Archive for February, 2010

Living inside language

23 February 2010 | Essays, Non-fiction

Jyrki Kiiskinen sets out on a journey through seven collections of poetry that appeared in 2009. Exploring history, verbal imagery and the limits of language, these poems speak – ironically or in earnest – about landscapes, love and metamorphoses

The landscape of words is in constant motion, like a runner speeding through a sweep of countryside or an eye scaling the hills of Andalucia.

The proportions of the panorama start to shift so that sharp-edged leaves suddenly form small lakeside scenes; a harbour dissolves into a sheet of white paper or another era entirely. Holes and different layers of events begin to appear in the poems. Within each image, another image is already taking shape; sensory experiences develop into concepts, and the text progresses in a series of metamorphoses. More…

Anu Lahtinen: Pohjolan prinsessat. Viikinkineidoista renessanssiruhtinattariin [Princesses of Pohjola. From Viking maidens to Renaissance princesses]

22 February 2010 | Mini reviews, Reviews

Pohjolan prinsessat. Viikinkineidoista renessanssiruhtinattariin
[Princesses of Pohjola. From Viking maidens to Renaissance princesses]
Jyväskylä: Atena, 2009. 223 p., ill.
ISBN 978-951-796-595-8
€ 33, hardback

This book, a side project to Anu Lahtinen’s doctoral dissertation, tells of the women of the Nordic royal families from the 7th to the 17th centuries. The term ‘princesses’ is used here to refer to female members of ruling families who did not hold positions of power themselves. With its brief biographies of people who have long remained hidden in the historical shadow of great men, this book sheds light on a little-researched subject. Many princesses of the medieval Swedish, Danish and Norwegian realms grew up into significant political figures; they needed cunning, a good command of languages and even fighting skills in order to survive the tumults of that age. The rollicking parties and romantic escapades of Cecilia, one of the five daughters of King Gustav Vasa of Sweden, are reminiscent of the ‘party princesses’ of our own time. A Viking-era princess, Alfhild, became a pirate captain; according to medieval tales, she disguised herself as a man and managed to lead a crew of female pirates in a number of raids along the shores of the Baltic.

Kielissä kulttuurien ääni [Language: the voice of cultures]

22 February 2010 | Mini reviews, Reviews

Kielissä kulttuurien ääni
[Language: the voice of cultures]
Toim. [Ed. by] Anna Idström and Sachiko Sosa
Helsinki: Suomalaisen Kirjallisuuden Seura, 2009. 311 p.
ISBN 978-952-222-129-2
€ 28, paperback

It is estimated that at least half of the world’s languages are dying out. This book aims to provide readers with information on the relationship between languages and cultures. What sorts of human cultural traditions are disappearing as a result of language extinction? In this book, linguistic researchers describe aspects of the interplay between language and culture and how different languages shed light on the cultures of their speakers. The 15 chapters include studies of the special features of Khanty texts, the Mansi language of Russia, Bantu languages, Creoles and Japanese as well as of language taboos within Finnish Roma culture. The subject is also addressed via translation studies; translating the Bible into hundreds of languages has proved that every language is unique – no language is completely substitutable for another in all its finest nuances.

Second nature

15 February 2010 | Articles, Non-fiction

World Wide Web pictogramWe hear a lot about how the internet is going to transform the reading and the marketing of books. But what about the act of writing? Teemu Manninen reports from the frontline of a new generation of authors for whom life has always been digital

When we think of the future of publishing in these times of electronic reading devices, audiobooks, and the internet, when it seems as if the whole material being of literature is about to be transformed, we may ask how the marketing of books will change.

What happens when publishing goes online? How will authors cope with the new culture of the internet? More…

American Girl goes America

12 February 2010 | In the news

Monika Fagerholm’s novel Den amerikanska flickan has been published by the Other Press of New York.

