27 April 2015 | Letter from the Editors
No one could call reading – or writing, for that matter – a social activity. No matter how many reading, or writing, groups you may choose to join, the actual engagement with a book is something you do alone.
Music, theatre, cinema, dance – those really are social enterprises. You can go to them together; you can watch them together, at the same time; you can talk about the experience you’ve shared. Even computer games, which sometimes seem to their elders to be making solipsists of all our children, are social, even if the ‘friends’ they play with may be the other side of the world, and may not speak the same language.
You’re never alone with a good book, as the advertising slogan says. But you’re not exactly in company, either… except…. More…
‘People do not read translations to encourage minor literatures but to rediscover themselves in new imaginative adventures‚’ says the poet and translator Herbert Lomas in this essay on translation (first published in Books from Finland 1/1982). ‘Translation is a thankless activity,’ he concludes – and yet ‘you have the pleasure of writing without the agony of primary invention. It’s like reading, only more so. It’s like writing, only less so.’ And how do Finnish and English differ from each other, actually?
Any writer’s likely to feel – unless he’s a star, a celebrity, a very popular and different beast – that the writer is a necessary evil in the publisher’s world, but not very necessary. How much more, then, the translator from a ‘small’ country’s language.
Why do it? The pay’s absurd, you need the time for your own writing, it’s very hard to please people, and translation is, after all, the complacent argument goes, impossible. I’m convinced by all these arguments, and really I can’t afford to go on; but I don’t regret what I’ve done and, looking back, I can find two reasons for translating Finnish writing, one personal, the other cultural. More…
12 December 2014 | 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!
Writing is arguably brain-control technology, notes our columnist Teemu Manninen. Writing might not be on its way out, at least not quite yet, he thinks, but the printed book might not stay with us for ever. And would that be a happier world?
When the future of literature is discussed, either here in Finland and elsewhere, topics usually revolve around changes in the economics and practicalities of reading, writing, and publishing: how will writers and publishers get paid, and how can readers find more books to read.
What is taken for granted in these instances is that literature itself will continue to be something that exists in a recognisable way – which itself of course implies that writing itself will remain a viable mass medium for the transmission of information over the transcendent, enormous, unfathomable gulfs of space and time, as it has been for thousands of years. More…
In this series, authors discuss the difficulties of their trade. Jari Järvelä finds it difficult to stop gathering source material which then gets piled in towers on his desk and in sacks around it. He knows that it’s got to stop though – for when it does, the stories will finally emerge, and life is a bliss… for a moment
When I was younger I thought that writing a novel began with the moment when I sat down at my desk and pressed a key for the first time. A. Hmmm…no, H. No, let’s make that S. No no no, I need a more original beginning…Z!
That’s not the case. The writing of a novel begins between two and twenty years before the choice of the first letter and the first word. Sometimes longer.
In the case of my novel Särkyvää (‘Fragile’, 2014), I know the exact moment of its birth.
Before I began to make a career as an author, I spent a year as a teacher at Hamari school in Porvoo. It was the beginning of the 1990s. Hamari was an old sawmill community on the sea, full of wooden houses more than a century old and motor boats put-putting toward the horizon. The headmaster looked more like a sea dog than a teacher; one morning he announced that it was his fortieth birthday. After that he sat down on the staff-room sofa, fell into deep thought and suddenly ejaculated, ‘Why the hell does a person have to gather so much junk in their life?!’ More…
Artist and author Tove Jansson (1914–2001) is known abroad for her Moomin books for children and fiction for adults. A large selection of her letters – to family, friends and lovers – was published for the first time in September. In these extracts she writes to her best friend Eva Konikoff who moved to the US in 1941, to her lover, Atos Wirtanen, journalist and politician, and to her life companion of 45 years, artist Tuulikki Pietilä.
Brev från Tove Jansson (selected and commented by Boel Westin and Helen Svensson; Schildts & Söderströms, 2014; illustrations from the book) introduced by Pia Ingström
7.10.44. H:fors. [Helsinki]
exp. Tove Jansson. Ulrikaborgg. A Tornet. Helsingfors. Finland. Written in swedish.
to: Miss Eva Konikoff. Mr. Saletan. 70 Fifty Aveny. New York City. U.S.A.
