Longevity may not generally be a virtue of literary magazines – they tend to come and go – but Books from Finland, which began publication in 1967, has stuck around for a rather impressively long time. Literary life, as well as the means of production, has changed dramatically in the almost half-century we have been in existence. So where do we stand now? And what does the future look like?
This is the farewell letter from the current Editor-in-Chief, Soila Lehtonen – who began working for the journal in 1983
‘The literature of Finland suffers the handicap of being written in a so-called “minor” language, not a “world” language…. Finland has not entirely been omitted from the world-map of culture, but a more complete and detailed picture of our literature should be made available to those interested in it.’
Thus spake the Finnish Minister of Education, R.H. Oittinen, in early 1967, in the very first little issue of Books from Finland, then published by the Publishers’ Association of Finland, financed by the Education Ministry.
Forty-seven years, almost 10,000 printed pages (1967–2008) and (from 2009) 1,400 website posts later, we might claim that the modest publication entitled Books from Finland, has accomplished the task of creating ‘a more complete and detailed picture’ of Finnish literature for anyone interested in it. More…
8 November 2013 | Letter from the Editors
More and more new Finnish fiction is seeing the light of day. Does quantity equal quality?
Fewer and fewer critical evaluations of those fiction books are published in the traditional print media. Is criticism needed any more?
At the Helsinki Book Fair in late October the latest issue of the weekly magazine Suomen Kuvalehti was removed from the stand of its publisher, Otavamedia, by the chief executive officer of Otava Publishing Company Ltd. Both belong to the same Otava Group.
The cover featured a drawing of a book in the form of a toilet roll, referring to an article entitled ‘The ailing novel’, by Riitta Kylänpää, in which new Finnish fiction and literary life were discussed, with a critical tone at places. CEO Pasi Vainio said he made the decision out of respect for the work of Finnish authors.
His action was consequently assessed by the author Elina Hirvonen who, in her column in the Helsingin Sanomat newspaper, criticised the decision. ‘The attempt to conceal the article was incomprehensible. Authors are not children. The Finnish novel is not doing so badly that it collapses if somebody criticises it. Even a rambling reflection is better for literature than the same old articles about the same old writers’ personal lives.’ More…
17 October 2013 | This 'n' that
The Finnish book world is preparing for the big event of ‘F14’: Finland will appear as Guest of Honour at the Frankfurt Book Fair in October next year.
The slogan for this enterprise is Finnland. Cool.
The coordinating organ is FILI, the Finnish Literature Exchange, a part of the Finnish Literature Society. Co-operating with FILI are three ministries, literary organisations and publishers, the Finnish Embassy and Finnland-Institut in Berlin and the Goethe-Institut in Helsinki.
Last week a large proportion of the FILI staff – who now need to keep their cool for the next busy year – went to Frankfurt, and on 10 October (aptly, the memorial day of the national author Aleksis Kivi and also Finnish Literature Day) the press conference was opened by the Finnish Minister of Culture and Sport, Paavo Arhinmäki. On 13 October the 2013 Guest of Honour, Brazil, passed the baton to Finland. (More photographs here.)
The world’s largest book fair, Frankfurt, attracts some 300,000 visitors each year. Accessible to both professionals and the general public, the fair is also the biggest cultural event in Germany.
The Guest of Honour countries receive a vast amount of attention in the media, and the number of new translations from the respective languages into German, as well as other languages, will increase.
The total Finnish budget for the years 2010–2015 is approximately four million euros, half of it money from the government. And the mission? Here are some warm words from the cool FILI agenda:
‘Why are Finns reading so much? Why are Finns so good at reading? Because we love it. Because reading plays such an important role in everyday life.
‘And because it is so important in Finland that everybody has access to reading – regardless of whether you are male or female, where you live, where you work, what your education or talent is. Fun, everyday life and for everyone – these are the main themes of the satellite programme for the Guest of Honour at the Frankfurt Book Fair 2014.’
