In Ehtoolehdon tuho [‘The decline of Twilight Grove’, Teos, 2015), the final novel in a trilogy about life in an assisted living home, employing human staff has become too expensive and the old folk are part of a pilot project in which they are cared for by electronic devices, monitors, cameras, ‘smartwalls’ and cleaning robots: ‘there was intelligence everywhere, masses of it, just a hiccup and something terribly intelligent would happen.’
The aged lady residents don’t like their new life, but they’re resilient; they’re not about to let the new technology defeat them…
Minna Lindgren’s mordantly satirical, often hilariously funny writing has earned her a wide readership. Translations of the trilogy are soon to appear in English, German and French.
An excerpt from Ehtoolehdon tuho [‘The decline of Twilight Grove’, Teos, 2015). Review by Soila Lehtonen
‘You’re 97 today! Your wakeup call service today congratulates!’
As if she wouldn’t have remembered. Ninety-seven was almost a hundred. She and Irma had decided that they would refuse to turn one hundred. It would only make trouble. One lady, in the bottom apartment of the A staircase, had received an invitation to the health centre on her birthday. Apparently all five-year-olds were called in for monitoring of their motor and psychological development, and when this lady turned 105, the computer system thought she was a toddler. The computer didn’t recognise numbers over one hundred. Siiri thought the lady should have kept the appointment; she would have done, for the tests were fun. You had to draw a triangle and walk along a straight line. Not that easy for someone of 105. But the lady didn’t go, she just made a terrible fuss about it and complained to everyone, until she died before her complaints reached the right official. More…
Ehtoolehdon tuho [The downfall of Twilight Grove]
Helsinki: Teos, 2015. 288pp.
This is the final novel in a trilogy by the writer and music editor Minna Lindgren (born 1963). The protagonists in Kuolema Ehtoolehdossa (‘Death in Twilight Grove’, 2013) were lively ninety-something ladies in an assisted living facility in Helsinki. Now their life is turning more and more satirically and grotesquely absurd: as employing human workforce is becoming too expensive for the owners of the facility, the old folks are being cared for by electronic devices, monitors, cameras, ’smartwalls’ and cleaning robots, and their food – tasteless but colourful paste – is dispensed from 3D vending machines. In addition to all this, the members of a devious religious group, in pursuit of any money that the inhabitants may still have, begin to manipulate them. Things are not looking good, but the resourceful ladies are not about to give in, even though one of them will peacefully – and considering her age, naturally – pass away (in her bed, holding her favourite book, Thomas Mann’s The Magic Mountain). Lindgren defends the human rights of her characters with gusto. No wonder, then, that the trilogy will shortly appear in several languages, including English, German and French.
[The refugees of Twilight Grove]
Helsinki: Teos, 2014. 334 pp.
This is the second volume of a novel trilogy by the writer and music editor Minna Lindgren (born 1963). The protagonists in Kuolema Ehtoolehdossa (‘Death in Twilight Grove’, 2013) were ladies in their nineties in an assisted living facility in Helsinki – administered by a foundation entitled (ironically enough), ‘Care and Love of the Elderly‘. Lindgren’s ‘adventure satire’ continues to focus on the lack of common sense, respect and empathy (as well as presence or interest of relatives) in the – often patronising – care of the elderly. The story revolves round the evacuation of the inhabitants from the facility to temporary housing as a tragicomically huge renovation project sets off, not without some seriously fishy business. This volume might be described as a slightly more sombre in its themes than the previous one, as illnesses and death occur – however, the point is that dying, not an unexpected turn in a person’s life after the age of 90, should be regarded as something natural. As what Lindgren writes about is by no means a phenomenon foreign to contemporary western societies, it is not surprising that so far the translation rights of the trilogy into eight languages have been sold.
13 February 2015 | Reviews
In this job, it’s a heart-lifting moment when you spot a new Finnish novel diplayed in prime position on a London bookshop table – and we’ve seen Tuomas Kyrö’s The Beggar & The Hare in not just one bookshop, but many. Popular among booksellers, then – and we’re guessing, readers – the book nevertheless seems in general to have remained beneath the radar of the critics and can therefore be termed a real word-of-mouth success. Kyrö (born 1974), a writer and cartoonist, is the author of the wildly popular Mielensäpahoittaja (‘Taking umbridge’) novels, about an 80-year-old curmudgeon who grumbles about practically everything. His new book – a story about a man and his rabbit, a satire of contemporary Finland – seems to found a warm welcome in Britain. Stephen Chan dissects its charm
Tuomas Kyrö: The Beggar & The Hare
(translated by David McDuff. London: Short Books, 2011)
Kerjäläinen ja jänis (Helsinki: Siltala, 2011)
For someone who is not Finnish, but who has had a love affair with the country – not its beauties but its idiosyncratic masochisms; its melancholia and its perpetual silences; its concocted mythologies and histories; its one great composer, Sibelius, and its one great architect, Aalto; and the fact that Sibelius’s Finlandia, written for a country of snow and frozen lakes, should become the national anthem of the doomed state of Biafra, with thousands of doomed soldiers marching to its strains under the African sun – this book and its idiots and idiocies seemed to sum up everything about a country that can be profoundly moving, and profoundly stupid.
