Archive for October, 2010

The legacy of a self-made man

29 October 2010 | This 'n' that

On camelback: in the exotic part of Veijo Rönkkönen’s concrete cosmos there are animals and palm trees, side by side with the living plants of the northerly latitudes. - Photo, left: Veijo Rönkkönen; photo, right: Veli Granö

Some of our readers may remember a story entitled ‘Self-made man’, published in Books from Finland in April 2009: Veijo Rönkkönen, who lived his entire life on a small, isolated farm in eastern Finland, built a garden inhabited by five hundred human and animal figures made of concrete.

Rönkkönen worked in a nearby pulp factory for 41 years. He lived in a small house in the middle of the garden, surrounded by his sculptures, which he had started making in the early 1960s.

Photographer and writer Veli Granö introduced the life and works of this self-made artist in his book Veijo Rönkkösen todellinen elämä / The real life of Veijo Rönkkönen (text in Finnish and English, Maahenki, 2007).

Contemporary folk art in Finland goes by the acronym ITE, from the words itse tehty elämä, ‘self-made life’. The French called it art brut; the English-language term is ‘outsider art’. The artists are ‘unschooled visionaries’ who make their art independent on any societal requirements or definitions.

The sculpture park became the most notable tourist attraction in Parikkala, visited by as many as 26,000 visitors every summer. Rönkkönen, however, refused to turn it into business. He never talked to visitors voluntarily either, but the park was open and free to all. He was awarded a state prize for artistic achievement, the Finland Prize, worth €30,000, in 2007, which he accepted.

Veijo Rönkkönen died last spring at the age of 66. The estate – Rönkkönen’s siblings, living elsewhere in Finland – offered the unique park to the county of Parikkala, which declined the offer because it’s upkeep was estimated to be too expensive.

In October businessman Reino Uusitalo bought the place for €140,000, with the intention of founding an administrative committee for the upkeep of the park. Rönkkönen’s extraordinary ‘total work of art’, will thus stay open – at least until nature –  lichen, moss, creepers – claims what it considers it own. 500 sculptures: a self-made man’s open-air art

What grade is your kid in?

29 October 2010 | Non-fiction, Tales of a journalist

Illustration: Joonas Väänänen

Should a journalist show his hand? Columnist Jyrki Lehtola ponders the pros and cons of showing one’s true political colours

What’s the best way to present an initiative that would get the cynical, lazy news media to take an interest in the outside world?

The easiest way is to make a proposal in which the outside world is actually defined as the news media itself.

This is exactly what Matti Apunen did early this autumn: Apunen, a long-time journalist and the former editor-in-chief of the Aamulehti newspaper, had just left the paper to lobby for Finnish industry and trade interests as director of the Finnish Business and Policy Forum EVA.

He presented the Finnish media with a straw poll, following the Swedish model, in which reporters would anonymously answer questions about their political leanings. More…

Mikko Rimminen: Nenäpäivä [Nose day]

29 October 2010 | Mini reviews, Reviews

[Nose day]
Helsinki: Teos, 2010. 339 p.
ISBN 978-951-327-1
€ 25.90, hardback

Female protagonists as sympathetic as this are rare in contemporary literature; in this third novel by Mikko Rimminen (born 1975), Irma is a solitary, slightly awkward outsider who gets badly tangled up in a muddle of her own making. She poses as a door-to-door market researcher – in order to meet people. Rimminen employs a more complex plot than in his previous novels (his 2004 debut work, Pussikaljaromaani, ‘A six-pack novel’, about idle young men, has been translated into five languages). The author is an acknowledged master of the slow narration: he is skilled at describing the sound of silence and giving a page-long description of the behaviour of a mobile phone in someone’s hand. All that passes unsaid and unseen between people is cleverly and hilariously put into words. Rimminen’s Finnish is highly original – he keeps creating new verbs and compounds – and his characters who stand on the margins hankering after ordinary life gain the reader’s genuine sympathy.

Hip hip hurray, Moomins!

22 October 2010 | This 'n' that

Partying in Moomin Valley: Moomintroll (second from right) dancing through the night with the Snork Maiden (from Tove Jansson’s second Moomin book, Kometjakten, Comet in Moominland, 1946)

The Moomins, those sympathetic, rotund white creatures, and their friends in Moomin Valley celebrate their 65th birthday in 2010.

Tove Jansson published her first illustrated Moomin book, Småtrollen och den stora översvämningen (‘The little trolls and the big flood’) in 1945. In the 1950s the inhabitants of Moomin Valley became increasingly popular both in Finland and abroad, and translations began to appear – as did the first Moomin merchandise in the shops.