Now I can’t help writing to you again – the war [Finnish Continuation War, from 1941 to 19 September 1944] is over, and perhaps gradually it will be possible to send letters to America. Next year, maybe. But this letter will have to wait until then – even so, it will show that I was thinking of you. Curiously enough, Konikova, all these years you have been more alive for me than any of my other friends. I have talked to you, often. And your smiling Polyfoto has cheered me up and comforted me and has also taken part in the fortunate and wonderful things that have happened. I remembered your warmth, your vitality and your friendship and felt happy! At first I wrote frequently, every week – but after about a year most of it was returned to me. I wrote more after that, but the letters were often so gloomy that I didn’t feel like saving them. Now there are so absurdly many things I have to talk to you about that I don’t know where to begin. Koni, if only I’d had you here in my grand new studio and could have hugged you. After these recent years there is no human being I have longed for more than you. More…
Brev från Tove Jansson
Urval och kommentarer Boel Westin & Helen Svensson
[Letters from Tove Jansson, selected and commented by Boel Westin & Helen Svensson]
Helsingfors: Schildts & Söderströms, 2014. 491 pp., ill.
In Finnish (translated by Jaana Nikula):
Kirjeitä Tove Janssonilta
Nothing could be more mistaken than to describe Tove Jansson as ‘Moominmamma’. In her statements she was both cutting and complex – conflict-ridden and full of paradoxes. And she was nobody’s mamma.
Tove Jansson (1914–2001) became world famous (especially ‘big’ in Japan) with her Moomins – the characters of her illustrated books for children (1945–1970) – and her books for adults are a part of her work that is at least as interesting. Her training, ambition and artistic passion were, however, focused on painting.
Anyone who has read Boel Westin’s excellent biography – now available in English, Tove Jansson: Life, Art, Words – ‘knows’ all this, but to experience it through Jansson’s own letters, in an alternating process of reflection and recreation, brings the problems close to the reader in quite a different way: one that is shocking, but also deeply human. More…
2 October 2014 | This 'n' that
‘All our tales, stories, and creative endeavours are stories about ourselves. We repeat the same tale throughout our lives, from the cradle to the grave.’ CA
‘Throughout a work’s journey, the writer filters meanings from the fog of symbols and connects things to one another in new ways. Thus, the writer is both a seeker of meaning and a giver of meaning.’ OJ
‘Words are behind locks and the key is lost. No one can seek out another uncritically except in poetry and love. When this happens the doors have opened by themselves.’ EK
‘I realised that I had to have the courage to write my kind of books, not books excessively quoting postmodern French philosophers, even if that meant laying myself open to accusations of nostalgia and sentimentality.’ KW
‘If we look at the writing process as consisting of three C:s – Craft, Creativity and Chaos – each one of them is in its way indispensable, but I would definitely go for chaos, for in chaos lies vision.’ MF
‘In the historical novel the line between the real and the imagined wavers like torchlight on a wall. The merging of fantasy and reality is one of the essential features of the historical novel.’ KU
‘The writer’s block isn’t emptiness. It’s more like a din inside your head, the screams of shame and fear and self-hatred echoing against one another. What right have I to have written anything in the first place? I have nothing to say!’ PT
‘…sometimes stanzas have to / assume the torch-bearer’s role – one / often avoided like the plague. / Resilient and infrangible, the lines have to / get on with their work, like a termite queen / laying an egg every three seconds / for twenty years, / leaving a human to notice / their integrity. ’ JI
In 2007 when Books from Finland was a printed journal, we began a series entitled On writing and not writing; in it, Finnish authors ponder the complexities, pros and cons of their profession. Now our digitised archives make these writings available to our online readers: how do Claes Andersson, Olli Jalonen, Eeva Kilpi, Kjell Westö, Monika Fagerholm, Kaari Utrio, Petri Tamminen and Jouni Inkala describe the process? Pain must coexist with pleasure…
From 2009 – when Books from Finland became an online journal – more writers have made their contributions: Alexandra Salmela, Susanne Ringell, Jyrki Kiiskinen, Johanna Sinisalo, Markku Pääskynen, Ilpo Tiihonen, Kristina Carlson, Tuomas Kyrö, Sirpa Kähkönen – the next, shortly, will be Jari Järvelä.
