Archive for November, 2010

Blowing in the wind

26 November 2010 | Reviews

Clarinettist who travelled: Bernhard Crusell

Bernhard Crusell: Keski-Euroopan matkapäiväkirjat 1803–1822
[Bernhard Crusell: Travel Diaries from Central Europe, 1803–1822]
Suom. ja toim. [Translated into Finnish and edited by] Janne Koskinen
Helsinki: Suomalaisen kirjallisuuden seura [Finnish Literature Society], 271 p., ill.
ISBN 978-952-222-090-5
€28, hardback

Born the son of a poor bookbinder on the west coast of Finland, Bernhard Crusell (1775–1838) had talents as a clarinettist and composer that brought him considerable fame, both in his native country and further afield. Hannu Marttila reads the diaries he wrote on his travels in Europe, where his meetings with the great and the good chart the emergence of the new Romantic sensibility

‘Felix is a most beautiful child, and he is also said to be very unassuming. In his compositions one immediately recognises the signs of genius and good training. He continues to study under Zelter, and, thanks to an anticipated large inheritance, he, too, may become an independent composer. People here think he may even become another Mozart.’ More…

Finlandia Junior Prize 2010

26 November 2010 | In the news

The Finlandia Junior Prize has gone to author Siri Kolu and illustrator Tuuli Juusela for the novel Me Rosvolat (‘Me and the Robbersons’, Otava); they will share the award of €30,000 (see the Prize jury assessments of the shortlist here). The winner was chosen by actor and writer Hannu-Pekka Björkman.

Awarding the prize on 25 November he said: ‘It caught my attention that in none of the six shortlisted children’s books are there any so-called nuclear families, at least not for long. The main characters constantly live and grow without something – the lack of parents or the attention of an adult is a serious matter to a child. However, in these books there is always someone who cares, not perhaps a stereotypical mom or dad, but an adult nevertheless.’ In Björkman’s opinion Me Rosvolat, with its rich language and a whiff of anarchy, presents the reader with moments of realisation and wonderment.

Markus Nummi: Karkkipäivä [Candy day]

26 November 2010 | Mini reviews, Reviews

[Candy day]
Helsinki: Otava, 2010. 383 p.
ISBN 978-951-1-24574-2
€28, hardback

Like this one, Markus Nummi’s previous novel, Kiinalainen puutarha (‘Chinese garden’, 2004), set in Asia at the turn of the 20th century, involves a child’s perspective. Karkkipäivä‘s main theme, however, is a portrait of contemporary Finland. Tomi is a little boy whose alcoholic parents are incapable of looking after him; Mirja’s mother is a frantic workaholic heading for a nervous breakdown. She is a control freak who secretly gorges on chocolate at work and beats her little daughter – a grotesque portrait of contemporary womanhood. Tomi manages to get some adult attention and help from a writer; the relation between them gradually builds into one of trust. Katri is a social worker, empathetic but virtually helpless as part of the social services bureaucracy. Virtually every adult suspects others of lying, finding each other’s motives doubtful. Nummi (born 1959) has structured Karkkipäivä with great skill; the ending, in which matters are resolved almost by chance, is particularly gripping. This novel was nominated for the 2010 Finlandia Prize for Fiction.

Coming up…

25 November 2010 | This 'n' that

Next up, Christmas! Not to mention the New Year! And holidays…

In suitably festive mood, we’ll be posting a short extract from the novel Seitsemän veljestä (Seven Brothers, 1870) by the classic writer Aleksis Kivi.

It is a nostalgic glimpse of a Christmas spent in the Finnish countryside, in a humble cottage inhabited by seven brothers and their animals: ‘Alike in a lowly cottage and stately manor-house, joy and peace prevail…’

On the rocky road to a good translation

19 November 2010 | Essays, Non-fiction

You get the picture? A translation error in China. Photo: Leena Lahti

Why just three per cent? Translator Owen Witesman seeks an explanation for the difficulties of selling foreign fiction to the self-sufficient Anglo-American market. Could there be anything wrong with the translations?

I am a professional translator, and I have a secret: I don’t read translations.