Jansson later confessed that she eventually had begun to hate her troll – but luckily she managed to revise her writing, and the Moomin books became more serious and philosophical, yet retaining their delicious humour and mild anarchism. The last of the nine storybooks, Moominvalley in November, appeared in 1970, after which Jansson wrote novels and short stories for adults.

Tove Jansson with her creations (Photo:, 1993)

Tove Jansson (1914–2001) was a painter, caricaturist, comic strip artist, illustrator and author of books for both children and adults. Her Moomin comic strips were published in the daily paper the London Evening News between 1954 and 1974; from 1960 onwards the strips were written and illustrated by Tove’s brother Lars Jansson (1926–2000).

Tove’s niece, Sophia Jansson (born 1962) now runs Moomin Characters Ltd as its artistic director and majority shareholder. (The company’s latest turnover was 3,6 million euros).

For the ever-growing fandom of Jansson there is a delightful biography of Tove (click ‘English’) and her family on the site, complete with pictures, video clips and texts.

The world now knows Moomins; the books have been translated into 40 languages. The  London Children’s Film Festival in October 2010 featured the film Moomins and the Comet Chase in 3D, with a soundtrack by the Icelandic artist Björk. An exhibition celebrating 65 years of the Moomins (from 23 October to 15 January 2011) at the Bury Art Gallery in Greater Manchester presented Jansson’s illustrations of Moominvalley and its inhabitants.

In association with several commercial partners in the Nordic countries Moomin Characters launched a year-long campaign collecting funds to be donated to the World Wildlife Foundation for the protection of the Baltic Sea. Tove Jansson lived by the Baltic all her life –  she spent most of her summers on a small barren island called Klovharu – and the sea featured strongly in her books for both children and adults.

Riikka Pulkkinen: Totta [True]

22 October 2010 | Mini reviews, Reviews

Helsinki: Otava, 2010. 333 p.
ISBN 978-951-1-22965-0
€ 31,40, hardback

The second novel by Riikka Pulkkinen (born 1980) is a comprehensive work that tackles big themes: love, death and rejection. Pulkkinen’s particular strengths as an author are her richly nuanced language and her mastery of structure. While the ending provides food for thought, the book is an enjoyable novel about childhood, growing up, daring to love and live. Martti, a seventy-year-old artist, is caring for his sick wife, a highly respected psychologist. Martti and Elsa have had a long and happy marriage. Then it emerges that Martti had a long affair with their live-in childminder Eeva, whose story grows into one of the main plot strands of the book. Their love story takes place against the background of the 1960s, when the waves passing through European society reached Finland as well. Pulkkinen skilfully brings the perspective of the now grown-up daughter Eleonoora into the mix, as she views her early childhood under the care of two mother figures. At the 2010 Frankfurt Book Fair translation rights to Totta were sold to six countries, which at least goes to show that there is interesting literature to be found in the Nordic countries beyond the ubiquitous crime novels.

Helsinki Book Fair: 28–31 October

22 October 2010 | In the news

Looking for books: Helsinki Book Fair (Photo:The Finnish Fair Corporation, 2009)

The tenth Helsinki Book Fair takes place in Helsinki’s Exhibition & Convention Centre over the last weekend of October. More than 1,000 writers, artists, scientists, politicians and specialists will participate in the programme. There are more than fifty authors from 17 countries, among them the British historian Antony Beevor, the Estonian writer Jaan Kaplinski and the Indian writer Kishwar Desai.

The theme country this year is France, and among the French guests will be the novelists Andreï Makine and Nicolas Fargues, the fantasy writer Pierre Pével and the poets Sophie Loizeau, Hélène Sanguinetti and Gabriel Mwènè Okoundji, originally from Congo.

The translator Anne Colin du Terrail will talk to the writers Leena Lehtolainen and Johanna Sinisalo whose work she has translated into French.

Comics and graphic novels as well as poetry are also in the focus at this year’s Book Fair: approximately 70 Finnish and foreign poets feature in readings, interviews and nonstop performances.

In 2009 a record-breaking number of visitors – almost 77,000 – attended the Book Fair. It seems the autumnal Fair is a handy chance to many to buy Christmas presents, among other things; at least last year three out of four said they had come to buy books (and not just spot celebrities, for example).

This time, in addition to books, the visitors to the Exhibition & Convention Centre will be able to attend two other Fairs, entitled Wine, Food and Good Living and Music Fair as well.

Horror on the first line

15 October 2010 | Authors, Essays, Non-fiction, On writing and not writing

Writer's block

In this series, Finnish authors ponder their profession. In his radical youth, the poet and author Ilpo Tiihonen thought blind rage was what fuelled poetry. As he later found it’s a lot more complicated, he began to invent ways of loosening literary tension

When I was a little more than 20, when I thought I had completed the manuscript of my first volume of poems, everything was going to hell.

