoundly human questions as love and loss, hope and change and continuity. As always in Jansson, the descriptions are sharp and crisp, and the writing is at once spare and suggestive.
Novels like Fair Play (Rent spel, 1989) and The True Deceiver (Den ärliga bedragaren, 1982) reveal Jansson’s subversive, sly, and subtle sides, which sit alongside her playfulness, warmth, and humour to create a unique aesthetic. Fair Play is a book about the relationship between two women; it’s tender, funny and thoughtful. Never sentimental, it is nonetheless moving. And it’s quietly subversive in its matter-of-fact depiction of a same-sex relationship.
The True Deceiver is set in a snowbound hamlet. A young woman fakes a break-in at the house of an elderly artist, a children’s book illustrator, and a strange dynamic develops between the two women. It’s a book about being outside, about not belonging. The relationship between the women, which is never fully resolved or explained, is especially fascinating.
Jansson excels at showing the human need for both company and privacy, intimacy and autonomy. And her work is profoundly philosophical. In very light, nimble narratives, Jansson explores the meanings of our lives.
13 December 2012 | This 'n' that
Kulttuurisauna, ‘The culture sauna’, will soon be opened in Helsinki as a part of the World Design Capital 2012 programme. The idea was developed into a project by architect Tuomas Toivonen and designer Nene Tsuboi, a Finnish-Japanese couple who will also run the sauna.
‘When we started considering the idea of building a public sauna in Helsinki, I realised that my dream job is to run a public sauna – offering people a place for cleansing, bathing and sharing quiet togetherness. We have been working in the field of design and architecture for 10 years now, and felt that we can use all of our skills in this project, developing a new public sauna in Helsinki; as a building, as a service and as an environment. By doing this, we want to contribute to the city, participating in making Helsinki more interesting and enjoyable’, says Tsuboi. More…
30 November 2012 | This 'n' that
‘What reigns in Moomin Valley is a rock-hard hierarchy of those who are cool (Snufkin, Moominmamma, Little My), those who need to be those who are cool (Moomintroll, the Snork Maiden, Sniff, one or two Whompers and Toffles), and those who are absurd (the Hemulen, the Fillyjonk, the Muskrat)’, noted Pia Ingström in her review (Books from Finland 2/2008) of Sirke Happonen’s dissertation on Tove Jansson’s characters.
Snufkin? Fillyjonk? The Moomin world, created by the versatile Finland-Swedish writer and artist Tove Jansson (1914–2001), is peopled with funny-shaped Moomins and a great variety of other creatures who may look a bit odd at first but who are very… human. Jansson’s books have been translated into more than 40 languages. More…
23 November 2012 | This 'n' that
Fans of new writing and competitive reading out loud converged on Korjaamo in Helsinki on October 25th for the second Finnish ‘episode’ of Literary Death Match. LDM (as it’s known to regulars) is a series of events created in the USA and hosted by Adrian Todd Zuniga in which authors perform live readings of their recent work and receive critical assessments from a panel of judges in a manner familiar to viewers of trashy TV talent shows.
The winners of the evening’s initial reading rounds advance to the final, where the ultimate victor is decided in a game show-style battle involving skills that are perhaps more tangential to the work of most authors.
In his shiny jacket, LDM co-founder Adrian Todd Zuniga certainly looked the part of the cheesy game show host. He was an enthusiastic compère and got the bilingual evening under way by introducing the panel of judges. Author Markus Nummi was to be responsible for assessing the competitors on literary merit, while Baba Lybeck, a radio journalist and host of Uutisvuoto (the Finnish TV version of the BBC’s topical panel show Have I Got News for You), would be awarding points for performance. The third member of the panel was journalist and author Ari Lahdenmäki, who was assigned the category of ‘Intangibles’, i.e. anything that didn’t fall under the other two headings. More…
19 November 2012 | This 'n' that
The graphic designer Professor Erik Bruun has been awarded the Helsinki Design Award, created to celebrate World Design Capital Helsinki 2012.
Worth 10,000 euros, this special one-off award is intended to highlight the remarkable work of Erik Bruun (born 1926). His internationally recognised life’s work – from the 1950s onwards – includes commercial posters, book and journal design, logotypes, postage stamps and bank notes, photography and nature posters. Recently his best designs of the 1950s have been experiencing a renaissance as, for example, printed material and posters.
Finnish nature, its flora and fauna, in particular endangered species, have been close to his heart, and his Saimaa ringed seal poster became the emblem of the Finnish Association for Nature Conservation.
Erik worked with us at Books from Finland as Art Editor from 1976 to 1990. He has lived for decades in an old wooden house on the UNESCO World Heritage Site islands of Suomenlinna (Sveaborg) in Helsinki harbour, and his observations of his winged friends, various sea birds, were often the subject of discussion over Books from Finland layouts.
The logo he created for Books in 1978, a quill with an eagle’s eye, featured on the covers of almost 50 issues of the journal; the illustration here, with the text Images from Finland, is from a catalogue introducing graphics and poems from a portfolio published by Eurographica in 1978.
Our editorial process went digital in the early 1990s – but Erik still works with his quills and pens, not with computers.
9 November 2012 | This 'n' that
Birds and bees, frogs, squirrels, water lilies, thistles, ferns, junipers, bears and even gnomes originating in Finnish nature appear, in abundance, in Finnish architecture of the two decades around the turn of the 20th century.
The trend that developed out of the Arts and Crafts Movement in Great Britain and in the United States, known as l’art nouveau in France and Jugendstil in Germany, lived a short but extremely fervent life in Finland, which adopted the term jugend.
In Finland this aesthetic movement is also called national romanticism. In 1899 the pan-Slavic movement arising in Russia took the form of attempts to suppress Finland’s burgeoning national identity in Finland, and in resisting this, artists made extensive use of national romantic material in their work. More…
18 October 2012 | This 'n' that
An eight-year-old Finnish male, named Ilmari, has emigrated to Africa; on 13 October he was spotted in Cameroon. He set off for the journey on 16 September.
At the beginning of his journey, in Hattula, southern Finland, in August, he weighed 1,370g.
Ilmari is an osprey. The Osprey Foundation (more photos here too) fitted him with a Microwave GPS-Argos satellite transmitter (weighing just 30g and running on solar power). This allows osprey researchers to follow his journeys.
Actually Ilmari hasn’t emigrated – he will return to where he was born, in March 2013. As this is Ilmari’s first recorded migration, his final destination is not known. But one of his countrymen (-birds), carrying a transmitter, Jukka, liked it so much in Cameroon that he spent the winter there. Will Ilmari do the same? Watch this space!
The journeys of Finnish migrating birds are long (in this case, more than 6000 kilometres) and dangerous, so we wish Ilmari safe travel back home as well.