30 May 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.
Next to go online is 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!
26 April 2013 | This 'n' that
Hey, design hipsters, wherever you are – after the super-serious focus brought about by Helsinki’s year as World Design Capital 2012, here’s a way to blow off steam.
Written by the comic-strip artist, illustrator and designer Kasper Strömman (born 1974), The Kasper Stromman Illustrated Design Encyclopedia (HuudaHuuda, 2013) consists of a series of post-ironic sound-bites on Finnish material culture.
Strömman was voted Graphic Designer of 2013 in Finland by Grafia (Association of Visual Communication Designers), by a jury that considered him to be a ‘catalyst, challenger and the standup comedian of graphic design’.
His book really is encyclopaedic, with entries ranging from the usual suspects (Artek, Arabia, Iittala) through the iconoclastic (in purist design terms, anyway: Angry Birds, the heteka sofa bed, Nokia gumboots and mobile phones) and the everyday (hapankorppu crispbread, vihreä kuula sweets, the Anttila mail-order catalogue and store) to the just plain wacky (the Aqua Tube disposable toilet roll, the Konrad ReijoWaara bridge, the Superlon mattress).
There are also fun sections on how to make your own design classics – for example, a pair of original orange Fiskars scissors (just use some paint) or Harri Koskinen’s glass block lamp – and outings to less-than-fashionable destinations (in eastern Helsinki) such as the Puhos shopping centre or the Itä-Pasila housing estate.
And so on. You can get a taste of what to expect at Kasper Strömman’s design blog in English (sadly discontinued, although it remains online. He’s started a new blog, although only in Finnish, entitled Kasper Diem…).
So far, so good; we like the idea, and it’s hard to think of another source that succeeds so well in bringing together every material thing we think of as Finnish. The problem is that it’s all delivered in faintly annoying one-liners – Kalevala Koru makes ‘jewellery based on bronze age findings, usually bought for you by your parents’; the Jugend style of architecture ‘should not be confused with “Hitler Jugend”’; Lapponia, Lapland in Latin, ‘useful to know if you were planning a ski trip in the Middle Ages’ – quite funny at first, but in the end they begin to get on your nerves. It’s like a diet of street food that never quite adds up to a meal.
The book’s foreword claims it to be ‘unique in the sense that it was put together with a minimum amount of research’ – no designers’ names or information-based facts. There’s an advantage here – it means that Strömman has felt free to include, among his opinions, plenty of oral and hearsay information, essential in dealing with everyday objects and their meanings.
But it also means that, too often, the author has let himself off the hook with a gag or a quip when staying with the subject would have been really rewarding. It’s a bit too much like material culture with attention deficit disorder. (It’s also hard to see who the book is really directed at – many of the jokes are so ‘in’ that it’s only those who are already in the know who will appreciate them.)
So hey, guys (Strömman refers to himself in the plural, so we will too), how about a challenge? Why not take yourselves seriously, and write the full-out version?
12 April 2013 | Letter from the Editors
Finnish is spoken mostly in Finland, whereas English is spoken everywhere. A Finnish writer, however, doesn’t necessarily write in any of Finland’s three national languages (Finnish, Swedish and Sámi).
What is a Finnish book, then – and (something of particular interest to us here at the Books from Finland offices) is it the same thing as a book from Finland? Let’s take a look at a few examples of how languages – and fatherlands – fluctuate.
Hannu Rajaniemi has Finnish as his mother tongue, but has written two sci-fi novels in English, which were published in England. A Doctor in Physics specialising in string theory, Rajaniemi works at Edinburgh University and lives in Scotland. His books have been translated into Finnish; the second one, The Fractal Prince / Fraktaaliruhtinas (2012) was in March 2013 on fifth place on the list of the best-selling books in Finland. (Here, a sample from his first book, The Quantum Thief, 2011, Gollancz.)
Emmi Itäranta, a Finn who lives in Canterbury, England, published her first novel, Teemestarin tarina (‘The tea master’s book’, Teos, 2012), in Finland. She rewrote it in English and it will be published as Memory of Water in England, the United States and Australia (HarperCollins Voyager) in 2014. Translations into six other languages will follow.
