Archive for December, 2008

Trial and error?

Issue 4/2008 | Archives online, Essays, On writing and not writing

Writer's block

If you want to write, you need to do it every day, says the author Monika Fagerholm. Trial and error are necessary for her – and so is not being afraid of getting lost in the woods in the process, because only then can amazing things be found

Writers write and writers write every day. I remember seeing this in one of those inspirational guides on writing I enjoy reading – even if they don’t necessarily help you in pursuing your daily writing as much as you would hope. At the worst, they give you a kind of exhausting energy which just leaves you drained. And yes, turning to these kinds of manuals almost always involves an element of desperation; you don’t need advice when everything is going great. More…

Language and tongue

Issue 4/2008 | Archives online, Authors

Kristina Carlson on Maritta Lintunen’s short stories

‘What does he think I’ve told him? And how? Shell fragments took my tongue and half my jaw.’ These are the thoughts of a war veteran on hearing his sons speech of exaggerated praise for the heroic deeds of the war.

Maritta Lintunen is a music teacher by education. She has published novels, collections of short stories and poetry. Many of the characters in Lintunen’s short stories are bystanders in their own lives, and the situation in the title story ofthe collection Tapaus Sidoroff (‘The Sidoroff case’, WSOY, 2008) is particularly ironic. Lintunen turns the typical Finnish situation on its head: veterans want to reminisce, but the young cant be bothered to listen. The father sits at the festive hall like a crippled monument to heroism, and wonders why his son didn’t become a hippie like his peers and oppose the Vietnam War. But no: the son becomes an army officer and a public speaker, and the father is made a reluctant human model. The father’s ruminations run parallel with his son’s fiery speech. His war experiences are made into a common heroic interpretation of history – and they are false. But how can a man with half a mouth dispute it? More…

The Canada goose

Issue 4/2008 | Archives online, Fiction, Prose

A short story from Tapaus Sidoroff (‘The Sidoroff case’, WSOY, 2008). Introduction by Kristina Carlson

It was no use even trying the old cart track branching from the main road. I turned off the engine and glanced into the back seat. My aunt lifted the brim of her hat, her bright eyes peering at me questioningly.

‘We can’t get any farther by car. The road’s nothing but rough brush. What do you think, Aunt Alli, can you walk the rest of the way?’

My aunt shook her head and didn’t even bother to answer. She opened the car door and clambered out. A swarm of black flies wafted into the air from the brush at the bottom of the ditch.

‘For heaven’s sakes, there’s sure enough of these flies.’

She fanned at the air with her hat, straightened the hem of her dress and trudged across the ditch, without looking back, through the thicket of willows. In spite of her hip trouble, the old woman made her way in such a hurry that I had my work cut out keeping up with her. More…

Damned nihilists

30 December 2008 | Extracts, Non-fiction

Much misunderstood: father of the superman

Much misunderstood: father of the superman, Friedrich Nietzsche.

The term nihilism is often bandied about, but often badly misunderstood. In extracts from his new book, Ei voisi vähempää kiinnostaa. Kirjoituksia nihilismistä (‘Couldn’t care less. Writings on nihilism’, Atena, 2008), the social scientist and philosopher Kalle Haatanen discusses the true legacy of Friedrich Nietzsche, nihilism’s high priest

The word nihilist is derived from the Latin: ‘nihil’ means, simply, ‘nothing’. When someone is labelled as nihilist or seen as representing nihilism, this has always been a curse, a mockery or an accusation, whether in philosophy, politics or everyday conversation. More recently, the word has generally been used to refer to people who do not believe in anything – people whose world-view is without principle, without ideals, barren. More…

Olli Jalonen: 14 solmua Greenwichiin [14 knots to Greenwich]

30 December 2008 | Mini reviews

Olli Jalonen, 14 solmua Greenwitchiin14 solmua Greenwichiin
[14 knots to Greenwich]
Helsinki: Otava, 2008. 381 p.
ISBN 978-951-1-23014-4
€ 34.40, hardback

