Archive for March, 2010

Nordic prize to Sofi Oksanen

31 March 2010 | In the news

Sofi Oksanen. Photo: Toni Härkönen

The Nordic Council’s Literary Prize 2010 has been awarded to Sofi Oksanen for her novel Puhdistus (‘Purge’, WSOY, 2008).

The winning novel was selected by a jury from a shortlist of 11 works from the Nordic countries. The prize, worth approximately 47,000 euros, will be awarded in Reykjavik in November.

The novel, about women’s fates in the violent history of 20th-century Estonia, was awarded both the Finlandia Prize for Fiction and the Runeberg Prize in Finland, where it has sold more than 142,000 copies.

So far publication rights have been sold to 27 countries; the English translation, by Lola Rogers, will appear next month in the US, published by Grove Press.

Comic prize

26 March 2010 | In the news

Eero the hero: the winner of the Sarjakuva-Finlandia comics prize 2010

Sarjakuva-Finlandia, worth €5,000, is the name of a prize created in 2007 for Finnish graphic novels or comic books. (Sarjakuva, literally ‘serial picture’, refers to both comic strips and books as well as graphic novels.)

It is awarded annually at the Tampere comics festival (and has nothing to do with the Finlandia prizes for literature, awarded by the Finnish Book Foundation).

Out of 56 contestants, ten made it into the final run, and the winner, Eero, by Petteri Tikkanen, was chosen by the thriller writer Matti Rönkä.

Petteri Tikkanen (born 1975) is a graphic artist who has published several books. In his previous graphic novels about a girl named Kanerva, Eero has appeared as her friend. Now Eero is the central character, and it seems childhood is over. Kanerva likes to chill out with her girlfriends only – what is a boy to do?

Vox bloody populi

25 March 2010 | Columns, Tales of a journalist

Illustration: Joonas Väänänen

How does it sound, the people’s voice? Loud and sometimes clear perhaps, but, as columnist Jyrki Lehtola finds, more often than not shrill and puerile

According to a study carried out by Finland’s biggest newspaper, Helsingin Sanomat, 60 per cent of Finns oppose the idea of allowing more immigrants into Finland.

The chancellor of the University of Helsinki, Ilkka Niiniluoto, is concerned about freedom of speech. Immigration researchers no longer dare participate in public debate, because they find themselves the target of death threats. More…

What Finland read in February

19 March 2010 | In the news


In the town of Fingerborg:Pertti Jarla's cartoon characters

We read comics. Numbers one, six and seven on the February list of Finnish best-selling books (of the Booksellers’ Association of Finland) were comics by Pertti Jarla.

Jarla’s series about the weird town of Fingerpori with its weird citizens seems to have hit the book-buying crowds. Milla Paloniemi’s foul-mouthed hedgehog appeared as number 4.

Number two in February was the victorious latest novel by Kari Hotakainen, Ihmisen osa (‘The human lot’, Siltala, 2009), soon to be published in no less than eight languages – including English, in 2012, by Christopher Maclehose Press (UK).

Number three was a first novel by Elina Tiilikka, Punainen mekko (‘The red dress’, Gummerus), the sad story of a young woman choosing to sell sex. Tiilikka has indicated that the novel is autobiographical, which will sell copies.

Last year’s Finlandia Prize-winning novel Uuni (‘The stove’) by the veteran author Antti Hyry was still at eighth place.

Max Engman: Pitkät jäähyväiset [The long farewell]

18 March 2010 | Mini reviews, Reviews

Pitkät jäähyväiset. Suomi Ruotsin ja Venäjän välissä vuoden 1809 jälkeen
[The long farewell. Finland between Sweden and Russia after 1809]
Helsinki: WSOY, 2009. 239 p.
ISBN 978-951-0-34880-2
€ 36, hardback

In the aftermath of the Finnish War fought between Russia and Sweden in 1809, Finland was passed from Sweden to Russia. Finland’s political origins can be traced back to the autonomous status of a Grand Duchy in the Russian Empire, granted at that time. Historian Max Engman, a professor at Åbo Akademi, examines this process of separation. Along with the immediate consequences of the war and government reforms, he investigates Finland’s ideological distancing from Sweden and its period of ‘russification’. Engman provides a favourable view of the relations between the Russian Empire and Finland in the 19th century: the Russians were quite surprised by the Finns’ organisational skills as their autonomy increased. Finns’ remarkable loyalty towards their new motherland is explained as both a genuine feeling and a matter of political expediency. Finland quickly began to drift away from Sweden, and Finland’s previous mother country began to seem provincial when compared to St Petersburg. Max Engman has published several studies on the breakup of empires and on Finnish identity, particularly in relation to Russia.

