This ‘n’ that

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12 December 2014 | This 'n' that

Illustration: Hannu Konttinen

Illustration: Hannu Konttinen

For 41 years, from 1967 to 2008, Books from Finland was a printed journal. In 1976, after a decade of existence as not much more than a pamphlet, it began to expand: with more editorial staff and more pages, hundreds of Finnish books and authors were featured in the following decades.

Those texts remain archive treasures.

In 1998 Books from Finland went online, partially: we set up a website of our own, offering a few samples of text from each printed issue. In January 2009 Books from Finland became an online journal in its entirety, now accessible to everyone.

We then decided that we would digitise material from the printed volumes of 1976 to 2008: samples of fiction and related interviews, reviews, and articles should become part of the new website.

The process took a couple of years – thank you, diligent Finnish Literature Exchange (FILI) interns (and Johanna Sillanpää) : Claire Saint-Germain, Bruna di Pastena, Merethe Kristiansen, Franziska Fiebig, Saara Wille and Claire Dickenson! – and now it’s time to start publishing the results. We’re going to do so volume by volume, going backwards.

The first to go online was the fiction published in 2008: among the authors are the poets Tomi Kontio and Rakel Liehu and prose writers Helvi Hämäläinen (1907–1998), Sirpa Kähkönen, Maritta Lintunen, Arne Nevanlinna, Hagar Olsson (1893–1979), Juhani Peltonen (1941–1998) and Mika Waltari (1908–1979).

To introduce these new texts, we will feature a box on our website, entitled New from the archives, where links will take you to the new material. The digitised texts work in the same way as the rest of the posts, using the website’s search engine (although for technical reasons we have been unable to include all the original pictures).

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By the time we reach the year 1976, there will be texts by more than 400 fiction authors on our website. We are proud and delighted that the printed treasures of past decades – the best of the Finnish literature published over the period – will be available to all readers of Books from Finland.

The small world of Finnish fiction will be even more accessible to the great English-speaking universe. Read on!

Angry epic heroes?

20 November 2014 | This 'n' that

Action man: Väinämöinen fights the Hag of the North. Painting by Akseli Gallen-Kallela, 1896 (Turku Art Museum). WIkipedia

Action man: Väinämöinen fights the Hag of the North. Painting by Akseli Gallen-Kallela, 1896 (Turku Art Museum). Wikipedia

The Finnish national epic, the Kalevala, is the inspiration for a grand-scale film trilogy project. It involves employees of several entertainment media companies working on it in their free time. The Finnish entertainment media company Rovio that became famous for its Angry Birds game, and the Finnish-born video game company Supercell have sponsored – with other 13 media companies – the trailer: see IronDanger.

Financing is still in the planning stages, but it is hoped that the first part will be ready in 2017 when Finland celebrates its centenary year.

According to Rovio’s Chief Marketing Officer, Peter Vesterbacka, the film will be ‘adequately’ faithful to the original work. In an interview published on 19 November on the website of the Finnish Broadcasting Company YLE, he says that even if the landscape will look very Finnish, the intention is to ’tell the story to make it clear that it’s not about a bunch of old pensioners. These are young, heroic, epic heroes‘.

So, vaka vanha Väinämöinen – ‘Väinämöinen, old and steadfast’ – , the main character of the epic, the great shaman and the bard, the tragic hero, is to be kicked off the cast, because he’s, well, elderly?

Funny that the bearded wizard Gandalf of Lord of the Rings was not dismissed from the film due to his age, even though he does indeed looks as old as the hills of Gondor. (By the way, Väinämöinen has been ‘identified as a source for Gandalf’…)

It remains to be seen how the younger Kalevala crowd will deal with all that action. Who, for example, is going to sink the impetuous Joukahainen into a bog by singing, then?

Wow-factor?

