Archive for June, 2001

Inventing reality

30 June 2001 | Authors

Pirkko SaisioChanges of self and perspective – and even of gender – fascinate the chameleon-like writer, dramatist and actress Pirkko Saisio. Set in Helsinki in the 1950s and 1960s, her autobiographical novel Pienin yhteinen jaettava (‘Lowest common multiple’, 1998) was on the shortlist for the Finlandia Prize. ‘We look into the mirror,’ she says in this introduction to her writing, ‘to wonder at the fact that we have the ability to divide in two, into she who looks and she who is looked at’.

Extracts from Miten kirjani ovat syntyneet (‘How my books have been born’, edited by Ritva Haavikko, WSOY, 2000)

On the top shelf of the bookshelf in my childhood home were about thirty volumes of the collected works of Vladimir Ilyich Lenin. On the bottom shelf were the same number of the collected Stalin. Between them were A Young Woman’s Cookbook and Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People, which my father had had to study in order to graduate from correspondence school as a commercial technician. More…

It’s only me

30 June 2001 | Fiction, Prose

Extracts from the autobiographical novel Pienin yhteinen jaettava (‘Lowest common multiple’, WSOY, 1998)

The weather had not yet broken, although it was September; I had been away for two weeks.
The linden trees of the North Shore drooped their dusty leaves in a tired and melancholy way. Even the new windows were already sticky and dusty. The flat was covered in thick, stiff plastic sheeting. The chairs, the books, the Tibetan tankas and the negro orchestra I had bought in Stockholm glimmered beneath the plastic ice like salvage from the Titanic.
The windows had been replaced while I had been in Korea.
I unpacked the gifts from my suitcase. Lost in the sea of plastic, the little Korean objects looked shipwrecked and ridiculous.
My temperature was rising; it had been troubling me for more than a week.
I smiled and said something, not mentioning my temperature.
It was time to be a mother again, and a life-companion.
And a daughter…. More…

The unpassing of time

30 June 2001 | Authors, Reviews

Anne Hänninen

Photo: Marjaana Saarenpää

The poems of Anne Hänninen (born 1958) recall the paintings of Henri Rousseau, in which animals and plants, each in their turn, burst out, appear into existential space and freeze to gaze at the viewer. Hänninen achieves this effect by avoiding words, action words, motion. The poems often embody an expression, vision or performance of release, but Hänninen is able to make even the ineluctable passage of time seem oddly static: ‘the pearl-buds of the rowans once gone – / lilies of the valley. And from under the hepaticas violets, / and forget-me-nots from the wood anemones.’ More…


30 June 2001 | Fiction, poetry

Poems from Tuulen vilja (‘Windcrop’, WSOY, 2000)

Longbeaked birds
created for the deepfunnelled gloxinia – everything exactly right.
The sport of colours, survival (though I always felt I was
sunset in the morning).
I walk over the living, the playful swing of genes,
uniqueness in splinters: capsules,
family trees, root systems, leafage.
In the geneswing little deviations of dimension,
as if I were perpetually outlining waves with my finger.
The primal miracle of seeds: I press
a mixture of summer flowers in the soil, exploding
a serial miracle. More…

New lives

Issue 2/2001 | Archives online, Authors, Reviews

‘Memory is no keepsafe! What is remembered changes and moves all the time. Only that which we wish to forget remains unchanged. It is preserved as if frozen, in a state of readiness…. And sometimes, unexpectedly, it begins to melt.’

The characters in the fourth collection of short stories by Sari Malkamäki (born 1962) und themselves in situations in which the death of a close friend or relative, the birth of a child or separation bring about change: they decide to act in an unexpected way, or differently from before, and in any case driven by their own will.

Some frozen memory may change the situation; a father, for example, may tell his grown-up daughter that she is her dead mother’s love-child. Half by accident, the past shows itself in a completely new light.

Malkamäki does not examine her characters cynically; she does not know better than them, but gives them their own voices and their own solutions. The stories arise from contemporary people’s ordinary lives, but the simultaneously spacious and taut narrative surprises. These people are completely credible, but the events the writer constructs for them are nevertheless unexpected: in Malkamäki’s case, the short story works.

Malkamäki encourages her readers to taste her choices of words and phrases. Her sentences are economical; there is nothing excessive or impressionistic about them. Under the considered surface of her language, important decisions, sorrows and human joys take shape. Her characters have the courage and the persistence to begin from the beginning, to start a ‘new life’ even if it does not mean anything grandiose or revolutionary, but just the continuing of everyday life in the light of some new realisation.

