This ‘n’ that

New from the archives

13 March 2015 | This 'n' that

Eeva-Liisa Manner

Eeva-Liisa Manner. Photo: Tammi.

Today we have a real treat – a selection of the sumptuously minimalist poetry of Eeva-Liisa Manner (1921–1995) by her near-contemporary, the British poet Herbert Lomas (1924–2011).

Born in Helsinki, Manner spent her youth in Viipuri, in what was then part of Finland; her life was, like Eeva Kilpi’s, marked by evacuation from her home and the subsequent loss of Karelia to the Soviet Union in the Second World War. Her breakthrough collection, Tämä matka (‘This journey’, 1956) marked a major arrival on the modernist poetry scene and her work has been widely translated. Always lyrically minimalist, Manner’s poetry sometimes seemed to approach the limits of language – silence:

The words come and go.
I need words less and less.
Tomorrow maybe
I’ll not need a single one,

she wrote in Niin vaihtuvat vuoden ajat (‘So change the seasons’), as early as 1964.

Lomas brought to the delicate, beautiful textures of Manner’s poetry with its themes of grief, suffering and loneliness a bluff Yorkshire, and entirely masculine, sensibility. For him, Manner had a ‘splendid sanity’ and sense of humour; hers was an oeuvre ‘that heals by listening and recovery’.

Manner’s work has more recently been translated by another English writer, Fleur Jeremiah, in a volume entitled Bright, dusky, bright (Waterloo Press, 2009). A sample of the approach taken by a woman of a different generation can be found here.

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The digitisation of Books from Finland continues apace, with a total of 360 articles and book extracts made available online so far. Each week, we bring a newly digitised text to your attention.

New from the archives

19 February 2015 | This 'n' that

Jarkko Laine

Jarkko Laine. Photo: Kai Nordberg

Our archive find this week is ‘The 101 year anniversary celebration’, a short story by Jarkko Laine.

‘Child of Marx and Coca-Cola’, ‘Nordic beatnik’, Jarkko Laine (1947-2006) published his first work, a volume of poetry entitled Muovinen Buddha (‘Plastic Buddha’) in the 1960s and was immediately hailed as the mouthpiece of his generation. He went on to make his career as a literary all-rounder – poet, writer, playwright, translator, long-time editor of the literary magazine Parnasso and chair of the Finnish Writers’ Union. His wryly ironic story, ‘The 101 year anniversary celebration’ tells the story of what every writer must dread: a guest appearance in a local library where literature from the local town, let alone further afield, is regarded with suspicion.

We’ve also unearthed a 1989 interview, by our late, genial editor-in-chief Erkka Lehtola with a grey-suited Laine who looks more like a civil servant than a 1960s radical – but still doesn’t let a day go by without writing.

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The digitisation of Books from Finland continues apace, with a total of 360 articles and book extracts made available online so far. Each week, we bring a newly digitised text to your attention.

New from the archives

19 February 2015 | This 'n' that

Rosa Liksom

Rosa Liksom. Kuva: Pekka Mustonen

When the pseudonymous Rosa Liksom (born 1958; real name Anni Ylävaara) burst on the Finnish literary scene in 1985 with her first book, Yhden yön pysäkki (‘One night stand’), excitement was intense. For a start, she managed to keep her real identity secret, even when she appeared at public events and book-signings; then, she wrote generally in her native northern Finnish dialect, which hadn’t previously been heard very much in literary circles. Her very short short prose charted landscapes also not much represented in literature – the far north, the uneducated, the dispossessed.

This group of seven stories, from her second book, Tyhjän tien paratiisit (‘Paradises of the open road’, 1989), cover territory which has become familiar in her work: a woman who marries a layabout, a bellicose butcher’s son, a cleanliness fanatic for whom hygiene is more important than human relationships….

Rosa Liksom won the Finlandia Prize in 2011 for Hytti nro 6, which was published by Serpent’s Tail, London, in a translation by Lola Rogers last year.

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The digitisation of Books from Finland continues apace, with a total of 360 articles and book extracts made available online so far. Each week, we bring a newly digitised text to your attention.