6 November 2014 | This 'n' that

Helsinki harbour: from  the German Quick magazine's airplane, by Volker von Bonin, 1952. Photo: Helsinki City Museum

Helsinki harbour: aerial photo from the German Quick magazine, by Volker von Bonin, 1952. The proposed site for the Guggenheim building is bottom left. Photo: Helsinki City Museum

The winner of the Guggenheim Helsinki Design Competition, organised by the Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation, will be announced in June 2015. ‘An innovative, multidisciplinary museum of art and design’, the winning building, if it will be realised, is likely to be a new ‘architectural dream’.

1,715 submissions were received from 77 countries; a shortlist of six finalists will be announced on 2 December.

In 2012 when the Guggenheim project (see our post from 2012) began to be discussed, the deep ranks of Helsinki taxpayers protested in public by saying that they did not want a costly new monument (building costs 130 million euros) in the city for which it would have been necessary to pay – in addition to maintenance costs – ca. 26 million euros to the American brand for the use of its name during the next 20 years. Finally the City Council voted 8-7 against the mayor’s motion to build the museum.

A comparison: the building costs of an urgently needed new children’s university hospital are 160 million euros: as the state was not able to fully finance the project in the near future, it was decided (in 2013) that 30 million euros would be raised by private sponsors and the general public in order to ensure the beginning of the construction work in 2014. (The goal was reached last August, but the fund-raising campaign will go on to decrease the loan capital, 50 million.) This project has been referred to by the opposers of the Guggenheim project in particular: if the state cannot provide the funds for a national children’s hospital, how could – and why should – it commit itself, albeit with smaller sums, to sponsoring an American art museum in Finland?

No money from the state was promised. No art-minded private sponsors of a future Guggenheim announced themselves in the public either. It turned out, however, that enough private sponsor money was available for an international architecture competition: in 2013 a tentative, central site for a future Guggenheim building was reserved for the competition project, for two years, in Helsinki harbour.

Since that, a group of independent arts organisations has issued a call for submissions for alternative ideas: ‘The next Helsinki’: a new competition aims at bringing forth projects that ‘attach artistry to all aspects of everyday urbanism’, and it is open to all, not just ‘starchitects’, ‘…because the solution is not simply an urban designer’s or artist’s task.’ Deadline is 2 March, 2015.

The organisations taking part are Checkpoint Helsinki, G.U.L.F. (Global Ultra Luxury Faction), Occupy Museums and Terreform, New York. ‘The next Helsinki’ states: ‘The Guggenheim Foundation has launched a design competition on one of Helsinki’s most valuable and compelling physical sites for a new Guggenheim building, in hopes of a transformation akin to the “miracle” in Spain [Bilbao]. The City of Helsinki is tempted to spend hundreds of millions of municipal euros in return for the benefits of the branding of the city with someone else’s mark. Is this really the best use for the site and tax money?’

It remains to be seen who will be the winners, and what will be won.

And cool it was

30 October 2014 | This 'n' that

Guests welcome: Finnish pavilion, Frankfurt Book Fair. Photo:

Guests welcome: Finnish pavilion, Frankfurt Book Fair. Photo: Katja Maria Nyman

Finland was Finnland and cool as Guest of Honour at the Frankfurt Book Fair from 8 to 12 October.

There was plenty to choose from, and then some: more than 500 Finland-related events, readings, exhibitions and cultural projects, 50+ Finnish authors, books, pictures, videos, music.

More than 130 books (plus new editions) have been published in German this year, and interest in Finnish literature in other countries – Frankfurt is the world’s biggest book fair, and publishers from all over the world are represented – will inevitably grow.

So the Finnish organiser, FILI – Finnish Literature Exchange – and its staff has now put their feet up for a moment, as it were, after very successfully tangoing through it all, and are savouring all the wow-factor memories of this big enterprise. After several years of preparation and hectic last months, it seems international interest in literary things Finnish exceeded all expectations.

Finnish Pavilion, Frankfurt Book Fair. Photo:

Ready to begin: Finnish Pavilion, Frankfurt Book Fair. Photo: Katja Maria Nyman

For those of you who couldn’t make it to the Finnish Pavilion, there are photographs of various events at Frankfurt, and lots more on this site, so take a look. Vorwärts! / Onwards!