The American Girl was characterised by Publisher’s Weekly as ‘a hypnotic coming-of-age story that hinges on a dark but powerful bond between two Finnish girls growing up in the swamplands of outer Helsinki’. More…

Maria Turtschaninoff: Arra. Legender från Lavora [Arra. Legends from Lavora]

12 February 2010 | Mini reviews, Reviews

Arra. Legender från Lavora
[Arra. Legends from Lavora]
Helsinki: Söderströms, 2009. 251 p.
ISBN 978-951-52-2604-4
19.90 €, hardback

Legender från Lavora by Maria Turtschaninoff (born 1977) is limpid and leisurely in tone, yet the story of Arra, a girl from a poor family, is intense, tragic and original. Because she is mute, Arra is thought to be feeble-minded, and thus of no value to her family. She becomes, in fact, an ‘invisible child’ – the author’s reference to neglected children of the present day. The girl uses a special power to compensate for the contempt of those around her: she binds herself in living connection with nature, which leads her in the end to glory and honour. Because of Arra’s long period of muteness as she enters her teens, dialogue is a very small portion of the book. The narrative may be challenging for young readers, but the vivid love story of Arra and Prince Surando has an irresistible, magical enchantment.

Tomi Kontio: Viidakon kutsu [The call of the jungle]

12 February 2010 | Mini reviews, Reviews

Viidakon kutsu
[The call of the jungle]
Helsinki: Tammi, 2009, 240 p.
ISBN 978-951-31-5042-6
16.20 €, hardback

Poet and author Tomi Kontio’s book for young teenagers is a take-off of the boys’ adventure story and fantasy novel, a genre he has used in the past. But Kontio leads 12-year-old Alma and Alpo into the jungle… of eastern Finland – the backwoods of Kainuu, to be precise. There they meet the Vimbas, a tribe living in harmony with nature, who teach them many important lessons. Kontio succeeds in combining his two narrative talents: he doesn’t underestimate the value of lively and lyrical language to his target audience, and he entertains his readers with fabulations that mix the rational and the absurd into a cohesive whole. Viidakon kutsu is a portrait of a world that is considerably brighter than in Kontio’s previous books for young readers.

And the winner is…

9 February 2010 | In the news

Illustration: Elina Warsta

The Runeberg Prize for fiction, given this year for the twenty-fourth time, went to Kari Hotakainen (born 1957) for his novel Ihmisen osa (‘The human lot’, Siltala, 2009). The prize, worth €10,000, was awarded on 5 February – on the birthday of the poet J.L. Runeberg (1804–1877) – in the city of Porvoo.

The jury – representing the prize-founders, the Uusimaa newspaper, the city of Porvoo, both the Finnish and Finland-Swedish writers’ associations and as the Finnish Critics’ Association – chose the winner from a  shortlist of seven books. ‘The picture of a fast-changing society that Hotakainen paints in his novel is not a comforting one, but neither is it hopeless…. chilling and perceptive, but not without sharp comedy’, the jury concluded.

Finnish best-sellers in Estonia

8 February 2010 | In the news

In mid-January four books out of ten on the best-sellers’ list in Estonia were translations of Finnish books: a history of Estonia by Seppo Zetterberg (Viron historia, 2007, number 1), a book on 20th-century Estonian history edited by Sofi Oksanen and Imbi Paju (Kaiken takana oli pelko, ‘Fear behind it all’, 2009, number 6), the 2008 Finlandia Prize-winning novel, set in 20th-century Estonia, by Sofi Oksanen (Puhdistus, ‘Purge’, number 7) and a new translation of the classic 1940s novel Sinuhe, egyptiläinen (English translation, Sinuhe the Egyptian) by Mika Waltari (number 10).

Oksanen’s novel was the second on the list of best-sellers in 2009. The list is run by Apollo bookstore chain; the largest in Estonia, it has ten shops in four cities and an internet shop. Apollo is owned by the Finnish Sanoma Trade, one of the five divisions of Sanoma Group, an European media corporation with activities in 20 countries and net sales of 3,030.1 million €.