New from the archives

19 February 2015 | This 'n' that

Tua Forsström

Tua Forsström. Photo: Mao Lindholm

Some weeks the digitisation project turns up material we’ve all but forgotten about; other times it’s like greeting an old friend. The poet Tua Forsström’s voice belongs in the second category: quintessentially feminine, wise, simultaneously vulnerable and strong, she is a quiet, watchful observer of everyday life, fixing the chimerical, the evanescent not with, it seems, but between, the words of her poems. This extensive selection of poems is introduced by her friend and fellow poet, Claes Andersson.

Born in Porvoo in 1947, Forsström publishes rarely. She won the Nordic Council Literary Prize in 1998 with Efter att ha tillbringat en natt bland häster (‘After having spent a night with horses’, 1997). Her breakthrough into the English-speaking world came in 1987 with her sixth collection, Snow Leopard (Snöleopard), which was translated into the English by David McDuff and published by Bloodaxe Books. We’ve featured her work regularly, including her most recent collection, En kväll i oktober rodde jag ut på sjön (‘One evening in October I rode out on the lake’, Söderströms, 2012), with an introduction by Michel Ekström.

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The digitisation of Books from Finland continues apace, with a total of 358 articles and book extracts made available online so far. Each week, we bring a newly digitised text to your attention.

Baby-boxes

18 February 2015 | This 'n' that

Finnish baby box

Contents of the Finnish baby-box. Photo: Annika Söderblom © Kela

Shortly before my first baby was born – ah, all of thirteen years ago, and a bit more – I paid a visit to the baby department of a central London department store.

Surrounded by push-chairs, feeding pillows, milk-expressers, nappy bins, nappy sacks, pink baby-grows, blue baby-grows, and advice books of every persuasion, I felt bewildered. The choice seemed infinite. Surely it couldn’t be this complicated.

I picked up one of the books. ‘6:30 Get up with your baby.’ I don’t think so, I objected inwardly. I’ve never been an early bird. ‘7:30 Breakfast: toast and marmalade.’ Definitely not. No one was going to tell me what to eat, or when. Were they? What on earth was this brave new world of motherhood going to be like? More…

New from the archives

13 February 2015 | This 'n' that

Daniel Katz

Daniel Katz. Photo: Veikko Somerpuro/WSOY.

In the midst of today’s richly cosmopolitan literary scene – we’re thinking of blockbusters like Sofi Oksanen’s Puhdistus (Purge, 2008), or Patjim Statovci’s Kissani Jugoslavia (‘My cat Yugoslavia’, 2014) (linkit) – it’s hard to imagine the colour and excitement represented by the work of Daniel Katz (born 1938) from the publication of his first book, Kun isoisä Suomeen hiihti (‘When grandfather skied to Finland’, 1969) onward. Characterised by dark humour, gentle irony, a wild imagination and a profound world view, Katz’s writing is informed but never defined by his outsider status as a Jew writing in Finnish.

Today’s story, taken from Katz’s book Talo Sleesiassa (‘A house in Silesia’) describes the journey taken by Erwin, a German Jew, to visit the home he lived in before the Second World War. Katz has a fine grasp of the ironies of history:

‘We arrived at the city of his birth, which currently is referred to as The City, for the sake of simplicity and tact: the town has – used to have, rather – two names, a German and a Polish, and one or the other party might take offence. My brother-in-law had in fact been born in a city whose name began with a B, though now it began with a W. Evolution of this kind is called phonetic history.’

The extract is accompanied by an interview of Daniel Katz by Daniel Katz.

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The digitisation of Books from Finland continues apace, with a total of 356 articles and book extracts made available online so far. Each week, we bring a newly digitised text to your attention.

Iconic Inha

5 February 2015 | This 'n' that

From time to time we have featured the charismatic photographs taken of Helsinki by I.K. Inha (1865-1050) in 1908 – most recently in a book pairing Inha’s iconic images with contemporary photographs of the same scenes by Martti Jämsä (2009). Fifty-one of the images have now been made available online to the public for the first time on the Finnish Museum of Photography’s Flickr page.

Many of the scenes are so little changed that it’s a shock to see them peopled with behatted gentlemen and ladies in long skirts. Commissioned for Finland’s first travel guide, the photographs show the handsome buildings, parks and seafronts of a solidly bourgeois looking city that is still the capital of a Russian province, an autonomous Grand Duchy actively fostering the dream of independence that is to be realised nine years later, in 1917.