The unmaking of Finland’s forests

17 March 2010 | Reviews

Natural landscapes? According to Metsähallitus, the government body charged with forestry, ‘the regeneration area is defined according to topography, in accordance with the landscape. Retention trees and groups of trees are always left standing in regeneration areas to enhance the landscape and to improve the survival chances of species that require old and decaying trees.’

Ritva Kovalainen & Sanni Seppo
Metsänhoidollisia toimenpiteitä
[Silvicultural operations]
Helsinki: Hiilinielu tuotanto ja Miellotar, 2009. 200 p., ill.
ISBN 978-952-99113-4-9
€ 43

Finns have a strong identity as forest people, partly because more than 95 per cent of them still speak an ancient hunter-gatherer language, Finnish, as their mother tongue. In spite of this cultural and historical background, Finland has become the world’s most eager and influential proponent of forestry models based on clear-cutting – felling all the trees in a particular area at one go and planting new trees to replace them. More…

In your own time

16 March 2010 | This 'n' that

Ever wished there were just a few more hours in the day? We certainly have. Forgive us if you’ve seen it before, but this little homily has been doing the rounds on the internet in Finland. It made us laugh, if a little hollowly.

It’s healthy to eat an apple a day, and a banana, for the calcium, and an orange, for the vitamin C, and you need to drink a cup of green tea to reduce your cholesterol. You should also drink two litres of water (and wee the same amount, which doubles the amount of time you spend in the bathroom). And don’t forget the two decilitres of yogurt that you should eat to keep the bacterial flora of your stomach healthy. No one really knows what these bacteria are, but you MUST have at least a million of them, or you won’t be well! You must also drink a glass of red wine a day so you don’t have a heart attack, and a glass of white wine to protect your nervous system! And a glass of beer (I can’t quite remember why), but if you drink them all at the same time you may have a stroke. That won’t matter, though, as you won’t notice it. Everyone should also eat nuts and beans/peas every day. You should eat 4-6 times a day, light meals, but don’t forget that each mouthful should be chewed at least 36 times. That will take up 5 hours of your day! More…

The winter’s tale

15 March 2010 | This 'n' that

It’s coming to an end now, but Helsinki has been experiencing its snowiest winter since the 1970s. Since Christmas the mercury has generally stayed ten to twenty degrees below zero.

People have long been complaining about the black ‘Euro winters’ – the arrival of really mild winter weather as a norm seemed to coincide with Finland’s membership of the European Union in 1995 – but now the boot’s on the other foot.

Speaking of which: young city people have gone on wearing their Converses, partly because they’ve never had to invest in proper winter footwear, partly to be cool. And it certainly has been.

Spring is almost here, but right now the forecast says there’s still time to ski. So, here are some suggestions we found on a maverick site called We Love Helsinki; open to everyone, this communal webzine (in Finnish only) features all sorts of material, from places to people, happenings, photos and observations, including a wryly ironic series on Helsinki’s most romantic places. Here are We Love Helsinki’s top tips for enjoying winter (translation below) in the city for those who haven’t really been through it before; they may also come in useful for any of our dear readers whose home cities are also experiencing unusually cold weather this year:

Snowsnow blahblahblah

The winter’s been going on for too long and it’s been gawped at too much already. If you’ve had enough of the tobogganing slope and complaining about the weather, here are some handy hints that we at We Love Helsinki have put together for enjoying the urban winter.

1. Eat snow. Go on,  e a t  it.
2. Live dangerously and walk close to the walls of houses. Just don’t look up, and don’t take any notice of the protective barriers that have been put in your way.
3. Lick a rotary clothesline. [Or anything else made of metal: it’s thrillingly dangerous, as your tongue will stick. Ouch! The Editors]
4. The hours of daylight show an unpleasant tendency to increase towards spring. Minimise the effect by sleeping until six in the evening.
5. Enjoy the outdoors: take the train to work. [The Finnish rail services have been painfully ineffective this winter. The Editors]
6. Or save time and skate to work.
7. Ski. Just ski.
8. See if you can die of irritation by digging the wrong car out of the snow.