In his latest book, the architect and author Arne Nevanlinna (born 1925) recalls, among other things, his Helsinki childhood and family, the wartime period, his fellow architect Alvar Aalto, various aspects of the spirit of the times, his own work and writings. His first novel Marie was published in 2008. Extracts from Arne. Oman elämän kintereillä (‘Arne. On the trail of one’s life’, Siltala, 2014)
My attitude to my own identity has developed from the unconsciousness of childhood, the uncertainty of early adulthood, the artificial arrogance of middle age and the self-analysis of approaching retirement, to my present situation.
Despite the fact that my first book had some degree of success, it took many books before I felt I was a real writer. The process continued for well over ten years, by which time I was already over eighty. Before that, I thought of writing as a way to pass the time and combat loneliness. I imagined that I was writing for a living, and that I lived in order to write. I was in the fortunate position of not to think about my income.
Even then, I knew that this was just a catchphrase for the event that it occurred to someone in the audience to ask me why I wrote. That never actually happened. No wonder, as both question and answer would have been unnecessary, to put it mildly, and stupid, to put it harshly. More…
Kynällä kyntäjät. Kansan kirjallistuminen 1800-luvun Suomessa [Ploughers with a pen. The development of literacy in nineteenth-century Finland]
Kynällä kyntäjät. Kansan kirjallistuminen 1800-luvun Suomessa
[Ploughers with a pen. The development of literacy in nineteenth-century Finland]
Toimittajat [Editors]: Lea Laitinen & Kati Mikkola
Helsinki: Finnish Literature Society, 2013. 558 pp., ill.
This multidisciplinary work by thirteen researchers discusses the writings of self-taught people in the 19th century. In their own communities these Finnish-language amateur authors were exceptions to the norm, but viewed in the context of the Finnish nation as a whole there were more of them than there were authors belonging to the educated classes. The principal aim is to examine how the common people saw the social and cultural phenomena which the educated classes saw from their own perspective. Kynällä kyntäjät provides a background to the research of the subject and the spread of writing ability, presenting diaries, biographies, letters, rural poetry published in newspapers, broadside ballads, plays, short stories, collections of folklore and handwritten journals, as well as focusing on the mental and linguistic changes related to the development of literacy. The book opens up a new and fascinating perspective on the 19th-century world of ideas.
Translated by David McDuff
Herkkä, hellä, hehkuvainen – Minna Canth
[Sensitive, gentle, radiant – Minna Canth]
Helsinki: Otava, 2014. 429 pp., ill.
There are two sure methods of preserving the freshness of the works of a classical author in a reading culture that is increasingly losing its vigour.
The first is to give a high profile to new interpretations of them, either in the form of scholarly lectures or of artistic re-workings, such as dramatisations, librettos or film scripts. Another unbeatable way to keep them alive as a subject of discussion is an updated biography, through which the author is seen with new eyes.
Minna Canth (1844–1897) is now celebrating her 170th anniversary, and she is fortunate in both respects. Having begun her literary career in the late nineteenth century, she still continues to be Finland’s most significant female writer.
Her influence on the role of women in society and, in particular, her promotion of girls’ education, is the cornerstone of Finland’s social equality. In the twenty-first century Canth’s plays are still receiving new interpretations, and they have also been made into operas and musicals. (Read her short story, ‘The nursemaid’, here.) More…
In this series, Finnish authors ponder the pros and cons of their profession. Alexandra Salmela operates in two languages, her native Slovakian and Finnish, which has become her literary language. Adventure and torture alternate as she attempts to shape reality into writing
I had started to write before I knew how. With fat wax crayons, in big stick-letters, I scratched my stories in old diaries. There were lots of pictures. From the very beginning, I wrote both poetry and prose. At 11 I didn’t finish my great sea-adventure novel, but at 12 I was already writing my memoirs. They, too, somehow remained unfinished.
Writing is… I wanted to write fun, but in the end I’m not quite sure about that. Writing is adventure and liberation and terribly hard work. Torture of the imagination and the pale copying of real events. Reading is a way to escape reality and at the same time a route to the sources of reality. By writing, you can shape reality in your own image: it’s your own character fault if the result is ugly and depressing.
If I were to write a pink world, it would be so sugary that it would make everyone sick, me and other people. 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…