Student Union Building on Itäinen Heikinkatu (now Mannerheimintie). I.K. Inha, 1908.

Student Union Building on Itäinen Heikinkatu (now Mannerheimintie). I.K. Inha, 1908.

Boys at Hietalahti harbour

Boys at Hietalahti harbour. I.K. Inha, 1908.

New from the archives

5 February 2015 | This 'n' that

Eeva Kilpi

Eeva Kilpi. Kuva: Veikko Somerpuro

When we first published this piece, evacuation in Europe was a distant memory. The violent events that were to take place in what was then still Yugoslavia – Serbia, Croatia, Slovenia, Bosnia, Kosovo – were still to come.

Reading Kilpi’s description of her departure from eastern Karelia as an 11-year-old girl in 1939 with these more recent events in mind makes her evocation of the as-yet-unshattered familiarity of everyday life, the fragility of her prayers that everything will be all right, all the more poignant.

Kilpi (born 1927) is a poet, short-story writer and novelist who shot to international fame with her experimental, erotic novel Tamara (1972; English translation Tamara). She won the Runeberg Prize in 1990 for Talvisodan aika (‘The time of the winter war’), from which this extract is taken.

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The digitisation of Books from Finland continues apace, with a total of 355 articles and book extracts made available online so far. Each week, we bring a newly digitised text to your attention.

Fiat Lux!

31 December 2014 | This 'n' that

hkiluxTime for Lux Helsinki light event again: the January 2014 festival (see photos here) brought 150,000 visitors from Helsinki, the rest of Finland and around the world to the city. It is organised by the City of Helsinki.

The artworks – 17 of them – will be on display in 13 places around the centre of Helsinki, from the courtyard of the Tori Quarters to Finlandia Hall. The light and media artists and sound designers come from Finland, Germany, France, Belgium and Japan.

Lux Helsinki is also part of as the International Year of Light and Light-based Technologies of the United Nations in 2015.

Darkness will slowly diminish, and there will be more light: it’s great that Helsinki winter – at times white with snow, at times not – will again (thanks to artists and the latest technology) be filled with colour for a while. Let light be made!

To write, to draw

18 December 2014 | This 'n' that

Self-portrait: Tove Jansson with her creations. Picture: @Moomin Characters

Self-portrait: Tove Jansson with her creations. Picture: @Moomin Characters™

A new Finnish biography of Tove Jansson (1914–2001) was published in 2013; the artist and creator of the Moomins has been celebrated in 2014 in her centenary year. Tove Jansson. Tee tytötä ja rakasta by Tuula Karjalainen was published in English this autumn, translated by David McDuff, under the title Tove Jansson: Work and Love (Penguin Global, Particular Books).

The book was reviewed by The Economist newspaper on 22 November. Unsurprisingly, according to the review, Jansson was more interesting as a writer than as a painter:

’Jansson always saw herself first as a serious painter. She exhibited frequently in Finland, and won awards and commissions for large public murals. Her reputation there as a writer lagged far behind the rest of the world. Ms Karjalainen is a historian of Finnish art, and although she covers Jansson’s writing, it is the paintings that really interest her. This is a pity. Jansson was a more interesting writer than a painter, and her life sheds much light on her particular quality as a storyteller.’

Whereas Karjalainen concentrates on Jansson’s painting, another biography of Jansson, by the Swedish literary scholar Boel Westin (reviewed here) focuses on Jansson as a writer. Here, you can find a selection of Tove Jansson’s art.

A quotation from The Economist‘s review: ‘Her use of Moomins to defy the war is characteristic. Everywhere in her fiction there is the same sense of deflection and indirection. She hated ideologies, messages, answers. And it somehow fits that she fell in love with both men and women. Ambivalence was a kind of comfort to her. As one of her characters says, “Everything is very uncertain, and that is what makes me calm.’

Tove Jansson’s versatile brilliance as an artist, we think, is at its best in the way she combined illustration and text in her Moomin stories. Their (great) visual and philosophical value lies in the praise of freedom and independence of the mind: for everyone, young or old.

Archives open!

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.