5 December 2013 | In the news
The director general of the Helsinki City Theatre, Asko Sarkola, announced the winner of the 30th Finlandia Literature Prize for Fiction, chosen from a shortlist of six novels, on 2 December in Helsinki. The prize, worth €30,000, was awarded to Riikka Pelo for her novel Jokapäiväinen elämämme (‘Our everyday life’, Teos).
In his award speech Sarkola – and actor by training – characterised the six novels as ‘six different roles’:
‘They are united by a bold and deep understanding of individuality and humanity against the surrounding period. They are the perspectives of fictive individuals, new interpretations of the reality we imagine or suppose. Viewfinders on the present, warnings of the future.
‘Riikka Pelo‘s Jokapäiväinen elämämme is wound around two periods and places, Czechoslovakia in 1923 and the Soviet Union in 1939–41. The central characters are the poet Marina Tsvetaeva and her daughter Alya. This novel has the widest scope: from stream of consciousness to interrogations in torture chambers and the labour camps of Vorkuta; always moving, heart-stopping, irrespective of the settings.’
The five other novels were Ystäväni Rasputin (’My friend Rasputin’) by JP Koskinen, Hotel Sapiens (Teos) by Leena Krohn, Terminaali (‘The terminal’, Siltala) by Hannu Raittila, Herodes (‘Herod’, WSOY) by Asko Sahlberg and Hägring 38 (‘Mirage 38’, Schildts & Söderströms; Finnish translation, Kangastus, Otava) by Kjell Westö (see In the news for brief features).
[My friend Rasputin]
Helsinki: WSOY, 2013. 355 pp.
Prophet, healer, mystic – and political player and lecher. The hectic life of the Russian Rasputin, which ended in 1916 in assassination, offers excellent material for JP Koskinen’s novel. The fictive narrator is the young Vasili, who Rasputin hopes will be a follower. The mix of fear and adulation and wild events, described from the point of view of the young boy, are persuasive. At the court of Tsar Nicholas II Rasputin gained favour because the Tsarina trusted almost blindly in his healing abilities: the imperial family’s son Alexei was a haemophiliac. JP Koskinen’s earlier works include science fiction. Ystäväni Rasputin is a skilful writer’s description of historial events on the eve of the Russian revolution; it paints an interesting and intense portait of the atmosphere and events of the St Petersburg court. Koskinen does not over-explain; interpretation is left to the reader. The novel was on the Finlandia Prize shortlist.
Translated by Hildi Hawkins
29 November 2013 | This 'n' that
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).
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!
Helsinki: WSOY, 2013. 680 pp.
Sahlberg’s short, concise novels about Finland’s recent past are here followed by a massive volume set in the early days of Christianity, in Judea and Galilee. Sahlberg’s accurate use of language, his pithy dialogue and vivid sense of history guarantee a reading experience. John the Baptist is the novel’s great prophet; the short, bow-legged Jeshua remains in his shadow. The main character, however, is Herod Antipas, the Roman tetrarch, and Herod’s wife and his servant are also central. Representing the imperial power in the Judea area is the prefect Pontius Pilate. Herod is a sympathetic character who has, throughout his life, alternately enjoyed and suffered from the use of power. How does power change a man? What is the meaning of trust and loyalty – not to mention love – when life is full of fear, doubt and extortion, poisoners and agitators? Sahlberg (born 1964) also opens up perspectives on the examination of our own time. The novel was on the Finlandia Prize shortlist.
Translated by Hildi Hawkins
An extract from the novel Kuolema Ehtoolehdossa (‘Death in Twilight Grove’, Teos, 2013). Minna Lindgren interviewed by Anna-Leena Ekroos
At the Health Clinic, Siiri Kettunen once more found a new ‘personal physician’ waiting for her. The doctor was so young that Siiri had to ask whether a little girl like her could be a real doctor at all, but that was a mistake. By the time she remembered that there had been a series of articles in the paper about fake doctors, the girl doctor had already taken offence.
‘Shall we get down to business?’ the unknown personal physician said, after a brief lecture. She told Siiri to take off her blouse, then listened to her lungs with an ice-cold stethoscope that almost stopped her heart, and wrote a referral to Meilahti hospital for urgent tests. Apparently the stethoscope was the gizmo that gave the doctor the same kind of certainty that the blood pressure cuff had given the nurse.
‘I can order an ambulance,’ the doctor said, but that was a bit much, in Siiri’s opinion, so she thanked her politely for listening to her lungs and promised to catch the very next tram to the heart exam. 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…
Extracts from the novel Bär den som en krona (‘Wear it like a crown’, Schildts & Söderströms, 2013). Sanna Tahvanainen interviewed by Janina Orlov
A kick in the stomach – yes, that is what it feels like each time I catch a glimpse of the Crystal Palace. The miniature on Albert’s desk has finally grown to maturity. The great greenhouse towers where once the elms stood. On a clear day the sun dances along the glass, making it glisten, the whole place all but blinding us. One is forced to squint on approaching it. One reaches out a hand, and when it touches the glass and steel, one knows one is there.