I wanted life to be political, exotic, inspired, but the Finnish way of life, with its instructions and its home loans crushed people into a stiff and monopositional way of being. One of submission. I protested. We made an underground magazine whose cover showed Nixon peeing on South America. We founded a propaganda theatre which raged against the colonels’ junta in Greece. And there was plenty to vilify about the Finnish bourgeoisie, too. I hated capitalism, TV advertisements and the high prices of bus tickets. And there was no hot water in my rented digs. The main thing was to protest. More…

Toivo Flink: Kotiin karkotettavaksi: Inkeriläisen siirtoväen palautukset Suomesta Neuvostoliittoon [Exiled home: The return of Ingrian emigrants from Finland to the Soviet Union]

15 October 2010 | Mini reviews, Reviews

Kotiin karkotettavaksi: Inkeriläisen siirtoväen palautukset Suomesta Neuvostoliittoon 1944–1955
[Exiled home: The return of Ingrian emigrants from Finland to the Soviet Union, 1944–1955]
Helsinki: Finnish Literature Society, 2010.  320 p., ill.
ISBN 978-952-222-183-4
33 €, paperback

It has been 65 years since the Allied Commission operation to repatriate Finnic Ingrian emigrants from Finland to the Soviet Union was completed. During the Continuation War (1941–1944), 63,000 Ingrian civilians fled to Finland to avoid the war; 56,000 of them were returned to the Soviet Union at the order of the Russian-dominated Allied Commission. It is estimated that half of those remaining in Finland secretly fled to Sweden. Ingrians continued to be returned from Finland to the Soviet Union for ten more years. The Ingrians had been promised they would be returned to their former home areas around St Petersburg, but they were actually transferred to more remote parts of the Soviet Union. In this first study to deal exclusively with the travails of the Ingrians, Flink has used Russian archives to uncover how and where the population was moved. This subject has long been a sensitive issue both in domestic and foreign affairs. According to Flink, his research would not have been possible if the return of Ingrians to Finland had not begun in 1990. (There have been about 30,000 immigrants since, and now the state is planning to terminate the right of return.)

Best-selling books in September

15 October 2010 | In the news

In September, Finns read crime novels. Matti Yrjänä Joensuu’s latest book featuring his police protagonist Timo Harjunpää, Harjunpää ja rautahuone (‘Harjunpää and the iron room’, Otava), topped the Booksellers’ Association of Finland’s best-seller list.

Joensuu’s Harjunpää ja pahan pappi was published in English in 2006 and reissued in 2008 under the title Priest of Evil. A film adaptation will be released in Finland in late October, directed by Olli Saarela and starring Peter Franzén in the title role.

Number two was the latest thriller from the pseudonymous Ilkka Remes,  Shokkiaalto (‘Shock wave’, WSOY), and number three was Leena Lehtolainen’s Minne tytöt kadonneet (‘Where have all the young girls gone’, Tammi).

Sofi Oksanen’s record-breaking seller and critical success Puhdistus (WSOY; English edition: Purge, Atlantic Books) held strong in fourth place.

In translated fiction, Paul Auster, Diana Gabaldon ja Paulo Coelho headed the list.

The non-fiction list was topped by a study of sociability and social skills by Liisa Keltikangas-Järvinen (Sosiaalisuus ja sosiaaliset taidot, WSOY). Readers seem to be interested in survival, as the number two book was in a similar vein, Lilli Loiri-Seppä’s Selviämistarinoita (‘Stories of coping’ – also translatable as ‘Stories about getting sober’, Gummerus), about how to stop drinking.

Walt Disney was missing again from the top of the children’s list, the number one and number two spots being taken by Finnish picture books, Tatu ja Patu supersankareina (‘Tatu and Patu as superheroes’, Otava) by Aino Havukainen and Sami Toivonen, and Hurja-Harri ja pullon henki (‘Scary Harry and the genie in the bottle’, Otava) by the veteran graphic artist and children’s book author Mauri Kunnas. A new installment of the Ella storybook series by Timo Parvela, Ella ja Yön ritarit (‘Ella and the Knights of the Night’, Tammi) held the number three spot. In September, Finns read crime novels. Matti Yrjänä Joensuu’s latest book featuring his police protagonist Timo Harjunpää, Harjunpää ja rautahuone (‘Harjunpää and the iron room’, Otava), topped the Booksellers’ Association of Finland’s best-seller list.

Icy prospects

8 October 2010 | This 'n' that

Jorma Puranen: Juovlajohka, Norway, 1997

Photographer Jorma Puranen (born 1951) has long been concerned with nature and the representation of northern landscapes, particularly Lapland, as well as light and its reflection.