Erkki Lampén: Neljä retkeä läpi Suomen [Four trips across Finland]

15 March 2010 | Mini reviews, Reviews

Neljä retkeä läpi Suomen. Kävellen – pyöräillen – hiihtäen – meloen
[Four trips across Finland. On foot – by bicycle – on skis – by kayak]
Helsinki: Tammi, 2009. 272 p., ill.
ISBN 978-951-31-4988-8
€ 25, hardback

In the spring of 2000, a downbeat 40-year-old man sat musing on the meaning of life when an idea suddenly came to him: why not walk from Helsinki to the Arctic Ocean? In his diary of this trek, which covered more than seven weeks and over a thousand kilometres, the journalist and writer Erkki Lampén describes the landscape, people, events and his own thoughts along the journey. Lampén made another three journeys (in 2003, 2004 and 2006) travelling by bicycle, on skis and by kayak, sleeping in a tent, in rustic cabins, in motels and hotels. His circular cycle journey aimed to follow Finland’s national borders as closely as possible; on skis he covered the distance from Porvoo on the south coast to Utsjoki in the far north; he then paddled his kayak from Lapland to the Gulf of Finland (this journey required plenty of wheeling the vessel from one river or lake to another). Lampén’s diary entries convey an entertaining blend of a realistic battle for survival, philosophising, joy, fury and humour.

Jarl Hellemann in memoriam 1920–2010

15 March 2010 | In the news

Jarl Hellemann 1920–2010. Photo: Pertti Nisonen (2009)

One of the grand old men of Finnish publishing, Jarl Hellemann, wrote in one of his own books: ‘Book publishing is by nature personified, a personal activity.

‘Most of the world’s old publishing houses still bear their founders’ names: Bonnier, Collins, Heinemann, Harper, Knopf, Bertelsmann, Werner Söderström, Gummerus. Americans ignorant of the exceptions to this rule among Finnish publishers still occasionally begin their letters, “Dear Mr Otava” or “Dear Mr Tammi”.’ (From Kustantajan näkökulma, ‘A publisher’s point of view’, Otava, published in Books from Finland 3/1999)

Hellemann himself was Mr Tammi for a long time; he started as a publishing editor at Tammi Publishing Company in 1945 and retired as managing director in 1982.

In 1955 he founded Keltainen kirjasto, the ‘Yellow Library’, an imprint of novels published since the First World War by prominent writers from all over the world. The first was Too Late the Phalarope by Alan Paton, the latest – published in 2009 – was The Disappeared by Kim Echlin. The series now contains more than 400 works, among them novels by 24 Nobel prize-winners.

Among the books in Keltainen kirjasto (list, in Finnish), Hellemann’s favourite was James Joyce’s Ulysses, translated by the poet and author Pentti Saarikoski in 1964. Hellemann continued choosing books for Keltainen kirjasto long after he retired.

Born in Copenhagen, Hellemann moved with his family to his mother’s home country, Finland, in the 1930s. Well-travelled and fluent in many languages, Hellemann himself published a novel (at the age of 25), three books on publishing and, in 1996, his memoirs.

Eero ja Saimi Järnefeltin kirjeenvaihtoa ja päiväkirjamerkintöjä 1889–1914 [Eero and Saimi Järnefelt: Correspondence and diary entries, 1889–1914]

12 March 2010 | Mini reviews, Reviews

Eero ja Saimi Järnefeltin kirjeenvaihtoa ja päiväkirjamerkintöjä 1889–1914
[Eero and Saimi Järnefelt: Correspondence and diary entries, 1889–1914]
Toim. [Ed. by] Marko Toppi
Helsinki: Suomalaisen Kirjallisuuden Seura, 2009. 403 p., ill.
ISBN 978-952-222-113-1
€ 38, hardback

The actress Saimi Swan (1867–1944) and painter Eero Järnefelt (1863–1937) were both born into prominent Finnish families united by similar creative and cultural ideals. The book consists mainly of correspondence between the couple, beginning with their engagement in 1890, and their diary entries up to 1914. Eero Järnefelt’s letters from Paris and Rome provide fascinating glimpses into personal relationships, discussions on artistic practices and aims, and political movements from the golden era of Finnish art. Saimi Järnefelt’s letters illuminate the conflict she experienced between her career and family life. She had to keep her engagement secret in order to safeguard her career; once married, Saimi Järnefelt left the theatre. In letters written to her sister-in-law Aino Sibelius – the wife of composer Jean Sibelius – Saimi Järnefelt often described the cycle of the seasons in her garden: gardening was a hobby the two women shared, in which their need for self-expression could find an outlet.

