Archive for September, 2008

A hole in the landscape

Issue 3/2008 | Archives online, Authors

Tomi Kontio

Tomi Kontio. Photo: Heini Lehväslaiho

Jukka Koskelainen on Tomi Kontio’s new poems

Tomi Kontio (born I966) has often depicted suburban life both scabrously and romantically, a rather rare combination in Finnish literature. Poetically heightened language is not usually connected with apartment-block districts, but Kontio has the ability to zoom from the milk carton on the kitchen table to the Milky Way. It has made him one of Finland’s most read poets.

In his debut volume, Tanssisalitaivaan alla (‘Under the ballroom sky’, 1993), Kontio had a tendency towards a freewheeling, painterly imagery. In Vaaksan päässä taivaasta (‘A span from heaven’, 2006), the volume before the present one, he wrote a series of short narratives about the hard side of living on a housing estate. Kontio has also published children’s books, among other things, and was awarded the Finlandia Junior Prize for his novel Keväällä isä sai siivet (‘In the spring father grew wings’, Tammi, 2000). More…

The sea so open

Issue 3/2008 | Archives online, Fiction, poetry

Poems from Delta (Teos, 2008). Introduction by Jukka Koskelainen

Like wave-polished stones
we sit on a seashore rock, shading our eyes
from the sun, each other, the deltoid sails, the water.

You ask nothing more,
you know the sum of the angles of a triangle,
that you have your sides, as I do

sometimes they near each other
as if to penetrate each other, cut
a hole in the landscape.

A seagull settles on a crag,
without a glance aside, you’re up and disappear
from my side.

Sails, other sails.
the sea so open and the sky open. More…

An adventurer in history

Issue 3/2008 | Archives online, Authors

The most popular Finnish writer of the 20th century, Mika Waltari (1908–1979), was a prolific author whose historical novels were best sellers in other languages, too. Sinuhe egyptiläinen, The Egyptian, (1945) was filmed in 1950s Hollywood. In these extracts from her book on Waltari, the Czech translator and publisher Markéta Hejkalova takes a look at his life and his famous novels.

For Mika Waltari, but not just for him, the early 1920s ushered in a beautiful, intoxicating and youthful world that promised freedom, love and adventure after the horrors of the First World War. And yet the writers of the 1920s are sometimes referred to as a lost generation – maybe because the world failed to fulfil all their dreams; ideal love no longer existed, and they were all too often aware of the dark side of free love: syphilis, still an incurable disease at that time.


The mistake

Issue 3/2008 | Archives online, Fiction, Prose

A short story (‘Erehdys’, 1956, last published in the collection Lukittu laatikko ja muita kertomuksia, ‘A locked box and other stories’, WSOY, 2003). Introduction by Markéta Hejkalová

My feet are smarter than my head. On an April night in Naples they carried me along the Via Roma past the royal palace and the giant illuminated dome of the church. The people of Naples walked up and down the immortal street like the cool of evening, looking at each other and at the brightly lit display windows. I had nothing against that, but at the comer of Via San Brigida my feet turned to the right. The snow-cold breath of my homeland radiated toward me from Saint Bridget Street.

When I had turned the corner I could see a restaurant window still lit, with its fruit baskets, dead fish and red lobsters. The most hurried diners had already finished their meals. I stepped into the long dining room of the restaurant, the sawdust on the floor stuck to my shoes, a frighteningly icy stare pierced me from behind the counter, but I gathered my courage and whispered bravely, ‘Buona sera, signora.’ More…

Works in progress

Issue 3/2008 | Archives online, Essays, On writing and not writing

Writer's block

Olli Jalonen’s latest novel, 14 solmua Greenwichiin (’14 knots to Greenwich’, 2008), was 19 years in the making. He ponders the joys and tribulations of such a slow maturation

When you spend years or decades writing the same book, what is the drive, passion or compulsion that keeps the cogs turning through the quieter months? Or are the months when you don’t write silent at all? Isn’t it the case that the core of a text or a book is born out of a state of peaceful nothingness?

More often than not, the most important ideas, the strongest details and the sturdiest structures of the art of writing come into being somewhere other than at the computer keyboard. One of the greatest benefits and pleasures of a writer’s work is carrying that work around in mind and body. At these times the writing machinery is whirring, quietly, calmly, freely and unpressured. More…

Portraits and bagatelles

30 September 2008 | Fiction, Prose

Kaarina Valoaalto

Kaarina Valoaalto. Photo: Tammi.

Soila Lehtonen on Kaarina Valoaalto’s new collection of short prose

In Kaarina Valoaalto’s prose ‘the river, made wild by a storm, gallops, foaming at the mouth, down between the stays of the street banks and into the sea’ and ‘the fly is a classic’: ‘its buzz sounds the cycle of the year and all of the scales of feeling. A fly brings together agrarian and urban culture…. When I hear it, I believe I’m alone in the cabin of a sailboat, anchored to the bottom of a bay where terns and seagulls call out on the gleaming blue of the open sea and no there is no coffee because no one has bothered to make it’. More…

Dog days

30 September 2008 | Fiction, Prose

A story from Avantgarderob ja muuta irtaimistoa (‘Avantgarderobe and other moveables’, Tammi, 2008). Introduction by Soila Lehtonen

The air between the old dog’s teeth cuts like a crosscut saw.

There is a furious rhythm in her bark.

She’s been left out of the moose-hunting pack.

The more decrepit her body is, the stiffer her joints, the more her bark is filled with passion for the hunt. But she shows no sign of nostalgia, she’s not hankering after some long-ago days of glory, when she was the leader of the pack. This is clearly a bark of command. Even from kilometres away, she tells the other dogs where to go — not that way — a little more to the left — behind that stump, you blockheads! More…

Happiness is a warm gun?

30 September 2008 | Authors, Reviews

Petri Tamminen

Petri Tamminen. Photo: Ville Juurikkala

‘As a group, we’re prone to getting pissed-off’ sums up one interviewee in Petri Tamminen’s new book — his seventh — Mitä onni on (‘What happiness is’, Otava, 2008). And that is exactly what this story is about — an analysis of the causes and consequences of the blues inherent to true Finnishness.

What’s wrong with the Finns? A shared national penchant for playing in a minor key, difficult weather conditions, an excess amount of the protestant work ethic, or what? Two friends — an author and an artist — initiate a field research project with the intent of publishing a book. The episodic narrative takes them on a cruise ship to Sweden, through a university and an eco-commune and all the way to Denmark to interview people with one question: What is happiness? More…

What about me?

30 September 2008 | Fiction, Prose

Extracts from the novel Mitä onni on (‘What happiness is’, Otava, 2008)

I was lying on the sofa watching Sports Roundup. The ski jumpers were flying at Zakopane. When I go one day, I want the cantor to play the Sports Roundup theme on the harmonium and the pallbearers to look on like skiing judges down into the pit.

‘I have an idea,’ Liisa said, sitting down at the other end of the sofa. I muted the television and adopted a focused expression. I focused on thinking about my expression.

‘Finnish happiness,’ Liisa pronounced solemnly. ‘I’ll illustrate, and you write.’

‘A book again,’ I said and turned the sound back on. They were reading off the women’s basketball scores now. Liisa waited patiently. I was disarmed enough by this that I turned the television off. More…