One of his most famous projects is Imaginary Homecoming. In the 1990s, on a visit in the Musée de l’Homme in Paris, he found some old archive boxes full of glass negatives. They were ethnographical images of the Sámi, taken by G. Roche, employed by the French Count Bonaparte on an expedition to Lapland in 1884.

Puranen took them back to the wildernesses of Lapland and photographed them once more in their native surroundings, where they became a photographic installation in the tundra. He published them in his book Kuvitteellinen kotiinpaluu / Imaginary Homecoming (Pohjoinen, 1999).

Puranen’s 2006 series Icy Prospects explores landscape: the large pictures are made by painting wood with black gloss paint, reflecting the landscape on the wood and photographing the reflection.

Snow, ice, water, sky and trees are portrayed the way that brings Impressionism to mind, as Liz Wells writes in her introduction in the book entitled Icy Prospects, published by Hatje Cantz (Germany, 2009).

Jorma Puranen: Icy Prospects (series, 2006)

A new exhibition of Jorma Puranen’s work from 1992 to 2010, at EMMA, the Espoo Museum of Modern Art, opened on 29 September; it runs until 9 January 2011. Partly retrospective, it features Puranen’s techniques of chromogenic colour and black and white photography, showcasing his highly original style.

In the beginning was… DNA?

8 October 2010 | Reviews

Adam and Eve, or the elephants: Osmo Rauhala’s sketch of The Fall of Man. As the bull eats the apple, evil rises from the ground in the form of a plant with eyes: a ‘misbreed’, a cross of two species alien to each other

Kuutti Lavonen – Osmo Rauhala – Pirjo Silveri
Tyrvään Pyhän Olavin kirkko – sata ja yksi kuvaa /
St Olaf’s Church in Tyrvää – One Hundred and One Paintings

Toim. / Edited by Pirjo Silveri
Translations: Silja Kudel, Jüri Kokkonen
Helsinki: Kirjapaja, 2010. 143 p., ill.
ISBN 978-952-247-103-1
€44.30, hardback

The old shingle roof of the early 16th-century stone church of St Olaf in Tyrvää, in the province of Pirkanmaa, southern Finland, was repaired by village volunteers in 1997. Three weeks after they completed their work, a drunken arsonist set the church on fire. More…

Kaipaus Karjalaan. Matkoja kotiseudulle [Longing for Karelia. Journeys to the homeland]

8 October 2010 | Mini reviews, Reviews

Kaipaus Karjalaan. Matkoja kotiseudulle
[Longing for Karelia. Journeys to the homeland]
Toim. [Ed. by] Liisa Lehto
Helsinki: Finnish Literature Society, 2010. 231 p., ill.
ISBN 978-952-222-167-4
€34,  hardback

The interest among Finns in making journeys to the areas of Karelia that were lost to the Soviet Union  after the wars of 1939–1944 has showed no signs of lessening. On the contrary: the increasing preoccupation of  researchers and ordinary citizens with the roots of the Karelians and with their modern way of life makes it possible to speak of a kind of Karelian renaissance. The opening of the borders after the fall of the Soviet Union triggered an enormous enthusiasm for tourism. This book contains fifty accounts of such journeys, drawn from the material of the Finnish Literature Society’s Folklore Archives collected in 1992 and 2007. The personal travel stories are by writers of different ages – the oldest was born in 1906, the youngest in the 1980s  – and they focus on attitudes to loss of homeland that range from deep feelings of anger and failure to emotions of joy and of ‘reconciliation with oneself and with the whole of one’s life.’ Acts of purification in the water of the home village well or of swimming in Lake Ladoga are described in terms of a sacred ritual.

European Union literature prizes 2010

8 October 2010 | In the news

Riku Korhonen. Photo: Harri Pälviranta

Riku Korhonen. Photo: Harri Pälviranta

With his novel Lääkäriromaani (‘Doctor novel’, Sammakko, 2009), Riku Korhonen (born 1972) is one of the 11 winners of the 2010 European Union Prize for Literature, worth €5,000 each. The winners were announced at Frankfurt Book Fair on 6 October.

The European Commission, the European Booksellers’ Federation (EBF), the European Writers’ Council (EWC) and the Federation of European Publishers (FEP)  award the annual prize, which is supported through the European Union’s culture programme. It aims to draw attention to new talents and to promote the publication of their books in different countries, as well as celebrating European cultural diversity. Authors who have published two to four prose works during the last five years and whose work has been translated into two foreign languages at the most are eligible for the prize.

Korhonen has published two novels, a collection of short prose and a collection of poetry. Read translated extracts, published in Books from Finland in 2003, from his first novel, Kahden ja yhden yön tarinoita (‘Tales from two and one nights’, 2003) here. More…