Archive for March, 1999

Gospel truths?

31 March 1999 | Authors, Reviews

Lauri Otonkoski

Photo: Irmeli Jung

Lauri Otonkoski (born 1959) has the reputation of being a poet who passes attentively by and always has room for doubt.

He assumes a chatty tone, full of an irony often at his own expense, though his schooling as a music critic has given him a fine ear and the art of producing structures comparable to music.

Otonkoski has published six collections, two of them prizewinning. In 1996 he received the Nuoren taiteen Suomi-palkinto (‘The Finnish Award for Young Artists’), and in 1997 the Finnish Radio Poetry Prize, ‘Dancing Bear’. More…

No one can tell

31 March 1999 | Fiction, poetry

Poems from Ahava (WSOY, 1998)

And life went on, went on as a kind of weird fugue,
               a forked path that drops across your eyes,
                    rejecting simple questions.
Which summer was that,
               I ask in December,
in a high room, with a tiled stove, a bricked up
          nostalgic sentence about the warmth of other times,
               a crossing where all the world's words
                         discover the the comparative degree of silence,
                                        the one with meaning.
Should I peep across a couple of cloudy stanzas to get a better view,
     but again my eye conjures up a medieval constricted soul.
All that's left is a thirst of all the senses, a frigid study of sentences,
                              of bones.


Last resorts

31 March 1999 | Authors, Interviews

Pirjo Hassinen

Photo: Irmeli Jung

The novelist Pirjo Hassinen’s subjects are men, women and death. Particularly, in her novel Viimeinen syli (‘The last embrance’, Otava, 1998), death. Interview by Leena Härkönen

The blizzard to end all blizzards is tearing Finland apart. The railway system is in a mess, and the heating system in our building has stopped working. There is no way I can leave Helsinki for Jyväskylä, the town in central Finland, 300 kilometres away, where Pirjo Hassinen lives. I am obliged to interview her on the telephone, although she says she loathes talking on the phone, and I too would prefer to meet her face to face.

The day I ring Hassinen, Lapland achieves a record low of -51 Celsius. Even on the south coast the mercury sinks well below -20°C, and a freezing wind makes the frost almost unbearable. The entire country is as white and cold as – death. It is an easy comparison, for it is death that is the theme of Pirjo Hassinen’s latest novel. The main character of Viimeinen syli is an undertaker, transporting bodies. There is a lot of death in the book: two suicides plus an accidental one. According to Hassinen, her subject matter is the conclusion of a logical development.

‘I deal with whatever concerns me most at a given moment and whatever I feel I can say something about.’ More…

Close encounters

31 March 1999 | Fiction, Prose

Viimeinen syli (‘The last embrace’, Otava, 1998)

The hospital looked as if a child had been given a big pile of building blocks and told to make a house, a big house. And then, when the building was ready, more bricks had been brought, and the child had been forced to pile them up over a wider and wider area, to spread rows of blocks across the adults’ routes and over the edge of the carpet until at last it had grown bored and left the last blocks higgledy-piggledy next to its creation.

Around the hospital ran a road from which the whole mess was revealed. Wing after wing, corridors and windows from which no one really ever looked out. The hospital was full of window views that did not belong to anyone, which did not open up from anyone’s office or day-room, but varied meaninglessly like a motorway landscape from the window of an accelerating car. Viivi had been born there, on the sixth floor of the old part of the hospital. As Mikael waited in the tiled fathers’ room next to the room where the Caeserean section was being carried out for his child to be brought to him, the view out had been breathtaking. More…

Text and textuality

Issue 1/1999 | Archives online, Authors, Reviews

In winter, the writer Riikka Ala-Harja walks the last 50 metres of her journey home across ice. She lives in a large villa on an island near the centre of Helsinki. When the ice begins to melt she takes a pole with her in case she falls into the water. Ala-Harja does not, however, consider herself particularly brave on this account. She likes her island.

One of the main characters of her first novel, Tom Tom Tom, Elsa Kokko, known simply as Kokko, also lives on an island, but only in summer. Born in 1967, Ala-Harja, who trained as a dramaturge, says she has been ‘wringing out’ her novel for years. In 1990 she won first prize in the J.H. Erkko competition for short stories, and she has, among other things, written five radio plays, four stage plays and scripts for cartoons, directed dramatic texts, held an art exhibition of autobiographical texts and images made on plywood with tacks and thread, and teaches creative writing at the Theatre Academy and at the University of Industrial Art and Design, as well as at a sixth-form college. More…

Like father, like daughter

Issue 1/1999 | Archives online, Fiction, Prose

Extracts from Tom Tom Tom (Gummerus, 1998). Introduction by Soila Lehtonen

A father and daughter in a hospital back garden

Bits of nail flick to the ground as Kokko cuts Tom’s nails, leaving rather brittle nail-ends among the lichen. In the middle of the hospital afternoon they’ve made their way down to the little park, to care for the hands of both of them, all four.

In the days before Africa Tom used to nurse Kokko on the living-room sofa and cut the nails on her most difficult hand, pushed the cuticles back and taught her the care that ought to be taken of nails, or she’d have smarting and pain round the cuticles. Kokko used to plead to be taken into his nail cutting lap oftener than she should, even when she’d really have preferred to grow longer nails. More…