It’s an idiot book; its closest cousin is Voltaire’s Candide (1759). But, whereas Candide was both a comedic satire and a critique of the German philosopher and mathematician Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz (1646-1716), The Beggar & The Hare is merely an insider’s self-satire. Someone who has not spent time in Finland would have no idea how to imagine the events of this book. Candide, too, deployed a foil for its eponymous hero, and that was Pangloss, the philosopher Leibniz himself in thin disguise. Together they traverse alien geographies and cultures, each given dimension by the other. More…
Helsinki: Siltala 2013. 549 pp.
This novel is a satirical alternative history of successful Finland and self-destructive Sweden. It is also the story of the king of Finland – the protagonist, Kalle XIV Penttinen, is driven by his instincts, which causes him to fail as a family man. Pena, as he is called, would like to play tennis all day long and watch pole dancing at night. Finland is a fantastic wonderland of film and music industry, tennis, space technology and innovative legal usage, whereas Sweden, ravaged by war, suffers from the trauma that passes from one generation to the next. Estonia has done well for a long time, and the Soviet Union (sic) is a stronghold of democracy. Chuckling, Kyrö turns history upside down. As a writer of short prose and tragicomic novels he is currently a very popular author. However, this time his typically witty associations and inventive comedy suffer from the sheer size of this novel.
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…
Panu Rajala: Hirmuinen humoristi. Veikko Huovisen satiirit ja savotat [The awesome humorist. The satires and logging sites of Veikko Huovinen]
Hirmuinen humoristi. Veikko Huovisen satiirit ja savotat
[The awesome humorist. The satires and logging sites of Veikko Huovinen]
Helsinki: WSOY, 2012. 310 p.
Author Veikko Huovinen (1927–2009) became widely popular with the publication of his novel Havukka-ahon ajattelija (‘The backwoods philosopher’, 1952). Huovinen, who trained as a forest ranger, spent his life mainly in north-eastern Finland and did not like publicity; the author and theatre scholar Panu Rajala deals with Huovinen’s biography relatively briefly, focusing on a thematic analysis of Huovinen’s extensive and thematically rich output of novels and short stories. He places the the books in the context of Finnish literature, and also examines their film and television adaptations. Huovinen was an intellectually conservative, a highly original humorist; among his books are satirical biographies of Hitler and Stalin. His prose fiction, set in the natural wilds of the North, has not always won the appreciation of pro-modernist critics. Huovinen’s lively and original language is not easy to translate – for example, his only work published in English is a beautiful documentary novel Puukansan tarina (‘Tale of the forest folk’), which received a Finlandia Prize nomination in 1984.
Translated by David McDuff
A ‘short special’: a previously unpublished text (written in the 1960s) from Luonnonkierto (‘Nature’s circle’, Siltala, 2012). Introduction by Jarmo Papinniemi
The pop song is a wide, mysterious world. It is like an ocean. Like a snow-covered desert. Like a rose garden. Like a perfume factory. The pop song is as mysterious as spring. The pop song is as whimsical as the restroom of the city hotel in Samarkand. The pop song is as coarse as your father’s eldest brother. Pop songs snag everyone, especially the young and the old. The best pop songs are foreign, because the words make no sense. Pop stars rise into the sky. Lovely young women step into the arena smelling of perfume and sing about love or tell playful stories about animals or nursery rooms. And then on the other end of life the stars go out and start to look for a place to be buried. But before dying they drone on in their gruff voices about the temptations of the big city, and love, which in a certain sense tortured and wore out those concerned…
Up here in Finland, we write and set pop songs to music as well. But I have to say that they aren’t any good. We also translate and water down a lot of foreign hits as well. Well, of course they’re all popular and people hum them in parishes in the city and in the country, but from a critical perspective they stink. Usually the weak point of a pop song is its execrable lyrics. More…
8 June 2012 | In the news
The May list of best-selling Finnish fiction titles, compiled by the Finnish Booksellers’ Association, still features two novels about a grumpy old man (see In the news) by Tuomas Kyrö (a grumpy young man): Mielensäpahoittaja ja ruskeakastike (‘Taking offence and the brown sauce’) and Mielensäpahoittaja (‘Taking offence’, both WSOY) were number one and two.
