Helsinki: Siltala, 2014. 155 pp.
Aatos Erkko (1932–2012) was a prominent newspaper publisher and principal owner of the Sanoma group; the company’s largest and most prestigious paper is Helsingin Sanomat. Reticent by nature and possessed of a difficult personality, Erkko nonetheless tried to act in accordance with his ideals. Rarely seen in the public eye, during his lifetime he was considered one of Finland’s most influential forces behind the scenes. Even though he was not keen on taking over the reins of the paper from his father Eljas (son of the original founder) whose wish it was, Aatos Erkko took the role seriously, developing Helsingin Sanomat into the Nordic region’s largest newspaper. Journalist and writer Leena Liukkonen’s small-scale, warm-hearted portrait is based mostly on Erkko’s later years, making use of discussions and correspondence, as well as interviews recorded by a Swedish colleague. Known as Finland’s richest man, Erkko talks frankly about his difficult relationship with his parents, and the disappointments of his life. The book leaves the impression of a friendship portrayed in terms that are open and honest.
Translated by David McDuff
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…
The Finnish media never pass up an opportunity to post articles on our favourite miseries, says columnist Jyrki Lehtola: Finns are great at wallowing in self-denigration, so it sells well. And life is always better somewhere else, isn’t it? At least in ‘Europe’ it is
They should never have let us Finns into Europe. Or North America, South America, Australia, Africa, Asia.
Another Nordic country might perhaps suit us, or Albania or Russia. We could visit them.
Europe doesn’t suit us. Europe makes us even more stupid than we already are. Europe makes us think less of ourselves and more of other people. More…
20 November 2014 | This 'n' that
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?
In a recent ‘Saturday essay’ in the Helsingin Sanomat newspaper (9 August) journalist Oskari Onninen ponders the moral dilemma of pretending to be erudite. For example, who has the time to read books these days? ‘The Woolfs remain unread, Bergmans unwatched’, Onninen writes.
Our consumerist lifestyle forces us to follow the trends of ever-expanding, multiplying forms of entertainment. However, it is apparent that the need to know about culture in order to pass as a cultured, well-informed citizen still exists, to some extent at least.
According to Onninen, there is less and less time for unproductivity. ‘If one looks for measurable cost-benefit results from the reading of heavyweight fiction, the act of reading will certainly not always be worthwhile.’ Consuming art (reading books, going to art exhibitions, watching plays) requires time and effort, and how productive is that? More…
Toim. [Ed. by] Markku Löytönen, Tommi Inkinen, Anne Rutanen
Helsinki: Suomen tietokirjailijat ry. [The Finnish Association of Non-Fiction Writers], 195 p., ill.
paperback; available also online:
In the Western world the experience of reading is undergoing a critical change. There is even talk of a third information revolution. Books are increasingly acquiring electronic form, and the future of the printed book is being called into question. Kirja muuttuvassa tietoympäristössä contains the considered opinions of 18 experts on what is taking place in the field of non-fiction, and gives an overview of the literature on the current situation, which is seen from the point of view of the bookstore, the library, the author and the publisher. There is a discussion of intellectual property issues, developments in technology, and changes in the use of teaching materials, language, and reading habits. Finland is a leading country in both literacy and reading. The number of books has slowly declined in recent years, but it seems that the country’s youth has maintained an interest in books, and in fiction in particular. Although printed reference works of the encyclopedia type have given way to the information provided by the Internet, it is likely that literature and reading will preserve their status as a part of human culture.
Translated by David McDuff
22 May 2014 | This 'n' that
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…
As the world becomes more and more difficult to understand, the media, strapped for cash and forced for reduce expenses, sack their expert writers. Jyrki Lehtola assesses the new breed of cut-price journalists
Some time in the distant past it was possible for a reader to reflect that here was an educated journalist writing pithily. It would be nice to know more of his or her thoughts.
There used to be talk of such concepts as the ‘objective truth’, and editors shunned talking about themselves, or even speaking or writing in the first person. There was just the world, which the journalist, the conduit of truth, conveyed to the public.
Now, although most of us would prefer to know nothing about journalists and their private lives, journalists have brought their lives strongly into the public arena. Objectivity is dead; there are merely millions of subjects who perhaps share the same experiences, perhaps not, and, misled by some idealised concept of community, we are the beneficiaries of journalists writing about what it’s like to be a mum, how challenging life as a mother and journalist can be. More…
10 April 2014 | In the news
At the top of the list of best-selling books – compiled by the Finnish Booksellers’ Association – in March was the first novel by Tommi Kinnunen, a teacher of Finnish language and literature from Turku. In Neljäntienristeys (‘The crossing of four roads’, WSOY) the narrative spans a century beginning in the late 19th century and is set mainly in Northern Finland, focusing on the lives of four people related to each other. Undoubtedly well-written, it continues the popular tradition of realistic novels set in the 20th-century Finland.
