Tag: identity

Marjo Vilkko: Suomi on ruotsalainen [Finland is Swedish]

16 January 2015 | Mini reviews, Reviews

vilkkoSuomi on ruotsalainen
[Finland is Swedish]
Helsinki: Schildts & Söderströms, 2014. 321 pp.
ISBN 978-951-52-3419-3
€36, hardback

Finland was a part of the Swedish kingdom from the deep Middle Ages until 1809, when for a hundred years it was incorporated into Russia. The Swedish period left profound traces in Finnish society, and these were examined – with lively discussion – in the television series Finland is Swedish. Now the series scriptwriter and editor Marjo Vilkko has provided a more thoroughgoing treatment of the topic in her book. Although Finland is a country that shares Western and Nordic values, it differs from Sweden in several respects. For historical reasons and due to the presence of a significant Swedish-speaking minority, Swedish is still an official language; many things have moved from Europe to Finland via Sweden. However, at times the differences in Finland’s development have been emphasised by those wishing to propagate ‘original Finnish’ characteristics. With the use of fascinating examples and reflections drawn from history, Vilkko shows, for example, how Finland’s local government, legal system and Lutheran religion are to a large extent an inheritance from the Swedish period, with a continuous mutual interaction. The book moderately propagates the recognition of a common heritage and support for mutual understanding.

Translated by David McDuff

Coffee with a twist

13 February 2014 | This 'n' that


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!

Kuka on saamelainen ja mitä on saamelaisuus – identiteetin juurilla [Who is a Sámi and what being Sámi means – looking for the roots of identity]

30 January 2014 | Mini reviews, Reviews

kuka_on_saamelainen_etukansiKuka on saamelainen ja mitä on saamelaisuus – identiteetin juurilla
[Who is a Sámi and what being Sámi means – looking for the roots of identity]
Toim. [Ed. by]: Erika Sarivaara, Kaarina Määttä & Satu Uusiautti
Rovaniemi: Lapin yliopistokustannus (Lapland University Press), 2013. 182 pp.
ISBN 978-952-484-651-6
€29, paperback

This anthology updates one of the most burning questions, one which also has political consequences: who has the right to belong to an indigenous people, and who is entitled to define it? Of the approximately 100,000 Sámi – the only indigenous people in the European Union – around 7,000 live within Finnish territory. The writers represent Sámi research at the Lapland University, and they examine the definition of ‘the Sámi without a status’, i.e. people not included on the election list for the Sámi Parliament. The book questions the prevailing discourse, which characterises Sámi history as a withdrawal from the progress of civilisation; this is interpreted as a survival strategy, and the Sámi are not primarily regarded as the victims of colonialism and modernisation. The work also highlights the inner hierarchies of the Sámi and analyses both the reindeer-farming Sámi, regarded as elite, as well as the marginalia, the Sámi who engage in forestry and agriculture to make a living. Articles are sensitive, sometimes provocative, and they shine a spotlight on every ethnic group as well as the fundamental questions of the individual, the right to one’s own identity, language and history.

Me by myself

20 June 2013 | Authors, Essays, Non-fiction, On writing and not writing

Writer's block

In this series, Finnish authors ponder their profession. Jyrki Kiiskinen casts light on the process of getting his books written: who is it that actually does the job?

People think I am a writer. But I am not. At literary events they sometimes come up and praise my most recent work, if they have happened to like it, not knowing that I have not written a single book. I try to ignore negative criticism, although it is not easy to put up with being blamed for other people’s work. I accept praise unhesitatingly, on those rare occasions when I receive it, although it feels strange.

It’s as if the person I’m talking to thinks I was someone else. He talks about the book’s style, its characters and its narrative voice, supposing that they are my invention.

At that moment I feel like a trickster. But I can’t be bothered to correct the misconception. I slurp my red wine happily and nod in false modesty, gazing deep into my interlocutor’s eyes. I keep chatting, to give him the impression that he’s met a living writer, myself – the person behind my words.


What does the neighbour think?

26 April 2013 | Essays, Non-fiction

venalaisetFor more than 20 years journalist Leena Liukkonen has been thoroughly involved with Russian culture, commerce, language and psyche. The subtitle of her new book of essays Venäläiset tulevat! (‘The Russians are coming!’) is ‘What we think and know about them’, and refers to the fact that the Finns do not really know their eastern neighbours very well. Liukkonen writes with insight about the differences in history, mentality and world view

Extracts (under original subtitles) from Venäläiset tulevat! Mitä me heistä luulemme ja tiedämme (Siltala, 2013)


In café conversations with other visitors to Russia, we often react with exasperation to the fact that discussions in Finland only ever start with the Winter War. Sometimes we wonder why the threshold between us and our neighbour to the east is still so high. My own living contact with the past, however, makes it clear to me that everything the elderly carry round with them could not have been simply shaken off with the passage of time. Nor can the next generation just break away from it. My own experience also reminds me how distant our eastern neighbour was during peacetime. After all, a very few have made the long journey to the country next door. To many people, the old story was the only story there was about Russia. More…

Fatherlands, mother tongues?