Seekers and givers of meaning: what the writer said

2 October 2014 | This 'n' that

kirjaimet‘All our tales, stories, and creative endeavours are stories about ourselves. We repeat the same tale throughout our lives, from the cradle to the grave.’ CA

‘Throughout a work’s journey, the writer filters meanings from the fog of symbols and connects things to one another in new ways. Thus, the writer is both a seeker of meaning and a giver of meaning.’ OJ

‘Words are behind locks and the key is lost. No one can seek out another uncritically except in poetry and love. When this happens the doors have opened by themselves.’ EK

‘I realised that I had to have the courage to write my kind of books, not books excessively quoting postmodern French philosophers, even if that meant laying myself open to accusations of nostalgia and sentimentality.’ KW

‘If we look at the writing process as consisting of three C:s – Craft, Creativity and Chaos – each one of them is in its way indispensable, but I would definitely go for chaos, for in chaos lies vision.’ MF

‘In the historical novel the line between the real and the imagined wavers like torchlight on a wall. The merging of fantasy and reality is one of the essential features of the historical novel.’ KU

‘The writer’s block isn’t emptiness. It’s more like a din inside your head, the screams of shame and fear and self-hatred echoing against one another. What right have I to have written anything in the first place? I have nothing to say!’ PT

‘…sometimes stanzas have to / assume the torch-bearer’s role – one / often avoided like the plague. / Resilient and infrangible, the lines have to / get on with their work, like a termite queen / laying an egg every three seconds / for twenty years, / leaving a human to notice / their integrity. ’ JI

In 2007 when  Books from Finland was a printed journal, we began a series entitled On writing and not writing; in it, Finnish authors ponder the complexities, pros and cons of their profession. Now our digitised archives make these writings available to our online readers: how do Claes Andersson, Olli Jalonen, Eeva Kilpi, Kjell Westö, Monika Fagerholm, Kaari Utrio, Petri Tamminen and Jouni Inkala describe the process? Pain must coexist with pleasure…

 From 2009 – when Books from Finland became an online journal – more writers have made their contributions: Alexandra Salmela, Susanne Ringell, Jyrki Kiiskinen, Johanna Sinisalo, Markku Pääskynen, Ilpo Tiihonen, Kristina Carlson, Tuomas Kyrö, Sirpa Kähkönen – the next, shortly, will be Jari Järvelä.

Pig cheeks and chanterelle dust

21 August 2014 | This 'n' that

Wild and plentiful: chanterelles, black horns of plenty. Photo: Soila Lehtonen

Wild and plentiful: chanterelles, black horns of plenty. Photo: Soila Lehtonen

Pop-up restaurants came into being in Helsinki in 2011: a few times every year any eager amateur cook is able to set up a ‘restaurant’ for one day on a street corner or in a park: citizens are welcome to take their pick, at a modest price.

In a northern city, not exactly suitable for street food trade all year round, in a country where rules of food hygiene are strict, the innovation of the Restaurant Day has been welcomed by the public. The latest event took place on 17 August.

The idea has now spread to at least 60 countries. Foodie culture thrives.

We find an article in The New Yorker by Adam Gopnik, No rules! Is Le Fooding, the French culinary movement, more than a feeling? interesting – according to comments quoted in it, ‘food must belong to its time’, and the traditional French cuisine ‘was caught in a museum culture: the dictatorship of a fossilized idea of gastronomy’.

In the 1960s, ‘nouvelle cuisine’, as opposed to cuisine classique, began to promote lighter, simpler, inventive, technically more advanced cooking. Well – some of us may remember that, at worst, this could also manifest itself in, say, three morsels of some edible substance placed decoratively on a plate topped with three chives: expensive, insubstantially elegant and pretty useless.

Today, Finland, the traditional stronghold of liver casserole, brown sauce and ham-mincemeat-pineapple pizzas (yes), seems to have moved onto a higher level of the culinary art – at least in selected restaurants. In a recent article, Helsinki’s food scene, coming on strong, published in The Washington Post, Tom Sietsema enjoys the pleasure of discovering things Finnish.