Number three was a work by a classic humorist: Veikko Huovinen (1927–2009) was a highly original and versatile writer whose career lasted almost for 60 years. A selection of his short prose from 1950 to 2001, previously unpublished or published in various magazines, appeared in May: Luonnonkierto (‘Nature’s cycle’, Siltala) immediately shot up to the third place on the month’s list. (You’ll find one of these texts coming up next on this site!)
As summer was approaching at last, the non-fiction list featured several books on birds, grilling and cooking – as well as aphorisms and other food for thought, traditionally bought for young people graduating from school.
Mielensäpahoittaja ja ruskeakastike
[Taking offence: brown sauce]
Helsinki: WSOY, 2012. 130 p., ill.
The most popular book by Tuomas Kyrö (born 1974), so far, has been his sixth novel, Mielensäpahoittaja (‘Taking offence’: literally ‘He who takes offence’, 2010). It has sold nearly 65,000 copies as a book and audiobook. The protagonist is a 80-something man, a sturdy old bear who lives in the countryside, now alone, because his demented wife has been taken into care and the children have long since left home. Kyrö inserts genuine humour into the monologues of his stubborn – but by no means simple – character, defiantly critical, opposing new gadgets, fads and all sorts of silly stuff of the contemporary society. In this sequel Kyrö still manages to entertain the reader with his detailed portrait: now Mr Grumpy has to learn to cook, because the food a paid helper brings in just isn’t good enough. With the potato as the cornerstone of his diet, he finally learns how to make good, fatty and salty meals of meat and veg. ‘One must remember what’s important in life, marriage and prostate problems. Time and patience.’ Illustrations remind the reader of the old times: photographs of television programmes and printed recipes from the 1960s and 1970s.
13 April 2011 | In the news
In March the Bookseller’s Association of Finland’s list of the best-selling Finnish fiction was topped – for a change – by a collection of poems. Like all her collections, Heli Laaksonen’s Peippo vei (‘The chaffinch took it’, Otava) is written in a local dialect spoken in south-western Finland.
Perttti Jarla’s latest comics book, Fingerpori 4 (‘Fingerborg 4’, Arktinen Banaani) was number two – and, demonstrating the Finns’ love of cartoons and comics, another of his titles, Fingerpori book, Fingerpori – Kamppailuni (‘Fingerborg – My fight’) occupied fourth place, following Sofi Oksanen’s Puhdistus (Purge), published in 2008 and still number three on the list. More…
25 March 2011 | Prose
Heroes are still in demand, in sports at least. In his new book author Tuomas Kyrö examines the glorious past and the slightly less glorious present of Finnish sports – as well as the meaning of sports in the contemporary world where it is ‘indispensable for the preservation of nation states’. And he poses a knotty question: what is the difference, in the end, between sports and arts? Are they merely two forms of entertainment?
Extracts from Urheilukirja (‘The book about sports’, WSOY, 2011; see also Mielensäpahoittaja [‘Taking offence’])
The whole idea of Finland has been sold to us based on Hannes Kolehmainen ‘running Finland onto the world map’. [c. 1912–1922; four Olympic gold medals]. Our existence has been defined by how we are known abroad. Sport, [the Nobel Prize -winning author] F. E. Sillanpää, forestry, [Ms Universe] Armi Kuusela, [another runner] Lasse Viren, Nokia, [rock bands] HIM and Lordi, Martti Ahtisaari.
The purpose of sport at the grass-roots level has been to tend to the health of the nation and at a higher level to take our boys out into the world to beat all the other countries’ boys. We may not know how to talk, but our running endurance is all the better for it. However, the most important message was directed inwards, at our self image: we are the best even though we’re poor; we can endure more than the rest. Finnish success during the interwar period projected an image of a healthy, tenacious and competitive nation; political division meant division into good and bad, the right-minded and traitors to the fatherland. More…
13 January 2011 | Reviews
‘Where will you be spending your eternity?’ ‘A spot of transmigration’, a short story by Veikko Huovinen (1927–2009), immediately confronts its main character, a man named Leevi Sytky, with this ultimate question.
Behind it is the sense of sin and fear of damnation typical of the religious life of northern Finland. Anyone who has made it as far as this final short story of Huovinen’s 1973 collection, Rasvamaksa (‘Fatty liver’) will, however, not make the mistake of taking the question too seriously; something diverting is clearly once again on offer.
Soon Leevi Sytky takes his leave of life in slightly sinful circumstances, but in the hereafter it turns out that these are not looked upon with disapproval. More…