The ‘knots’ in the title refer to the 14-part control device in a competitive expedition that the participants have to use to check in at the control points. The Finn Petr Järvi leaves London together with his scientist friend Graham and Graham’s wife Isla on a year-long contest, held in honour of the 350th anniversary of the scientist Edmund Halley. More…

Juha Seppälä: Paholaisen haarukka [The Devil’s fork]

30 December 2008 | Mini reviews

Juha Seppälä: Paholaisen haarukkaPaholaisen haarukka
[The Devil’s fork]
Helsinki: WSOY, 2008. 267 p.
ISBN 978-951-0-34534-4
€ 32, hardback

Seldom does a novel manage to be as topical as Juha Seppälä’s latest – his tenth – which portrays a great economic crisis and the people who are dragged along with it. Seppälä has written lines for his characters where they claim that a novel is only able to depict a reality that existed years ago – but Paholaisen haarukka proves this is not true. More…

A feminist and a dreamer

Issue 4/2008 | Archives online, Authors

The Swedish-speaking minority culture of Finland provided an unlikely crucible for the literary modernism that was to reshape western poetry in the early 20th century. Clas Zilliacus introduces the life, work and times of Hagar Olsson (1893–1978), writer and feminist

Finland-Swedish modernism – the most cherished ‘ism’ and period in Finland-Swedish literature – began in 1916, the year in which both Edith Södergran and Hagar Olsson published their first books: a collection of poems and a novel, respectively.

The principal feature of Södergran’s poetry is a tautly compressed treatment of poetic symbolism; her poems could cross the solar system, but were also able to find the key to life in the raspberry patch. The literary style of Hagar Olsson (1893–1978) had many more uses, but none of them were poetic. The two women became close friends in 1919 but, due to the distance between the poet’s home in Karelia and the critic’s in Helsinki as well as to Södergran’s illness and poverty, they mostly communicated by letters. Their correspondence: from 1919 to 1923, was published more than thirty years after Södergrans death from tuberculosis (1923) in the book Ediths brev (‘Edith’s letters’, 1955). More…

I, Vega Maria Eleonora Dreary

Issue 4/2008 | Archives online, Fiction, Prose

Extracts from the novel Chitambo (Schildts, 1933)

I was born in 1893, of course. That, as everyone knows, is the proudest year in the history of Nordic polar research. It was the year in which Fridtjof Nansen began his world-famous voyage to the North Pole aboard the Fram. Mr Dreary viewed this as a personal distinction and a sign that fate had fixed its gaze on him. He at once took it for granted that I was destined for great things, and he showed much skill in fostering the same foolish idea in me…. More…

Fairy tales updated

30 December 2008 | Authors, Reviews

Jukka Itkonen

Jukka Itkonen. Photo: Irmeli Jung.

Päivi Heikkilä-Halttunen on Jukka Itkonen’s quirky fables

In Jukka Itkonen’s collection of fables for children, Sorsa norsun räätälinä (‘The mallard as tailor to the elephant’, Otava, 2008) the plots and heroes of traditional fairy tales are turned on their heads. This kind of parody drawing on old-time folktales has been introduced to Finnish readers by translations of the British author Babette Cole and her feminist-flavoured picture books. More…

The fox and the bear

30 December 2008 | Children's books, Fiction

Illustrated by Christel Rönns

A story from the children’s book Sorsa norsun räätälinä (‘The mallard as tailor to the elephant’, Otava, 2008; illustrated by Christel Rönns. Introduction by Päivi Heikkilä-Halttunen

Back in the days when mallard still had horns, earthworms, claws, and the bear had a long tail, a bear was trudging dejectedly along the road.

Up drove a fox in his van, studded tires crunching, for it was winter and freezing cold. The fox was coming from fishing and his van was bursting with fresh fish. When he saw the bear, the fox stopped, rolled down the window and called, ‘Why hi there, old honey snout! Where’re you coming from?’