He is treated to parsnip leaves turned into ice cream imparting a coconut flavour, crackers made from leek ash and risotto in which ‘tiny green hops and their purple flowers interrupt the beige surface of the bowl, whose rim is dusted with golden chanterelle powder.’

The Executive Chef of Helsinki’s esteemed Savoy restaurant (est. 1937) cooks braised pig cheeks served with rhubarb and spring greens. A hunter-gatherer chef collects wild things: wood sorrel, spruce shoots and orpine and serves them in an omelette, with a drink made of chaga mushrooms (used for making tea; a sort of ‘sterile conk trunk rot of birch’, currently very much in vogue among the most eager of foodies for its medicinal [antioxidant, anti-inflammatory] properties).

It is true that Copenhagen and Stockholm have advanced further on their way to international fame of cuisine, but perhaps Helsinki will follow suit. And people who go out for a meal are no longer expected to settle for morsels with chives on top – food belongs to its time, and time changes food(ies).

A comment on Sietsema’s article claims though that his ‘verbiage’ has ‘nothing to do with what 99.999% of Finns eat! and what 99.99% of Finnish restaurants offer!’

But the truth (we know) is now closer to Sietsema than the commentator: ambitious restaurants may play with golden chanterelle powder, and even if it is not exactly what Finns often have for tea, we believe Finns today are losing interest in cheap chicken slivers in industrial marinade for dinner, and even beginning to accept that greens may not be only for bunnies.

Chanterelles have always been considered as a treat: fresh from the woods, quickly cooked in butter and cream, served with new potatoes and rye bread, or in an omelette: bon appetit (even without orpine)!

Hip hip hurray!

13 June 2014 | This 'n' that

Tove Jansson, 1956. Photo: @Moomin Characters

Tove Jansson, 1956. Photo: @Moomin Characters™

The English author of bestselling children’s fantasy books Philip Pullman – of His Dark Materials fame – declares himself a devoted fan of Tove Jansson, the Finnish Moomin-creator and artist, whose stories and novels have been translated into 44 languages.

Pullman has been a fan since the age of eight – now, reassessing Jansson’s work, he notes ‘the perfection of the drawings’. Jansson illustrated her Moomin books, in black-and-white mostly.

Pullman reviews two books in Books for Keeps, the British online children’s book magazine: the newly translated biography of Tove Jansson (1914–2001) by the Swedish scholar Boel Westin (Tove Jansson: Life, Art, Words, Sort of Books, 2014) and Tove Jansson’s memoir from her childhood, Sculptor’s Daughter. ‘Jansson responded to the world with a freshness and originality that have hardly ever been matched in the field of children’s books,’ he writes.

The artist, painter, writer Tove Jansson was born on 9 August – almost a hundred years ago. A major centenary exhibition of her work at the Finnish National Gallery Ateneum is open until 7 September.

Pullman concludes: ‘she could convey all the excitement of wonder as well as the reassurance of comfort and familial love – and [–] evoke a mood of apprehension, loss and mystery. She should have had the Nobel Prize.’

Three cheers – we at Books from Finland agree!

Now and then

22 May 2014 | This 'n' that

branderKarttalehtinen, a company that specialises in making orienteering maps, has posted 133 photographs of Helsinki from 1907–1912, by Signe Brander, the pioneering city photographer, together with contemporary Google street shots, on this zoomable site.

Click ‘Google street view’ (Google Maps) down left, for a bigger view. (Kuvan tiedot gives details of Brander’s photo, in Finnish only.) The old photos are from the Helsinki City Museum archives.

Brander (1869–1942) was hired by Helsinki City Council’s Board of Antiquities to record the fast-growing city for almost seven years between 1907 and 1913.

The southernmost photo on the map shows the barren Ursin rocks on the seashore, with Hernesaari (‘Pea island’) in the background. Today, as the Google shot shows, there is a park and a monument for seafarers, particularly those who lost their lives at sea.