Street-corner man

11 March 2010 | Extracts, Non-fiction

c. bremer/boy

Check-up by a district nurse: from the exhibition ‘Everyday life in Finland’ (Muonio, 1970)

Photographs from Caj Bremer. Valokuvaaja / Photographer / Fotograf (Musta Taide, 2010; graphic design by Jorma Hinkka)

The period after the Second World War and before the age of television was the golden age of photojournals such as Life, Look and Paris Match. The big Finnish illustrated periodical was Viikkosanomat (‘The weekly news’); its early star, Caj Bremer, was one of the first Finnish press photographers to wander among people and record life as it was

‘Every photograph is the sum of aesthetic choices, and each one has a relationship with reality both when it is taken and in the time frame in which the viewer encounters it’, writes news editor and curator Riitta Raatikainen in her introduction to Caj Bremer. Valokuvaaja / Photographer / Fotograf.

Caj Bremer (born 1929) worked for years as a press photographer, most intensively between 1950 and 1970. A retrospective exhibition of his work over six decades opened at Helsinki’s Ateneum Art Museum in February (until 16 May). More…

Juha Maasola: Kirves [The axe]

4 March 2010 | Mini reviews, Reviews

[The axe]
Helsinki: Maahenki, 2009. 207 p., ill.
ISBN 978-952-5652-74-1
€ 44, hardback

This book by Juha Maasola, a forestry protection officer, provides an economic, cultural and social history of the axe from prehistoric times to the present day. The axe was the sole implement used for felling trees in Finland up until the turn of the 20th century. Most Finnish men still know how to chop their own wood for the sauna, while one axe model produced by Fiskars has won awards for outstanding product design. This impressively illustrated work also explains the techniques and history of forestry and logging. In the 1940s, wartime ‘woodcutting bees’ united the Finnish nation, with women picking up their axes and joining in. Buildings have traditionally been constructed from wood, and builders had to be handy with a hatchet. This skill gave carpenters their name in Finnish: kirvesmies – literally, ‘axeman’. A list of over 300 Finnish-language terms meaning ‘axe’, gleaned from the archives of the Research Institute for the Languages of Finland, is included. The book concludes with a look at portrayals of the use of axes in Finnish literature, film and art.

Minä, Mauri Kunnas [I, Mauri Kunnas]

4 March 2010 | Mini reviews, Reviews

Minä, Mauri Kunnas
[I, Mauri Kunnas]
Muistiin merkitsi [As told to] Lotta Sonninen
Helsinki: Otava, 2009. 182 p., ill.
ISBN 978-951-1-23186-8
€ 40, hardback

Mauri Kunnas (born 1950) is a cartoonist and graphic artist. His children’s books have been translated into 28 languages; the translations have sold approximately 2,5 million copies. His anthropomorphic canine characters from Koiramäki, Doghill, are well known for their adventures in historical milieus; researching these settings is one of Kunnas’ passions. His reinterpretations of Finnish literary classics are also popular: The Canine Kalevala and Seven Dog Brothers offer affectionately humorous homages to the Kalevala, the Finnish folk epic, and the classic novel by Aleksis Kivi. Joulupukki (1981), published in English as Santa Claus, is arguably the world’s best-known Finnish children’s book. In this book, Kunnas gives a lively account of his childhood and youth, as well as his influences and the different phases of his career as an illustrator. The text is complemented by photos from Kunnas’ family album and his own archives, from adventure stories he illustrated as a boy to a pair of hippy bell-bottomed jeans adorned with doodles.

Music on the go

3 March 2010 | Extracts, Non-fiction

A little night music: Teemu Kupiainen playing in Baddi, India, as the sun sets. Photo: Stefan Bremer (2009)

It was viola player Teemu Kupiainen‘s desire to play Bach on the streets that took him to Dharamsala, Paris, Chengdu, Tetouan and Lourdes. Bach makes him feel he is in the right place at the right time – and playing Bach can be appreciated equally by educated westerners, goatherds, monkeys and street children, he claims. In these extracts from his book Viulun-soittaja kadulla (‘Fiddler on the route’, Teos, 2010; photographs by Stefan Bremer) he describes his trip to northern India in 2004.

In 2002 I was awarded a state artist’s grant lasting two years. My plan was to perform Bach’s music on the streets in a variety of different cultural settings. My grant awoke amusement in musical circles around the world: ‘So, you really do have the Ministry of Silly Walks in Finland?’ a lot of people asked me, in reference to Monty Python. More…