12 April 2013 | Letter from the Editors

Patron saint of translators: St Jerome (d. 420), translating the Bible into Latin. Pieter Coecke van Aelst, ca 1530. Walters Art Museum, Baltimore. Photo: Wikipedia

Patron saint of translators: St Jerome (d. 420), translating the Bible into Latin. Pieter Coecke van Aelst, ca 1530. Walters Art Museum, Baltimore. Photo: Wikipedia

Finnish is spoken mostly in Finland, whereas English is spoken everywhere. A Finnish writer, however, doesn’t necessarily write in any of Finland’s three national languages (Finnish, Swedish and Sámi).

What is a Finnish book, then – and (something of particular interest to us here at the Books from Finland offices) is it the same thing as a book from Finland? Let’s take a look at a few examples of how languages – and fatherlands – fluctuate.

Hannu Rajaniemi has Finnish as his mother tongue, but has written two sci-fi novels in English, which were published in England. A Doctor in Physics specialising in string theory, Rajaniemi works at Edinburgh University and lives in Scotland. His books have been translated into Finnish; the second one, The Fractal Prince / Fraktaaliruhtinas (2012) was in March 2013 on fifth place on the list of the best-selling books in Finland. (Here, a sample from his first book, The Quantum Thief, 2011, Gollancz.)

Emmi Itäranta, a Finn who lives in Canterbury, England, published her first novel, Teemestarin tarina (‘The tea master’s book’, Teos, 2012), in Finland. She rewrote it in English and it will be published as Memory of Water in England, the United States and Australia (HarperCollins Voyager) in 2014. Translations into six other languages will follow. More…

See the big picture?

9 November 2012 | Extracts, Non-fiction

Details from the cover, graphic design: Työnalle / Taru Staudinger

In his new book Miksi Suomi on Suomi (‘Why Finland is Finland’, Teos, 2012) writer Tommi Uschanov asks whether there is really anything that makes Finland different from other countries. He discovers that the features that nations themselves think distinguish them from other nations are often the same ones that the other nations consider typical of themselves…. In Finland’s case, though, there does seem to be something that genuinely sets it apart: language. In these extracts Uschanov takes a look at the way Finns express themselves verbally – or don’t

Is there actually anything Finnish about Finland?

My own thoughts on this matter have been significantly influenced by the Norwegian social scientist Anders Johansen and his article ‘Soul for Sale’ (1994). In it, he examines the attempts associated with the Lillehammer Winter Olympics to create an ‘image of Norway’ fit for international consumption. Johansen concluded at the time, almost twenty years ago, that there really isn’t anything particularly Norwegian about contemporary Norwegian culture.

There are certainly many things that are characteristic of Norway, but the same things are as characteristic of prosperous contemporary western countries in general. ‘According to Johansen, ‘Norwegianness’ often connotes things that are marks not of Norwegianness but of modernity. ‘Typically Norwegian’ cultural elements originate outside Norway, from many different places. The kind of Norwegian culture which is not to be found anywhere else is confined to folk music, traditional foods and national costumes. And for ordinary Norwegians they are deadly boring, without any living link to everyday life. More…

Do you speak my language?

23 August 2012 | Articles, Non-fiction

Finnish spoken outside Finland: Sweden (west), Estonia (south), Karelia/Russia (east), Norway (north). Illustration: Zakuragi/Wikipedia

Finland has two official languages, Finnish and Swedish. Approximately five per cent of the population (290,000 Finns) speak Swedish as their native language. All Finns learn both languages at school, and students in higher education must prove they have an adequate knowledge of the other mother tongue. But how do native speakers of Finnish cope with what is, for many of them, a minority language that they will never need or even wish to use? We take a look at bilingual issues – and a new book devoted to them

‘In many parts of the world, language can be a fiery and divisive issue, one that pits the powerless against the powerful, the small against the big. The Basques battle the Spanish. The Flemish tussle with the Walloons. The Québécois scuffle with the rest of Canada.’

That is how Lizette Alvarez illustrated her theme in her article ‘Finland Makes Its Swedes Feel at Home’, published in the New York Times in 2005.