Jukka Laajarinne: Ruoalla ei saa leikkiä [Don’t play with your food]

5 February 2010 | Mini reviews, Reviews

Ruoalla ei saa leikkiä
[Don’t play with your food]
Kuvitus [Ill. by]: Martti Ruokonen
Helsinki: WSOY, 2009. 60 p.
ISBN 978-951-0-35040-9
18.20 €, hardback

Jukka Laajarinne (born 1970) exercises his obsession with challenging authority again, stretching the boundaries of traditional children’s literature. It seems that becoming a father has made him wonder at the dominant role of food in everyday life: this book deals broadly with food, eating, and food culture. The impetus for the stories might be an ordinary figure of speech or adage that is taken apart and played with. For instance, King Midas, familiar from Greek mythology, who turned everything to gold with his touch, is transformed in Laajarinne’s retelling into a sticky-fingered kid who makes a mess of everything around him. Martti Ruokonen’s graphic illustrations are stark and even coarse in places, their colour choices and rounded forms reminiscent of visual images made for the first books for babies.

Maria Vuorio: Kiitollinen sammakko [The grateful frog]

5 February 2010 | Mini reviews, Reviews

Kiitollinen sammakko

Kiitollinen sammakko ja muita satuja järviseudulta
[The grateful frog and other stories from the lake country]
Kuvitus [Ill. by]: Virpi Penna
Helsinki: Tammi, 2009. 111 p.
ISBN 978-951-31-5017-4
18.20 €, hardback

There is no need to categorise Maria Vuorio’s original yet tradition-conscious prose and poetry as being for readers of a particular age. A father and son, Aatos and Justus, are spending their vacation at a summer cabin. Justus rescues a frog from a well, setting in motion a chain of events that leads the boy to see the world through different eyes. The frog happens to be the king of the frogs, and wishes to reward Justus for his good deed. The stories are wonderful explorations of humble, reticent animals – a perch, a dragonfly, a spider, a crab, a mole. A bumblebee’s leg in a cast has probably never been described with such devotion before. Today, Finnish children’s relationship with nature is limited to the surroundings of the summer cabin. But Vuorio’s view of the relationship of child with nature is still a romantic one. Dazzled by the moonlight, Justus wonders to himself, ‘Why is there such beauty, if no one ever sees it?’

Shards from the empire

5 February 2010 | Fiction, Prose

‘Imperiets skärvor’, ‘Shards from the empire’, is from the collection of short stories, Lindanserskan (‘The tightrope-walker’, Söderströms, 2009; Finnish translation Nuorallatanssija, Gummerus, 2009)

Gustav’s greatest passion is for genealogy. He dedicates his free time to sketching coats of arms; masses of colourful, noble crests.

Gustav asked me to do a translation. I sat for ten days trying to decipher a couple of pages from a Russian archive dating from the 1830s. Sentences like, With this letter, we hereby give notice of our gracious decision.‘

The intricate handwriting belonged to some collegiate registrar or other. Perhaps Gogol’s Khlestakov. More…

Between three cultures

5 February 2010 | Authors, Reviews

Zinaida Lindén. Photo: Johan Lindén

A new collection of short stories by the Leningrad-born author Zinaida Lindén explores the ambiguities of life between three cultures: her native Russia, her adopted Finland, and Japan, where she has also lived. In this introduction to Lindén’s short story Shards from the empire, Janna Kantola appreciates Lindén’s capricious, recalcitrant prose, and the positive, generous spirit that lies behind her work

Seen from a distance, Finns and Russians seem very like one another.

Zinaida Lindén has written her books from a cultural no-man’s-land in which she may have been forced to ponder the central questions of national identity. After studying Swedish in her native Russia, Lindén (born 1963) settled in Finland with her Finland-Swedish husband, and has written all of her works in Swedish. A recurring theme is that of encounters with the foreign, the other. More…

Let us eat cake

4 February 2010 | This 'n' that

A national favourite. Photo: Ville Koistinen

Here at Books from Finland central we’re celebrating, with the one Finnish literary anniversary that involves its own dedicated cake.

The fifth of February marks the birthday of the poet J.L. Runeberg (1804–1877)  – writer, among many other things, of the Finnish national anthem (actually unofficial, as there’s no mention of such a thing in the legislation), which he wrote in Swedish, Vårt land (in Finnish, Maamme). More…