Finland is a small country with one exceptionally large newspaper, Helsingin Sanomat (read by more than 800,000 people daily). The annual literary prize that carries the paper’s name is awarded to a best first work, and candidates are assessed throughout the year.
In February the paper’s literary critic Antti Majander declared in his review of Kinnunen’s book: ’Such weighty and sure-footed prose debuts appear seldom. If I were to say a couple of times in a decade, I would probably be being over-enthusiastic. But let it be. Critics’ measuring sticks are destined for the bonfire.’ More…
13 February 2014 | Letter from the Editors
It’s been five years since Books from Finland went online, and we’re celebrating with a little bit of good news.
In the past year, the number of visits to the Books from Finland website has grown by 11 per cent. The number of US and UK readers grew by 29 per cent, while the number of readers in Germany – stimulated perhaps by the publicity Finnish literature is attracting as a result of its Guest Country status at this year’s Frankfurt Book Fair – increased by an astonishing 59 per cent.
We’re chuffed, to put it mildly – and very thankful to you, dear readers, old and new. More…
Hitting the ‘like’ button is not only boring but also working its way from Facebook deeper into society, says Jyrki Lehtola. Surely there must be some other way of solving the world’s problems?
At the end of the autumn the theatre critic of the Helsingin Sanomat newspaper panned Sofi Oksanen’s stage adaptation of her novel Kun kyyhkyset katosivat (‘When the doves disappeared’, 2013).
That’s life. Artists struggle with their projects, sometimes for years. Then a critic takes a glance at the result and crushes it in a matter of hours.
Then there’s a huff about unfairness, the use of power and all the things artists blow off steam about when they feel that their creations have been treated unfairly. The debate is held between injured authors and sometimes the critic, but generally few others participate, and just as well. More…
In an era of ‘liveblogging’‚ we are all storytellers. But what’s the story, asks Teemu Manninen
One score of years ago, when the internet was new, the cultural critics of the time were fond saying that it would usher in a new utopia of free distribution of information: we would be able to read everything, know everything and share everything anywhere and every day.
Truly, they told us, we would become enriched by the internet to the point of not knowing what to do with all that wealth of knowledge, the amount of connections between us and the ever-increasing online availability of anyone with everyone, every waking hour.
Now that we really do have this always-on connectivity, you will indeed be available every waking hour: you will update your status, check your inbox, post pics and be available for chatting, texting, a quick email and a message or two, just to make sure no one is offended by your unreachability, since – from experience – a week’s worth of not tweeting or facebooking can make someone think that something serious has happened, or that you don’t even exist anymore. More…
28 November 2013 | This 'n' that
Beardom is a weird, fascinating universe. We admit we have a soft spot for this furry predator, living in Finnish forests, which hibernates during the coldest months and does not eat humans (if it can possibly avoid it).
Take a look at these cuties: the New York Daily News published bear photos by a Finnish photographer on 21 November. This smash hit in bear photography is the series in which Valtteri Mulkahainen, an amateur photographer and teacher living in Sotkamo, north-eastern Finland, managed to capture a bear family in Suomussalmi last summer. Adorable creatures!
These lively triplets seem to be playing a round game while their mummy keeps on eating nearby. We hope they will live happily ever after, and that they found a good home for their winter sleep.
The estimate of the number of brown bears in the country is around 1,300. One hundred and thirty two shooting licences were issued this year. Bears in winter hibernation are strictly protected from hunting.
28 November 2013 | In the news
On 14 November Helsingin Sanomat Literature Prize, the Helsinki newspaper’s prize for the best first work of the year, worth €15,000, was awarded for the 19th time.
The jury made its choice from 90 first works, and this time the prize was awarded to a youngest writer ever, the poet Erkka Filander (born 1993), for his collection Heräämisen valkea myrsky (‘The white storm of awakening’; available as a pdf at the home page of the publisher, Poesia).
According to the jury, this poetry is ‘ecstatic poetry, pulsing with the joy of living… there is no place in Filander’s poetry for cynicism or irony. Thus his writing appears, in the context of contemporary poetry, exceptionally open and sincere.’