I’m not alone. The literary website Three Percent draws its name from the fact that only about 3 per cent of books published in the United States are translations (the figure for Germany is something like 50 per cent). There are various opinions about why this is, including this one from Three Percent’s Chad Post writing at Publishing Perspectives.

Why do I say it’s a secret that I don’t read translations? Because people expect me to read translations, as if as a translator it were my sacred duty to show solidarity with my professional community. Or maybe I can’t be cosmopolitan otherwise. More…

Finlandia Prize for Non-Fiction 2010

19 November 2010 | In the news

A massive tome running to 1,000 pages by Vesa Sirén, journalist and music critic of the Helsingin Sanomat newspaper, features Finnish conductors from the 1880s to the present day. On 18 November it became the recipient of the 2010 Finlandia Prize for Non-Fiction by the Finnish Book Foundation, worth €30,000.

The choice, from six shortlisted works, was made by economist Sinikka Salo. Suomalaiset kapellimestarit: Sibeliuksesta Saloseen, Kajanuksesta Franckiin (‘Finnish conductors: from Sibelius to Salonen, from Kajanus to Franck’) is published by Otava.

The other five works on the shortlist were Itämeren tulevaisuus (‘The future of the Baltic Sea’, Gaudeamus) by Saara Bäck, Markku Ollikainen, Erik Bonsdorff, Annukka Eriksson, Eeva-Liisa Hallanaro, Sakari Kuikka, Markku Viitasalo and Mari Walls; the Finnish Marshal C.G. Mannerheim’s early 20th-century travel diaries, Dagbok förd under min resa i Centralasien och Kina 1906–07–08 (‘Diary from my journey to Central Asia and China 1906–07–08’, Svenska litteratursällskapet i Finland & Atlantis), edited by Harry Halén; Vihan ja rakkauden liekit. Kohtalona 1930-luvun Suomi (‘Flames of hatred and love. 1930s Finland as a destiny’, Otava) by Sirpa Kähkönen; Suomalaiset kalaherkut (‘Finnish fish delicacies’, Otava) by Tatu Lehtovaara (photographs by Jukka Heiskanen) and Puukon historia (‘A history of the Finnish puukko knife’, Apali) by Anssi Ruusuvuori.

Matti Yrjänä Joensuu: Harjunpää ja rautahuone [Harjunpää and the iron room]

19 November 2010 | Mini reviews, Reviews

Harjunpää ja rautahuone
[Harjunpää and the iron room]
Helsinki: Otava, 2010. 302 p.
ISBN 978-951-1-24742-5
€ 26, hardback

This book’s shocking opening scene, a cot death, is not followed by anything that lightens the tone. Finland’s best-selling crime writer, Matti Yrjänä Joensuu (born 1948) – whose work has been translated into nearly 20 languages – focuses here on a criminal investigation conducted by Inspector Timo Harjunpää into the murderer of several wealthy women. The victims are linked via their purchases of sex; the detective’s attention soon falls on Orvo, a masseur who also turns tricks as a gigolo. Nearly every scene is shot through with themes of lovelessness, exploitation and the connection between malice and sex. Harjunpää is an empathetic, slightly rumpled cop who has an ambitious yet somewhat downbeat attitude to his job. Joensuu’s Harjunpää ja pahan pappi (Priest of Evil) was published in English in 2006. Joensuu himself is a retired police officer; his particular strength as an author is his extraordinarily precise, realistic portrayal of police work. But it’s not just about who did what; why they did it is equally important. One reason for Joensuu’s popularity is his extremely well-developed understanding of human nature. He observes and analyses, but never judges.

The guest event

12 November 2010 | Fiction, Prose

A short story from Vattnen (‘Waters’, Söderströms, 2010)

It was a lagoon. The water was not like out at sea, not a turquoise dream with white vacation trimming on the crests of the waves. This water was completely still and strange, brown yet clear, sepia and umber, perhaps cinnamon, possibly cigar with the finest flakes of finest wrapper. Clean. This water of meetings was clear and clean in a non-platonic, remarkably earthbound way.