‘I was playing cards at Badger’s. I lost all my money and now I’m starving,’ the bear replied.

‘Jump in. No need to suffer in the grip of this cold,’ the fox said.  The fox and the bear were good friends. However, the fox envied the bear, because Mr Honeypaws had a much longer, more handsome tail than the fox did. The bear clambered into the fox’s car and saw the enormous catch of fish.

‘Wherever did you get such an incredible amount of fish?’ the bear marvelled.

‘The lake. That’s where you get fish,’ the fox replied. ‘Last week I caught such a big pike that I made snow shovels out of its scales.’ More…

Katri Lipson: Kosmonautti [The cosmonaut]

30 December 2008 | Mini reviews

Katri Lipson: KosmonauttiKosmonautti
[The cosmonaut]
Helsinki: Tammi, 2008. 199 p.
ISBN 978-9513-142940
€ 22.50, hardback

Kosmonautti is a reflective first novel by a mature author; Lipson (born 1965), a medical doctor, has succeeded in weeding out the non-essential. In a cold, dark Murmansk during the final decade of the Soviet Union, three people live out their dreams. Seryozha is the good boy who adores space travel and his beautiful music teacher, Svetlana Kovalevna. She is harassed both in the classroom and in the staffroom, and by her snooping neighbours in the communal apartment. More…

The love of the Berber lion

30 December 2008 | Fiction, Prose

A short story from the novel Berberileijonan rakkaus ja muita tarinoita (‘The love of the Berber lion and other stories’, WSOY, 2008). Introduction by Janna Kantola

The lion’s name was Muthul. He was an old Berber lion from the Atlas Mountains. He had a black mane, a black tail with a bushy tip and the scars of many battles on his hide.

He had grown up as a lion cub in the royal palace at Carthage at the time when the Romans, led by Scipio the younger, destroyed the city with fire and sword. The palace was set ablaze, a bloody battle ensued in the gardens, Romans impaled on arrows lay strewn in the rose bushes, Carthaginian blood dyed the water in the fountains. Someone had let all the palace animals, wild and tame alike, out of their cages; they were running around wildly, killing each other in the grip of panic, then disappeared inexplicably. More…

In memoriam Paavo Haavikko 1931–2008

30 December 2008 | Authors, In the news

Paavo Haavikko. Photo: Kai Widell.

Paavo Haavikko. Photo: Kai Widell.

The poet, writer, playwright and publisher Paavo Haavikko died in Helsinki in October, at the age of 77.

Haavikko was one of Finland’s most internationally recognised writers, and his success was helped by many prominent poets’ interest in his lyric poetry. His work was translated by Anselm Hollo and Herbert Lomas (English), Manfred Peter Hein (German), Bo Carpelan (Swedish), and Gabriel Rebourcet (French), among others.

Haavikko debuted in 1951 as a lyric modernist who broke through all of modernism’s barriers. He was a master of intoxicating lyricism, and an intellectually discerning storyteller of general truths in his narrative poems. His collections Talvipalatsi (‘Winter palace’, 1959) and Puut, kaikki heidän vihreytensä (‘The trees, all their green’, 1966), in particular, have achieved the status of classics. More…

Boys Own, Girls Own? –
Gender, sex and identity

30 December 2008 | Essays, Non-fiction

Knowing good and evil: Adam and Eve (Albrecht Dürer, 1507)

Knowing good and evil: Adam and Eve (Albrecht Dürer, 1507)

In Finnish fiction of the present decade, both in poetry and in prose, there seems to be at least one principle that cuts across all genres: an overt expression of gender, writes the critic Mervi Kantokorpi in her essay

Relationships and family have always been central concerns of literature; questions about gender and individual identity have received a new emphasis in Finnish literature from one season to the next. The gender roles represented in contemporary literature appear to become ever more stereotypical. The question is no longer only of the author consciously setting his or her gender up as the starting point for expression, as has already long been the case with modern literature written by women. More…