These, however, are relatively simple cases; a more complicated one is Hassan Blasim, an Iraqi scriptwriter, producer and author who fled from Iraq due to the controversial views expressed in his work. Blasim moved to Finland in 2004; his two collections of short stories, written in his native Arabic, were translated into English and published in the UK. The Guardian newspaper’s reviewer called him ‘the best writer of Iraqi fiction’, and his latest book, The Iraqi Christ, won him British PEN’s Writers in Translation prize last year. His collection of short stories, The Madman of Freedom Square, was published in Finnish last year (translated from Arabic by Sampsa Peltonen).
In Finland, Blasim is currently regarded as in some sense a ‘Finnish author’; he was one of 47 authors who were awarded a novel-writing grant by the Finnish National Council for Literature in 2013.
Various private institutions and foundations also grant funds for promoting ‘Finnish cultural life’; one of the wealthiest is Svenska kulturfonden (Swedish Cultural Foundation in Finland, est. 1908) whose mission is ‘to support and strengthen the culture and education of the Swedish-speaking minority in Finland’, for which it contributes around 33 million euros annually. Suomen Kulttuurirahasto (the Finnish Cultural Foundation, est. 1937) gave 21,3 million euros this year.
The foundations don’t seem to bother sorting applicants according to language or nationality: what interests them, in principle, is the potential impact of the project on ‘Finnish cultural life’, as well as the merits of the applicant.
According to its rules, the Union of Finnish Writers, Suomen kirjailijaliitto, accepts as members writers who have published two original works of fiction written in Finnish, and the same principle is applied in the Swedish-language association, Finlands Svenska Författareförening. For these guardians of the privileges of the Finnish authors, no other tool is acceptable for a ‘Finnish writer’ to work with than Finnish or Swedish.
So Finland finds itself addressing the same question that has long confronted the big languages – English and Spanish in particular – whose literature exceeds that written by natives in their native languages. It would be hard to argue that those cultures were not enriched by the work of, for example, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie or Khaled Hosseini and Javier Marías or Roberto Bolaño.
On the subject of which nationality or which language any given author writes in, it’s time to relax, read, and enjoy.
14 March 2013 | This 'n' that
Zacharias Topelius wrote every day for almost 70 years. His published works contain almost 16,000 pages.
As he was also the editor of the Swedish-language newspaper Helsingfors Tidningar which he published twice a week for 20 years, his output, counted in pages, is enormous.
Author, journalist, historian, critic and pedagogue Topelius (1818–1898) wrote poetry, hymns, travelogues, serials, articles, short stories, fairy tales, textbooks and plays.
As for Finnish translations, his historical serial Fältskärns berättelser (‘The barber-surgeon’s tales’, 1853–1867) and Läsning för barn (‘Reading for children’) are probably his most popular works.
In a bilingual (Swedish and Finnish), text-critical, annotated (and illustrated) project, entitled ‘Zacharias Topelius Skrifter’ (‘Z. T. writings’), Svenska Litteratursällskapet i Finland (the Society of Swedish Literature in Finland) will publish a large number of Topelius’s works in digital facsimile form. The selection grows continually.
Art that requires navigation systems? Whatever next. In his column poet and writer Teemu Manninen wonders whether literature can function as ‘locative’. How to blend technology and art? Perhaps literature too might expand from the printed word
What if the Romantic poet John Keats had never published his poetry in print – if his works had been distributed only in manuscript form and read only by his friends and acquaintances? Had that been the case, the only way of hearing his poetry would have been at the salons and informal clubs that took place in literary people’s homes, at coffee houses, or other meeting places.
Keats might not even have, most likely, been in attendance himself, but maybe someone had a copy of a copy of a fragment of a poem that they might read to the gathered intellectuals and gentlefolk. You would have to have known the right people, have to have been at the right place at the right time to hear ‘Ode to a Nightingale’ read for the first and perhaps for the last time ever.
Or, what if Joyce had never intended for Ulysses to be published for the great reading public at all? What if, instead, he had left copies of each chapter around Dublin in the places where those chapters take place; what if, page by page, he had distributed his work in the actual locations of the events as they happened in his imagination? More…
Writing is ancient: the act of taking a stylus, a quill or a pen into one’s hand still feels powerful. Will we find a way of scrawling in space, to mark our individuality, wonders Teemu Manninen
It was my vacation, and I wanted to catch up on some fun writing projects, but because I didn’t want to depend on my devices (would we have wifi? would the batteries last?) or carry around too much extra stuff I bought a red notebook and wrote in black ink on white paper while sitting in cafes and restaurants with my wife.