Sediment and humus, humus floating about in the morning sun.

It felt comforting, as if the water didn’t repel the foreign bodies as a matter of course, didn’t immediately suppress the other particles and sanctimoniously hasten to force anything that wasn’t water, anything that could be interpreted as pollution and encroachment, down to the bottom and let it dissolve and die all by itself. This water sang its earth-brown song of unity without thereby becoming any less water than water-water was.

Helena felt cold. More…

Aquatic escapades

12 November 2010 | Reviews

Susanne Ringell. Photo: Anders Larsson

First about the form: the wavy, turquoise cover of Vattnen (‘Waters’), Susanne Ringell’s third collection of short stories, is protected by a layer of waxed paper that looks like a thin film of ice.

Inside the book, water flows everywhere: the twelve stories are set in it or near it, or mimic it in form. The water symbolises a fundamental force, a consolation, but also an elusivity. The characters in the stories exist in a kind of volatile, intermediate state – they are heading for a crisis or are in the moment immediately after one.

Since 1993 Ringell (born 1955) has produced short story collections, poetry, prose poetry, mini-stories and a novel. In them, as in Vattnen (Söderströms, 2010), Ringell’s  language is her own: beautiful, robust and fragile, vivid, subtle and at the same time practical. More…

Petri Keto-Tokoi & Timo Kuuluvainen: Suomalainen aarniometsä [The Finnish virgin forest]

12 November 2010 | Mini reviews, Reviews

Suomalainen aarniometsä
[The Finnish virgin forest]
Helsinki: Maahenki, 2010. 302 p., ill.
ISBN 978-952-5870-06-0
€ 48, hardback

This book explains the cultural significance of forests – particularly virgin forests – to Finns. That term is used to refer to old-growth forests in their natural state, characterised by trees of different ages, an abundance of decaying tree remains, and continuous incremental changes. Nowadays around four per cent of Finnish forests are in a natural or near-natural state, and light is being shed on their ecosystems and the history of the slowly vanishing virgin forests. They are associated with deep-seated values and a multiplicity of roles throughout history. To many artists forests have been a significant elemental force, worthy even of worship; peasants and the timber industry have exploited the virgin forests. The authors also consider whether answers to key environmental issues will be found in old-growth forests: safeguarding natural diversity and slowing climate change. In addition to illustrative material from the authors, the book contains photographs by award-winning photographers Ritva Kovalainen and Sanni Seppo.

Book-giving time!

12 November 2010 | In the news

The few weeks before Christmas are when most books are bought in Finland, so shortlists of literary prizes start popping up in November.

All the juries of the three biggest prizes – worth €30,000 each, awarded by the Finnish Book Foundation – have now published their shortlists: the Finlandia Prize for Non-Fiction, the Finlandia Junior Prize and the Finlandia Prize for Fiction.

The winners, each chosen by one person, will be announced in December. This FILI – Finnish Literature Exchange newsletter link will take you to the jury members’ assessments of the shortlisted non-fiction and Junior Prize works.

The following six novels ended up on the Finlandia Prize for Fiction list:
Joel Haahtela: Katoamispiste (‘Vanishing point’, Otava), Markus Nummi: Karkkipäivä (‘Candy day’, Otava), Riikka Pulkkinen: Totta (‘True’, Teos), Mikko Rimminen: Nenäpäivä (‘Nose day’, Teos), Alexandra Salmela: 27 eli kuolema tekee taiteilijan (’27 or death makes an artist’, Teos) and Erik Wahlström: Flugtämjaren (in Finnish translation, Kärpäsenkesyttäjä, ‘The fly tamer’, Schildts). Here’s the FILI link to the jury’s comments.

