Happy endings

Issue 3/1996 | Archives online, Authors

‘In the beginning was a bright lake, and
 the gloomy night moved on the surface 
of the water’, Rosa Liksom begins: from 
the lake of her hitherto urban, grimly
 comic short prose there now rise a
 cloud of mosquitoes, a reindeer and a
 group of Lapp heroes, and lo! Kreisland is born, the cosmos of a new
book and at the same time her first 

The path of the heroine of Kreisland,
 Impi (‘Maid’ or, more literally, ‘Virgin’),
 Agafiina, from a wretched black ramshackle hovel in remotest Lapland to a
 war hero and, later, a Stakhanovite 
worker in the Soviet Union, is as
 astonishing and rich in adventure as 
Baron Munchhausen’s – or, according
 to her translator, Anselm Hollo, George
 MacDonald Fraser’s Flashman’s. Maid
 Agafiina is a Lapp-Finnish heroine, a 
Jeanne d’Arc who, however, has no 
intentions of ending up on a pyre.

Maid Agafiina is adopted by a rich
 family, in which this black-haired, ugly,
bad-tempered and wild forest creature 
is soon discussing Maeterlinck’s early 
plays and learning embroidery and the 
piano. At five, she admires Caesar and
 Peter the Great above all. As war approaches, Maid Agafiina sees before her
 the great country of Finland: she intends to dedicate herself to the
 creation of a Finno-Ugrian homeland.

Maid Agafiina manages to get herself
 first to the front as a member of the
 women’s auxiliary services, but then
 goes to war in a stolen uniform, where
 she successfully destroys, among other 
things, five tanks and two loaders, and 
is promoted to lieutenant colonel.

Alongside the adventures of her
 heroine, Liksom runs the story of Juho
 Gabriel, who toils alone in the Arctic 
forests of the north and whose path will
 eventually join that of Maid Agafiina.

As leader of her own secret army,
 Maid Agafiina slaughters Russians right,
 left and centre. Nevertheless, the war 
ends as it indeed ended, and Maid 
Agafiina wants to see the country and 
the people who conquered the Finns.

As a woman of action, she goes straight 
to Moscow and to the point: ‘In no time 
at all I made up a new personality,
 learned the language real good, and
 obtained a Soviet citizen’s passport.’

She is bitten in the head by the fly of 
communism; and because Maid
 Agafiina is such a good worker, she
 receives a socialist work medal. But at
 Stalin’s funeral she decides it is time to
 move on across the ocean to the other

The American advertisements of the
1950s beguile her: what are the
 achievements of the collective farm
 ompared to the fact that Rita
 Hayworth has danced for almost 40
 hours continuously in Magic Motion
 nylons without a single ladder! Maid
 Agafiina believes she has found heaven 
on earth on Pittsburgh’s East 72nd 
Street. ‘The Soviet Union will never
 become a world power because there
 they believe in the written word 
America believes in the power of the 
image, in impression. It is a quick way of influencing, and affects even the
 stupidest viewer.’

But then the slow Soviet Union
 develops a space rocket! How is it
 possible? Even Bob Hope cannot 
provide an answer. Maid Agafiina’s
 American dream, her ‘plastic paradise’,
 collapses. On top of everything, Joe
 DiMaggio intends to leave Marilyn! And
 ‘Bob Hope, who had been a father
 figure to me and who I had trusted all those American years, turned out to be 
a corpse-pale old rake with an interest 
in shop-lifting and under-age boys.’

Maid Agafiina returns to the land of 
her fathers and, to her surprise, finds
 she is pregnant. It is a shock in that she 
believes herself to be a virgin. She calls 
her son Elvis. The ending is blissfully
 happy. Both the Soviet Union and
 America, in turn, betrayed her, Lapland

Rosa Liksom’s prose has been 
translated into seven languages. To the
 horror of all translators, the language of 
Kreisland is, almost exclusively, Liksom’s own native dialect, which
 causes difficulties even for Helsinki 
readers. ‘Much of the charm of the
 original resides in the dialect, which is,of course, utterly irreproducible,’ writes
 Anselm Hollo, Liksom’s translator. ‘So 
in this extract I’ve played it straight,
 with the occasional “deadpan” note.’

Liksom’s first novel is an unceremonious, briskly feminist and old-fash
ioned adventure story which does not
 court the world markets: the landscape and dialect of Lapland are the foundations in what is, surely, Liksom’s major work to date.


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