Helsinki life and buildings as they existed a hundred years ago are portrayed in these calm shots of a small town going about its business. Signe did a very good job in her capacity as official photographer.

Thirsty for poetry

22 May 2014 | This 'n' that

Johanna Venho (above) and Vilja-Tuulia Huotarinen

Johanna Venho (above) and Vilja-Tuulia Huotarinen. Photo:

Jano (‘Thirst’) is the name for a new online magazine: according to the writers and poets Johanna Venho and Vilja-Tuulia Huotarinen, its editors, it is a ‘poetry journal for all’ – for poets, the general public, for anybody.

Two issues have been published since November 2013. The theme of the first one is Time, of the second, Place.There are interviews, autobiographical texts, texts by critics and poets. More…

Homeward bound!

29 March 2014 | This 'n' that

Photo: Hannu Vainiopekka

Jukka the osprey: sadly, his fate remains unknown. Photo: Hannu Vainiopekka

Snow is now, unusually for so early in the year, long gone from more than half of Finland. Bears are waking up and emerging from their winter lairs: spring is definitely in the air!

So are birds: the latest news from Cameroon is that on 26 March Ilmari caught his last African fishes and started winging his way to southern Finland.

Ilmari is an osprey: you may remember him – we reported his endeavour to cross continents on his way to Africa in 2012, asking you to watch this space. Well, the raptor is still doing fine, and his journey can be followed on the Finnish Museum of Natural History’s Luomus website. More than six thousand kilometres and a month later he will hopefully be spotted fishing on his home lakes in Hattula.

Let’s keep our fingers crossed for Ilmari. The fates of his compadres Pete, Eikka and Jukka are unfortunate: these great travellers perished on their particularly long and dangerous migration routes. Their stories are reported here.

Fan-male?

29 March 2014 | This 'n' that

tom_nettiinIt is one of the enduring peculiarities of Finnish culture, along with the national enthusiasms for heavy metal music and the tango, that Tom of Finland, an erotic artist who specialised in stylised pencil images of muscular and well-endowed men wearing tight or little clothing, should be regarded as a national treasure.

Even more startling, according to our friends abroad, is the news that a collection of Tom’s images is to be issued as postage stamps in September this year, when an exhibition opens in the Postal Museum in Tampere. ‘Sealed with a Secret – Correspondence of Tom of Finland’ displays Laaksonen’s correspondence from the early 1940s to 1991.

As the Finnish post office, Itella Posti, remarks in its press release, Tom of Finland, or Touko Laaksonen (1920–1991), is one of the most well-known Finnish artists around the world. The images selected – which include a pair of buttocks with a moustached face peeking out from between the legs and a man in military uniform entwined with a naked one – stick to the tamer side of Tom’s work, but their stereotypical homoeroticism will nevertheless be, let’s say, striking additions to the envelopes on which they appear.

According to Timo Berry, the graphic artist who made the selection, the stamps portray ‘a sensual life force and being proud of oneself. There is never too much of that in this northern country.’

Opinions will differ as to the artistic merits of Tom of Finland’s work, but one thing is certain: it’s decidedly top-shelf material. The Finnish post office website features a discussion of whom one would send which stamps to: you wouldn’t, obviously, send Tom to your maiden aunt in the countryside, but the conversation doesn’t examine the fact that the images will not only be viewed by the addressee. How would you explain the pictures to your small children, for example?

Postage stamps are, traditionally, regarded as an expression of national identity – in that case it’s debatable what these are expressing, as Finland is not conspicuously friendly to the gay community. There is no gay marriage, and you can only legally change your gender after surgical sterilisation.

So why issue Tom of Finland as public art? We’re stumped. (On the other hand, we’re not convinced you need to regard stamps as an expression of national identity at all…)

Answers on a postcard, please. You choose the stamps. (Tom’s stamps are self-adhesive, by the way. You don’t have to, ahem, lick their backsides.)

