Archive for March, 1990

Island epic

Issue 1/1990 | Archives online, Authors, Reviews

Ulla-Lena Lundberg‘s novel Leo was one of last autumn’s best-sellers: written in Swedish, it was published simultaneously in Finnish, and praised unanimously by critics in both languages. The first volume of a trilogy, Leo tells of the lives of Åland shipowners and their families at a time when men sailed the seas and women’s lot was to wait at home. Lundberg’s story is at the same time old-fashioned, with its finely drawn portraits, and a modernist structured novel that rises above everyday realism.

‘In Åland literature is peripheral;’ says Ulla-Lena Lundberg in the Helsinki bookshop where she is signing copies of Leo. Nevertheless, the Åland (in Finnish, Ahvenanmaa) islands, between Finland and Sweden, have bred some important writers. I am thinking, for example, of Sally Salminen, whose Katrina (1936) is one of the most translated Finnish novels. And at present there is the influential writer Johannes Salminen, an essayist and pointed polemicist in many areas (he also happens to be Ulla-Lena Lundberg’s publisher). More…

Letters to Trinidad

Issue 1/1990 | Archives online, Fiction, Prose

Extracts from the novel Kirjeitä Trinidadiin (‘Letters to Trinidad’, 1989). Introduction by Suvi Ahola

Elisabet suggested that they should go to the beach. Seppo would have liked to show her the coral, but his wife thought it was too far, and so they decided to go to the beach nearest the hotel.

They hired mattresses and a sun umbrella and found places in the first row, close to the water. The sea glittered, and long, shallow waves rolled towards the sand, like long, even snores. Seppo dozed for a moment, then sat up and, taking his binoculars, focused out to sea. Two warships sailed eastwards through the glittering waves. Egypt, Jordan and the Arab countries all around, Iran and Iraq close by, Libya not far away – it was like lying on a keg of gunpowder!

Elisabet went swimming, and he followed. He carried his wife through the waves, played the life-saver and dragged Elisabet’s apparently lifeless body through the waves. They dived, and Elizabet complained that the salt stung her eyes. They lay on their mattresses and when Seppo glanced at her, he felt again the sharp stab of desire, and would have liked to make love, but had to content himself with caressing her thigh. When his desire became too great he covered himself with a rowel, and Elisabet laughed.

‘Again? You’re insatiable’, she said. More…

Real lives

Issue 1/1990 | Archives online, Authors, Reviews

Finnish literature rests largely on a realist tradition. Literature has been valued most when it gives a faithful description of the world. Realistic descriptions of people and nature gradually gave way to social realism, which in turn developed into psychological realism, currently the major trend; sometimes a tiring one. Contemporary Finnish literature overflows with portraits of relationships, family hells and Bildungsromanen, most of them scarcely indistinguishable from one another.

Psychological realism is at its most interesting when it has a social dimension. When – according to the realist tradition – it also deals with its own time, human conditions and ideals, or their absence. The work of Annika Idström (born 1947) has always included this dimension. It may be the main reason for the passion her books provoke, and for their undisputed importance contemporary Finnish literature. More…

The anchor

Issue 1/1990 | Archives online, Fiction, Prose

An extract from the novel Leo (Söderströms, 1989). Introduction by Marianne Bargum

A summer quickly goes by and the beginning of autumn rolls merrily away. The middle of October is the time when things start slackening off, the harvest over, the flax brought in and the time for slaughter approaching. It is growing darker and the storm rumbles over the village, howling even more wildly out there in the darkness where the ships are gradually beginning to struggle home.

In stormy weather, we become touchy and angry. We think about those out there, and are irritated by minor matters people safe on the mainland make such a furore about. We conscientiously go to church the nearer autumn looms, and there we pray ardently for all those in peril on the sea. But then we have the pastor in the pulpit, irritable and angry like the rest of us, and he takes the opportunity to give us a reminder.

‘Out there in the storm the skipper calls on God, but when the storm dies down, he gives thanks for his own skill’, he begins. So you can work out what is to follow. Not very edified, we make our way home in the mud, in the cold wind, a shoulder like a wedge ahead of us. More…