Little and large

5 November 2010 | This 'n' that

A Finnish tale set in Egypt: Mika Waltari's post-war novel has been translated into 30 languages, English in 1949

a about after again against all also always an and another any are around as at away back be because been before being between both but by came can children come could course day did didn’t do does don’t down each end er even every fact far few find first for from get go going good got great had has have he her here him his home house how i i’m if in into is it its it’s just kind know last left life like little long look looked made make man many may me mean me might more most mr much must my never new no not nothing now of off oh old on once one only or other our out over own part people perhaps place put quite rather really right said same say says see she should so some something sort still such take than that that’s the their them there these they thing things think this those though thought three through time to too two under up us used very want was way we well went were what when where which while who why will with without work world would year years yes you your

Doesn’t this just run like a poem? An extract from somebody’s stream of conscience? ‘…again against all also always… quite rather really right said’? Actually it’s a list of the 200 most used words of the English language in alphabetical order.

This remarkable list is among the references* in a new doctoral thesis from the Department of Modern Languages at the University of Helsinki, Englanniksiko maailmanmaineeseen? Suomalaisen proosakaunokirjallisuuden kääntäminen englanniksi Isossa-Britanniassa vuosina 1945–2003 (‘To world fame in English? The translating of Finnish prose fiction into English in Great Britain between 1945 and 2003’). More…

Arne Nevanlinna: Hjalmar

5 November 2010 | Mini reviews, Reviews

Helsinki: WSOY, 2010. 294 p.
ISBN 978-951-0-36700-1
€29, hardback

‘Jansson!’ Hjalmar, the protagonist of Arne Nevanlinna’s second novel, is repeatedly woken by voices barking his surname at him. The people shouting at him are primary school teachers, commanding officers, nurses, psychiatrists and his bosses; these figures collectively serve as a sort of Orwellian ‘Big Brother’ figure, or Hjalmar’s social superego. At the core is penniless bohemian office drone Hjalmar’s relationship to his boss, Börje, who personifies the archetype of the Finnish banker, both idolised and loathed. Hjalmar eventually rises up from his lowly position into the opposition, aided by several picaresque characters and his own ‘pokeresque’ skills as a gambler.  Arne Nevanlinna (born 1925), an architect and essayist, began writing fiction late in his career: his first novel, Marie (2008), was a runaway success. It tells of a lady from the cream of Strasbourg society who had been married off to Finland and lived in isolation to the age of a hundred. Hjalmar does not quite match its predecessor in terms of quality, but the elegance of old patrician clans persists in its enjoyable irony.

Prix Femina for Sofi Oksanen

5 November 2010 | In the news

Sofi Oksanen’s novel Puhdistus (English translation, Purge, by Lola Rogers; French translation, also entitled Purge, by Sébastien Cagnoli), was awarded the French literature prize Prix Femina Étranger in early November.

The Prix Femina was founded by the editors of the magazine La Vie heureuse (nowadays Femina) in 1904 as a counterbalance to the Prix Goncourt and the male-dominated award  system. The jury members of Prix Femina are women only – whereas the prize can be awarded to either gender.

Among earlier winners of the Prix Femina Étranger – awarded since 1985 for the best foreign novel – are Amos Oz, Joyce Carol Oates and Ian McEwan.

The rights of Oksanen’s novel have so far been sold to 36 countries; Purge has sold approximately half a million copies the world over. In France – where the book also won the Le Prix du Roman Fnac in June –  four print runs have sold more than 70,000 copies.

Last flamenco in Seville

5 November 2010 | Fiction, poetry

The tragic story of a gypsy woman, famously transformed into an opera by Georges Bizet, inspired Saila Susiluoto to write about freedom in the contemporary world: her new collection of poems, entitled Carmen, is set in the shopping centre of an asphalt city. But is this classic femme fatale really a human being – or a cyborg, perhaps? Introduction by Teppo Kulmala

She was made of plastic strips, metal bits, artificial skin, implants, circuit boards. Her heart pumped blood like a real one, her eyes watered as necessary. She was made free and loving, and almost soulful. But the soul is a quirk, said the Creator, a human mistake causing pain and death. And confusion. And the degradation of this world. They left out what they couldn’t say, what they were unable to say. They said: your name is Carmen, go forth, find your balance on threads across the world, you are a meek machine, built to love everything except just one man. You are glowing wires, bright shiny strips of plastic, a mind made of images and tones, your step is light, go, go.

The mall’s scintillating youth choir
(gesticulating in the manner of a musical)