The original virtual reality resides within ourselves, in our brains; the virtual reality of the Internet is but a simulation. In this essay, Leena Krohn takes a look at the ‘shared dreams’ of literature – a virtual, open cosmos, accessible to anyone, without a password
How can we see what does not yet exist? Literature – specifically the genre termed science fiction or fantasy literature, or sometimes magic realism – is a tool we can use to disperse or make holes in the mists that obscure our vision of the future.
A book is a harbinger of things to come. Sometimes it predicts future events; even more often it serves as a warning. Many of the direst visions of science fiction have already come true. Big Brother and the Ministry of Truth are watching over even greater territories than in Orwell’s Oceania of 1984. More…
Tero Tähtinen: Katmandun unet. Kirjoituksia idästä ja lännestä [Kathmandu dreams. Writings about East and West]
Katmandun unet. Kirjoituksia idästä ja lännestä
[Kathmandu dreams. Writings about East and West]
Turku: Savukeidas, 2011. 332 p.
€ 19.90, paperback
Tero Tähtinen’s second collection of essays is focused physically in the wilds of a Finnish national park and Nepal – where the author (born 1978), a literary scholar and critic, has frequently travelled – and mentally in the divergences of Western and Eastern thought, which Tähtinen, who is familiar with Zen and Buddhist philosophy, studies, occasionally by means of literary examples. The ‘Socratic ego’ of the Western egocentric, individual ‘I’, which strives in vain to understand the whole of reality by rationalising it, is his favourite bête noire. Tähtinen quickens the pace of his verbal virtuosity as he discusses both dogmatic, materialistic faith in science – as well as some of its representatives – and Christian faith: he considers that both, in their pursuit of an absolute and total explanation, end up in a metaphysical vacuum. Unlike them, Eastern philosophy, in which the individual ‘I’ is not the centre and measure of all things, does not give rise to the anxiety of compulsive cognition. The virtual narcissism of Facebook, a platform tailor-made for the Socratic ego, receives Tähtinen’s outright condemnation: ‘Facebook trivialises humanity,’ he declares. At the end of these passionate essays on the author praises silence.
Translated by David McDuff
1 April 2010 | This 'n' that
‘People who think about what others think of them are above all afraid of being ridiculed. Consider it an irony of fate or not, but the Finns in literature are usually laughable in some way or other,’ Janna Kantola – lecturer in Comparative Literature in Helsinki University – writes in an article entitled ‘Strong, thirsty and weird’, published in the 6/2009 issue of the Helsinki University Bulletin.
Mostly they drink and end up on the wrong side of the law. For example, there are Finnish seafarers in fiction by European writers whose rum bottles apparently have no bottoms.
‘Finland and the Finns appear, in particular, in thrillers from the Cold War: from Raymond Chandler’s The Long Goodbye (1953) to Alistair MacLean’s novel HMS Ulysses (1955). In these works, the unsmiling and hulking Finns have wide, horny hands, massive bottoms and the strength of a hundred men.
‘But not to worry. On a couple of occasions, Finns have even got to be the main characters of books. In these instances, the Finns no longer make people laugh but are mostly tragic, just as the characters in literature usually are when they are most interesting.
‘The main character in Richard Rayner’s novel The Cloud Sketcher (2000, USA) is an architect – a popular profession for Finns in modern literature – who has a disfigured face and a hard history, reaching America by way of the Finnish civil war. The historical novel by Helen Dunmore, House of Orphans (2006, UK), set in Finland in 1901–1904, is a love story about two young rebels, Eeva and Lauri.
One of the success stories of Finnish literature abroad are the humorous novels by Arto Paasilinna (born 1942): they have been translated into almost 40 languages. ‘Through his books Arto Paasilinna has turned being a fool into a positive characteristic. All things considered, this is something Finland will have no shortage in offering,’ Kantola concludes.