Remembrance

29 March 2014 | This 'n' that

tove100This year is the centenary of Tove Jansson (1914–2001), the painter, caricaturist, comic strip artist, illustrator and author of books for both children and adults, and, what made her name internationally, the creator of the Moomins. Today, her Moomin books are available in 40 languages.

One sunny April day, walking through the atmospheric old Hietaniemi cemetery by the sea in Helsinki, a charming little bronze statue on top of a narrow granite column caught my eye.

Family grave: sculpture by Victor Jansson

Family grave: sculpture by Victor Jansson

It was a small child balancing on a ball, waving its arms and legs joyously in the air. On a closer look, there was something white attached to the statue: it was a tiny white plastic Moomin.

On the Janssons’ family grave the first little blue flowers had just risen to the surface to bask in the early spring sun. Tove’s father was the sculptor Victor Jansson, her mother was the cartoonist and artist Signe Hammarsten Jansson.

Perhaps one of Tove’s fans had chosen this way of paying homage to the creator of the unique Moomin universe.

jansson1

What’s translated?

14 March 2014 | This 'n' that

h_tunnus_skk_ENG

The database Finnish Literature in Translation, which details more than 7,500 works, with references to information on Finnish, Swedish and Sámi fiction and non-fiction translation, has been redesigned. Different search types are applicable, and the search results can be downloaded in Excel form.

Maintained and updated by FILI, the database offers information on book-length works as well as translation anthologies. Currently the oldest translation is from 1839. The database is trilingual: Finnish, Swedish, English.

So – if you’d like to know whether Tove Jansson’s Moomin books are available in your mother tongue, just look it up! (Tove can currently be read in 44 languages, from Albanian to Welsh.)

Helsinki hundred

6 March 2014 | This 'n' that

Into the city: Vilhonkatu Street, leading to the National Theatre and the Railway Station. Photo: Signe Brander, 1907. Helsinki City Museum / finna

Into the city: Vilhonkatu Street, leading to the National Theatre and the Railway Station. Photo: Signe Brander, 1907. Helsinki City Museum / Finna

Photographer Signe Brander (1869–1942) was hired by the Helsinki City Council’s Board of Antiquities to record the fast-growing city for almost seven years between 1907 and 1913.

Signe was not keen on working indoors, so she must have been pleased to be able to get out into the streets. She chose to capture lively views of the town with people – passers-by, animals, children, flaneurs, people on errands (even though portraits were not her cup of tea either), in all seasons.

Brander’s thoroughly professional work can now be downloaded on the Internet: all of her 906 photos of Helsinki and its citizens a hundred years ago are available from Finna.

The National Digital Library – and its public interface Finna – project aims to ensure that electronic materials of Finnish culture and science are managed with a high standard, are easily accessed and securely preserved well into the future.

Unfortunately Signe Brander was not able to rest peacefully on her laurels. As her eyesight and health deteriorated, she was hospitalised in 1941. Then the war broke out, and when the patients were transferred to a mental hospital outside Helsinki, more than a hundred of them tragically died of hunger in 1942, Brander among them.

Coffee with a twist

13 February 2014 | This 'n' that

literary-coffee

The Italian food illustrator and artist Gianluca Biscalchin combines authors and coffees in this picture: an amusing quiz for any friend of literature. (We think Beckett is particularly incisive.)

One could try out the same method adapted to Finnish authors; it first comes to mind that there are names that would work the same way as Hemingway here. Pentti Saarikoski, the hard-drinking literary enfant terrible of the 1960s and 1970s (1937–1983), for example.

The comic writer Arto Paasilinna (born 1942; very popular in translation in Italy, by the way), surely, would have a pair of hare’s ears sticking out of his cup (his most-translated novel is Jäniksen vuosi, The year of the hare – L’anno della lepre).

The prolific lyric modernist, playwright and author Paavo Haavikko (1931–2008), would have a leafy tree in his cup, as one of his best collections of poetry is entitled Puut, kaikki heidän vihreytensä (‘The trees, all their green’).

And of course: out of Tove Jansson’s cup a moomintroll or a hemulen would peep out!