Writing by hand got me – surprise – to thinking about handwriting in general. Etymologically, ‘writing’, from Old English writan, means scratching, drawing, tearing. In the original Hebrew, God does not simply fashion humans out of clay, he writes them: his word is his image, giving life to the letter of his meaning, the human being.
Writing is violence. It brings about vivid change in the matter of the world: in the age of clay tablets, the stylus was a carving instrument. During the age of ink, cutting the tip of the quill was, if we believe the early Renaissance manuals of handwriting, as precise and violent an act as cutting someone’s head off. More…
The poet and translator Pentti Saarikoski (1937–1983) jotted in one of his journals: ‘I have never cared for relatives.’ Thirty years after his death one of his five children set out to find out what his father was like – by reading almost all he left behind in writing; these comments by Saska Saarikoski are from his Sanojen alamainen (‘Servant of words’, Otava, 2012), an annotated selection of Pentti Saarikoski’s thoughts
Pentti Saarikoski died when I was 19. I remember complaining to my mother that I had not yet even got to know my dad. My mother answered: You’ve got plenty of time, the real Pentti is to be found in his books. She did not know how right she was, for she meant Pentti’s published books, not knowing what a mountain of texts awaited its readers in the archives of the Finnish Literature Society. Pentti had written everything down in his diaries.
I read Nuoruuden päiväkirjat (‘Youthful diaries’), published soon after Pentti’s death in 1983, as soon as they were published, but when his Prague, Drunkard’s and Convalescent’s Diaries appeared around the millennium, they went straight on to my library shelf. I was not terribly interested in the ramblings of Pentti’s alcoholic years.
It could be that my reluctance was influenced by the cool attitude I had adopted from early on in relation to my father. Other people were welcome to consider him a genius; for me, he was a father who did not telephone, write or come to see my football matches. I didn’t call him, either; for me, it was a father’s job. More…
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…
16 February 2012 | Letter from the Editors
Where is Books from Finland located?
In the old days, the answer was simple, although not unambiguous. Books came from its office in central Helsinki; it was written in various locations in Finland and abroad, and translated mainly in England and the United States; and it was published in the small town of Vammala, about 200 kilometres north of Helsinki.
It spread, in multiple paper copies, to readers throughout the world, to find its place on desks, on bedside tables, in briefcases and handbags, propping up table-legs or holding doors open – in London, England, Connecticut, New England, with a few in Paris, France, and Paris, Texas, maybe. More…
In many of Leena Krohn’s books metamorphosis and paradox are central. In this article she takes a look at her own history of reading and writing, which to her are ‘the most human of metamorphoses’. Her first book, Vihreä vallankumous (‘The green revolution’, 1970), was for children; what, if anything, makes writing for children different from writing for adults?
Extracts from an essay published in Luovuuden lähteillä. Lasten- ja nuortenkirjailijat kertovat (‘At the sources of creativity. Writings by authors of books for children and young people’, edited by Päivi Heikkilä-Halttunen; The Finnish Institute for Children’s Literature & BTJ Kustannus, 2010)
What is writing? What is reading? I can still remember clearly the moment when, at the age of five, I saw signs become meanings. I had just woken up and taken down a book my mother had left on top of the chest of drawers, having read to us from it the previous day. It was Pilvihepo (‘The cloud-horse’) by Edith Unnerstad. I opened the book and as my eyes travelled along the lines, I understood what I saw. It was a second awakening, a moment of sudden realisation. I count that morning as one of the most significant of my life.
Learning to read lights up books. The dumb begin to speak. The dead come to life. The black letters look the same as they did before, and yet the change is thrilling. Reading and writing are among the most human of metamorphoses. More…
23 June 2011 | Letter from the Editors
‘The worst of all is if the writer forgets writing and starts turning out books.’
This thought is from the poet Vilja-Tuulia Huotarinen’s introductory talk at the Lahti International Writers’ Reunion (LIWRE), which took place at Messilä Manor between 19 and 22 June. ‘There’s too much talk of the stunting of the book’s lifespan and the economic life of the publishers,’ she continues. A writer ‘must not forget that he or she is responsible to the work of art, nobody else, not even the readers.’
Today, book publishers are responsible to capital and productivity, and a work of literature resembles a product with an invisible best-before marker. Is its life a couple of months, like ice cream? Books delivered to the shop in September are already old-hat in February, and are best put on sale. More…