In the short story ‘Viimeinen kierros’ (‘The last lap’), a divorced couple’s little boy often wets his bed, under which there lives a bear. But the boy is tough, tougher than his hero, the formula driver Mika Häkkinen – and perhaps, even, tougher than the bear.

The last lap

Issue 2/2001 | Archives online, Fiction, Prose

A short story from Ilmatasku (‘Air pocket’, Otava, 2000). Introduction by Soila Lehtonen

Father arrived by taxi with his black suitcases.

He stood in the hallway, casting a glance over father’s shoes, his trouser-legs. Under his arm was a folded newspaper; it fell to the ground when father bent to undo his shoelaces.

The newspaper was written in strange letters. It felt as if the saliva would not leave his mouth however hard he swallowed. Mother jumped back and forth; mother’s mouth chattered. He scratched the wall with his nail; it was scored with pencil lines recording how much he had grown.

When father straightened up, he filled the whole room. More…

Late developer

Issue 2/2001 | Archives online, Authors, Reviews

Sisko Istanmäki, 73, set out as a writer from a similar position to the Canadian Carol Shields: first, she lived an entire life as a wife and mother, and only in mature middle age was it the turn of her own writing. She herself remembers her beginnings as follows: ‘When I turned 60, one of my children brought me an electric typewriter as a present and asked me to write a novel.’

Although there is always something sad about a late debut, both Shields’ and Istanmäki’s works have demonstrated that good prose does not always take a great deal of practice. More…

Country matters

Issue 2/2001 | Archives online, Fiction, Prose

A short story from Peili (‘Mirror’, Tammi, 2000). Introduction by Suvi Ahola

I’m getting so old, my Master and Mistress no longer take note of when I’m on Heat. They don’t even notice when some moisture comes dripping out of my innards, as a sign of it, like they did in the good old days. Anyway, this time I really boobed, I dirtied my Mistress’s Christmas slippers with my secretions. So what could I do? – if it drips it drips. I happened to be lying on my Mistress’s feet at the time, she’d invited me there herself. ‘Spot, Spot, come and warm my feet,’ she said. Of course I went, I always have done when I’m called, it’s rather nice. Your belly gets nice and warm there, and if you’re lucky your Mistress scratches your back now and then with her knitting needle. I sleep and snore a little – it amuses my Mistress and Master. But then the warming of my belly led to this boob – a big dose of this wetness slurped onto my Mistress’s feet. It caused a sudden departure. My Mistress yelled, and my Master flung me out into the yard. I’d scarcely managed a squeak before I found myself in the snow. I shan’t forgive them, no. It’s beyond my comprehension.


A drinking life

Issue 2/2001 | Archives online, Authors, Reviews

The poet Pentti Saarikoski (1937-1983) was of the old school of Finnish writers: he could not, he said, write – or live without alcohol. Despite the booze, this enfant terrible of the free-living 1960s remained an unparallelled virtuoso of the Finnish language. Introduction by the poet, psychiatrist and politician Claes Andersson

In the autumn of 1968 I was working as a doctor at Helsinki’s Hesperia Hospital, in the intensive care ward, where people who had tried to take their own lives, or had remained lying outside, while drunk, in the very cold autumn and winter were taken. I was told that the writer Pentti Saarikoski had been admitted to a neurological ward in a very bad state. I met him several times in the hospital café. He was thin as a skeleton, but otherwise in good spirits and seemed almost happy. What surprised me was that he quite obviously thrived in the role of psychiatric patient and that he submitted to the hospital’s regulations without a murmur. More…

A good day

Issue 2/2001 | Archives online, Fiction, poetry

From Juomarin päiväkirjat (’A drunkard’s journals’, edited by Pekka Tarkka, Otava, 1999). Introduction by Claes Andersson

Iceland, Summer 1968

I don’t know how to describe what I see,
           the lava’s colors; the afternoon green of the grass,
      and I can’t tell if that white is buildings or snow.
The mountains are fortresses of the gods, and if
      people’s construction projects irritate them
          too much, they let the ground shake, volcanos
erupt and tum everything upside down, assign new sites
      to houses and different routes for cars.
      The gods’ noses itch when their breath
          is caught in pipelines and
      channeled into radiators and greenhouses.
Sheep tear the grass but horses
                                             browse in a civilized manner.
Jónas does not believe in the gods, but he
                             is afraid of them, the gods are not pleased
      with the Americans, who do not know
          anything about the gods or history yet come here
                 and start interfering with the land
                                                            as if it were theirs.

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