The grand opening is a mere five days hence. I step inside, he will be there somewhere. He is unaware of my arrival; it is to be a surprise. These last months he has been gone long before I have woken, and arrives home only once I am asleep. He seems quite indefatigable, neither sleeps nor eats properly. These last weeks there has been nothing else on his mind but the Great Exhibition. More…
Helsinki: Schildts & Söderströms, 2013. 296 pp.
Suom. [Translated into Finnish by] Liisa Ryömä
Helsinki: Otava, 2013. 334 pp.
The previous novels by Kjell Westö (born 1961) have been sweeping in their scope, encompassing several generations. Westö’s writing is characterised by a precise instinct for historical details and love for his hometown of Helsinki. Hägring 38 focuses on the year 1938; the new ideas of that era and the worsening political climate in Europe are reflected in the differences of opinion among a group of Finland-Swedish gentlemen. In June of 1938 these friends attend the opening gala for the new Olympic stadium in Helsinki and watch as the winner of the 100-metre dash, a Jew, is demoted to fourth place. [In October 2013, after the publication of Westö's novel, the Finnish Athletics Federation finally corrected that erroneous decision, which had been made for racist reasons.] Claes Thune, a lawyer who has lost his wife to another man and suffers from depressive episodes, is a leading member of the circle of friends. His new secretary, the taciturn Mrs Wiik, is one of the central figures Westö utilises to portray the prison camps and traumatic events of the Finnish civil war of 1918.
Translated by Ruth Urbom
3 October 2013 | In the news
The second novel Jäätelökauppias (‘The ice-cream vendor’, Tammi, 2012) by Katri Lipson won her one of the 12 European Union Prizes for Literature this year, announced at the Gothenburg Book Fair, Sweden, on 26 September.
Each winner will receive € 5,000, and the priority to apply for European Union funding to have their book translated into other European languages.
The European Commission, the European Booksellers’ Federation (EBF), the European Writers’ Council (EWC) and the Federation of European Publishers (FEP) are the organisers of the prize which is supported through the European Union’s culture programme. The competition is open to authors in the 37 countries involved in the Culture Programme.
The prize aims to draw attention to new talents and to promote the publication of their books in different countries, as well as celebrating European cultural diversity.
The previous Finnish winner of the prize was Riku Korhonen in 2010.
[Law of nature]
Helsinki: Siltala, 2013. 283p.
Kari Hotakainen’s twelfth novel is characterised by a dramatic plot. A year and a half ago, the author had a car crash, which he miraculously survived. Luonnon laki draws on Hotakainen’s experience, at the same time continuing the series started by his last two novels, with their commentaries on the contemporary world. The main character, the entrepreneur Rauhala, wakes up in hospital after a car crash and begins the slow process of recovery and rehabilitation. Incapable of movement and dependent on the care of others, the man has time to think – to think, for example of the free healthcare service of a welfare state such as Finland, whose cost, in his case, is high. Ideologically estranged from her father, his daughter is about to give birth to her first child; Rauhala himself is essentially reborn and makes peace with his daughter. Both melancholy and amusing, linguistically rich and delicious in its associatons, this tale and its characters are highly enjoyable.
Translated by Hildi Hawkins
Vinterkrig. En äktenskapsroman
[Winter war. A marriage novel]
Helsingfors: Schildts & Söderströms, 2013. 326 p.
Suom. (Translated by): Jaana Nikula
Helsinki: Otava, 2013. 347 p.
This first novel by Philip Teir (born 1980) brings to mind a stereotype of the Finland-Swedish minority: pleasant, controlled, civilised and rather amusing. Teir has previously written short stories, and no doubt his work as a cultural journalist has sharpened his detailed perceptions of society and life in general. Hence, the result is controlled and rather amusing. In the focus are sociologist Max and personnel manager Katarina, who have in their long marriage become alienated from each other. Two grown-up daughters have problems of their own, as a working mother of small children, and as an arts student trying to find a direction for her life. Teir’s characters look for ways to solve their problems: Max seeks the company of a younger woman, whereas the more straightforward Katarina applies for a divorce. Yet, amidst confusion, Teir seems to place his trust in a traditional safety net, represented in the novel by the family and the community. The portrait of a middle-class, academic family with rather ordinary problems is ironically gentle: a pleasant reading experience.
An extract from the novel För många länder sedan (‘Many lands ago’ Schildts & Söderströms, 2013; Finnish edition: Monta maata sitten; Otava, 2013). Introduction by Pia Ingström
‘I assume your father wanted you to become a doctor?’ asked Igor at the beginning of our life together. My parents did indeed want me to become a doctor. Not a pathologist, but a general practitioner. I became an art historian instead. There was a time when my area of research aroused curiosity in Igor.
‘Why Piranesi?’ he wondered.
‘As a child I devoured classic novels about pale, emaciated families living in a cellar,’ I explained jokingly. ‘I became interested in catacombs and vaults. That’s why I wanted to study the history of drawing.’
I’ve always had a fascination for underground spaces. I’m drawn to them like a homing missile. This interest of mine must have genetic roots. My mother was born in a bomb shelter during the first German air raid over Leningrad. More…