In Finland, language has been a fiery issue at times, though things have cooled down a bit since the early 20th century. The use of Finnish as a written language dates back to the 16th century, but the territory of Finland was part of the Swedish Empire until 1809. Swedish was spoken by the nobility as well as most of the peasant class – the mechanism of the state did not serve Finnish-speaking peasants or other segments of the population in Finnish. More…

Getting by

18 May 2012 | Non-fiction, Reviews

To school: children on the march – no buses or taxis in the Finnish countryside after the war. Photo: the cover of Kauaksi kotoa

Kauaksi kotoa. Muutoksen sukupolvi kertoo
[Far from home. Stories of the change generation]
Toim. [Ed. by] Anja Salokannel & Kaija Valkonen
Helsinki: Kirjapaja, 2012. 320 p.
ISBN 978-952-247-291-5
€32.90, hardback

The post-war period in Finland was a time of hope and reconstruction, of procreation and tough, grey heroism. Finland picked itself up by the bootstraps, as fathers who had been ‘driven mad in the war’, who took to drink or spat blood because they had shrapnel in their lungs, built veterans’ houses around the small towns and cleared fields in the backwoods. More than 83,000 men were killed in the wars (Winter War 1939–1940, Continuation War 1941–1944).

Mothers worked like men. The baby boomers – the demographic peak which consists of those born between the war years and 1950 (in 1946–1949 more than 100,000 babies were born each year, compared to some 60,000 in 2011) – had to be fed and clothed and educated for a better and more prosperous future.

Now the baby boomers have started to retire. Editors Anja Salokannel and Kaija Valkonen (baby boomers themselves) have compiled the book Kauaksi kotoa. Muutoksen sukupolvi kertoo (‘A long way from home. Stories of the change generation’), in which 21 men and women talk about their lives during the decades of change. More…

Between three cultures

5 February 2010 | Authors, Reviews

Zinaida Lindén. Photo: Johan Lindén

A new collection of short stories by the Leningrad-born author Zinaida Lindén explores the ambiguities of life between three cultures: her native Russia, her adopted Finland, and Japan, where she has also lived. In this introduction to Lindén’s short story Shards from the empire, Janna Kantola appreciates Lindén’s capricious, recalcitrant prose, and the positive, generous spirit that lies behind her work

Seen from a distance, Finns and Russians seem very like one another.

Zinaida Lindén has written her books from a cultural no-man’s-land in which she may have been forced to ponder the central questions of national identity. After studying Swedish in her native Russia, Lindén (born 1963) settled in Finland with her Finland-Swedish husband, and has written all of her works in Swedish. A recurring theme is that of encounters with the foreign, the other. More…

In a class of one’s own

18 December 2009 | Reviews

Obs! Klass
Red. [Ed. by] Charlotte Sundström & Trygve Söderling
Helsingfors: Schildts, 2009. 288 p.
ISBN 978-951-50-1891-5
€27, paperback
De andra. En bok om klass
Red. [Ed. by] Silja Hiidenheimo, Fredrik Lång, Tapani Ritamäki, Anna Rotkirch
Helsingfors: Söderströms, 2009. 288 p.
ISBN 978-951-522-665-5
€26.90, paperback
Me muut. Kirjoituksia yhteiskuntaluokista
Helsinki: Teos, 2009. 267 p.
ISBN 978-951-851-259-5
€27.90, paperback

At some time in their lives, all members of the Swedish-speaking minority in Finland have been confronted with the phrase ‘Swedish-speaking better people’ [Svenska talande bättre folk], uttered in tones of contempt. Encouraged by news and entertainment media with little regard for the consequences, Finland’s Finnish-speaking majority is hopelessly fascinated by the image of us Finland-Swedes as a uniform and monolithic haute bourgeoisie that resides in the coveted Helsinki neighbourhoods of Eira and Brunnsparken. More…

In praise of melancholy

28 May 2009 | Authors, Essays, Non-fiction, On writing and not writing

Writer's block

In this series, Finnish authors ponder the difficulties of their profession. Sirpa Kähkönen, author of six novels, gives an account of going unseen – the painful initiation, triggered by the lukewarm reception of one of her books, of a more mature and profound phase in her life as a creative writer

I found myself in a temporary but intense period of creative crisis in the spring of 2006. The crisis was expressed outwardly in the classic manner – as an emptiness, a desertification. Suddenly I was unable to get to the place between dream and reality where an artist operates. Something was missing from my writing; the spark, the vibration, the lifeblood. More…

Boys Own, Girls Own? –
Gender, sex and identity

30 December 2008 | Essays, Non-fiction

Knowing good and evil: Adam and Eve (Albrecht Dürer, 1507)

Knowing good and evil: Adam and Eve (Albrecht Dürer, 1507)

In Finnish fiction of the present decade, both in poetry and in prose, there seems to be at least one principle that cuts across all genres: an overt expression of gender, writes the critic Mervi Kantokorpi in her essay

Relationships and family have always been central concerns of literature; questions about gender and individual identity have received a new emphasis in Finnish literature from one season to the next. The gender roles represented in contemporary literature appear to become ever more stereotypical. The question is no longer only of the author consciously setting his or her gender up as the starting point for expression, as has already long been the case with modern literature written by women. More…