Archive for February, 2011

Is it a play, is it a book?

25 February 2011 | This 'n' that

On the way to fame: Walt the Wonder Boy in Kristian Smeds's stage adaptation of Paul Auster's novel Mr. Vertigo at the Finnish National Theatre (2010). Photo: Antti Ahonen

Dramatisations of novels are tricky. Finnish theatremakers like adapting novels for the stage, which often results in a lot of talking instead of action – and action here doesn’t refer to just physical movement but to the subtext, to what happens under and behind the words.

Currently an adaptation of an American novel is running on the main stage of the Finnish National Theatre in Helsinki. Mr Vertigo (1994), Paul Auster’s seventh book, tells the story of an orphan boy in the 1930s St Louis. After harsh years as the long-suffering apprentice of the mysterious Master Yehudi, Walt becomes the sensational Wonder Boy by learning how to levitate.

In theatremaker Kristian Smeds’s adaptation, Auster’s whimsical, rambling novel becomes a capricious, illusory journey about illusions, freedom, and the unattainability of love. Walt (the highly expressive, athletic Tero Jartti) interprets, with hilarious comedy as well as with touching desperation, both the dizzyingly powerful experience of creativity and the ridiculous hubris of the artist. More…

Serious comics: Angoulême 2011

24 February 2011 | This 'n' that

Graphic artist Milla Paloniemi went to Angoulême, too: read more through the link (Milla Paloniemi) in the text below

As a little girl in Paris, I dreamed of going to the Angoulême comics festival – Corto Maltese and Mike Blueberry were my heroes, and I liked to imagine meeting them in person.

20 years later, my wish came true – I went to the festival to present Finnish comics to a French audience! I was an intern at FILI – Finnish Literature Exchange, and for the first time, FILI had its own stand at Angoulême in January 2011.

Finnish comics have become popular abroad in recent years, which is particularly apparent in the young artists’ reception by readers in Europe. Angoulême isn’t just a comics Mecca for Europeans, however: there were admirers of Matti Hagelberg, Marko Turunen and Tommi Musturi from as far away as Japan and Korea.

The festival provides opportunities to present both general ‘official’ comics, ‘out-of-the-ordinary’ and unusual works. The atmosphere at the festival is much wilder than at a traditional book fair: for four days the city is filled with publishers, readers, enthusiasts, artists, and even musicians. People meet in the evenings at le Chat Noir bar to discuss the day’s finds, sketching their friends and the day’s events.

As one Belgian publisher told me, ‘There have always been Finns at Angoulême.’ Staff from comics publisher Kutikuti and many others have been making the rounds at Angoulême for years, walking through the city and festival grounds, carrying their backpacks loaded with books. They have been the forerunners to whom we are grateful, and we hope that our collaboration with them deepens in the future.

Aapo Rapi: Meti (Kutikuti, 2010)

This year two Finnish artists, Aapo Rapi and Ville Ranta were nominated for the Sélection Officielle prize, which gave them wider recognition. Rapi’s Meti is a colourful graphic novel inspired by his own grandmother Meti [see the picture right: the old lady with square glasses].

Hannu Lukkarinen and Juha Ruusuvuori were also favorites, as all the available copies of Les Ossements de Saint Henrik, the French translation of their adventures of Nicholas Grisefoth, sold out. There were also fans of women comics artists, searching feverishly for works by such artists as Jenni Rope and Milla Paloniemi.

Chatting with French publishers and readers, it became clear that Finnish comics are interesting for their freshness and freedom. Finnish artists dare to try every kind of technique and they don’t get bogged down in questions of genre. They said so themselves at the festival’s public event. According to Ville Ranta, the commercial aspect isn’t the most important thing, because comics are still a marginalised art in Finland. Aapo Rapi claimed that ‘the first thing is to express my own ideas, for myself and a couple of friends, then I look to see if it might interest other people.’

Hannu Lukkarinen emphasised that it’s hard to distribute Finnish-language comics to the larger world: for that you need a no-nonsense agent like Kirsi Kinnunen, who has lived in France for a long time doing publicity and translation work. Finnish publishers haven’t yet shown much interest in marketing comics, but that may change in the future.

These Finnish artists, many of them also publishers, were happy at Angoulême. Happy enough, no doubt, to last them until next year!

Translated by Lola Rogers

In memoriam Bo Carpelan 1926–2011

24 February 2011 | Authors, In the news

Bo Carpelan. Photo: Irmeli Jung

I write one winter’s day,
write off the day and the night, the planets,
go into my house from a harsh sun
and extend those shadows that are swordlike aimed.
It is a day of drifting snow
and with a voice from that which is I
or was.

(From The Cool Day. English translation by David McDuff, published in Homecoming, Carcanet, 1993)

Bo Carpelan, one of the great names of Finnish literature, died in his home city of Helsinki on 11 February. Carpelan’s first collection of poetry appeared in 1946, his last in 2010.

In his poems and prose he frequently described his childhood in apartment buildings filled with the smell of cooked herring, the noise of quarrels and the sound of the news on the radio. Prosaic life is turned into poetry, images and music, the apartment house is built from the rooms of a dream.

Bo Carpelan loved music. His novel Axel (English translation by David McDuff, 1989), is about his paternal grandfather’s brother, who was a friend of Jean Sibelius and the composer’s first critic. Axel was an unsuccessful musician who chose to live through someone else, and Carpelan relates him to the theme of the dignity of rejected human beings. More…

The Tollander Prize to Ulla-Lena Lundberg

17 February 2011 | In the news

One of the biggest literary prizes in Finland is the Tollander Prize, awarded annually on 5 February, the birthday of he national poet J.L. Runeberg, by Svenska litteratursällskapet i Finland (the Society of Swedish Literature in Finland). The prize is worth €35,000.

The recipient of the 2011 Tollander Prize is Ulla-Lena Lundberg, a versatile writer of novels, short stories, poems and travel essays. ‘She moves freely in different landscapes, times and cultures, finding universality in locality, whether on the island of Kökar in Åland, in Africa or in Siberia’, said the jury.

Written between 1989 and 1995, Lundberg’s fictional trilogy of Leo, Stora världen (‘The big world’) and Allt man kan önska sig (‘Everything one can wish for’), focused on the seafaring history and evolution of shipping in the Finnish Åland islands. Her autobiographical work Sibirien (Siberia’, 1993) has been published in German, Danish and Dutch.

Read the extracts from her latest book, Jägarens leende (‘Smile of the hunter’, 2010), on rock art,  reviewed on our pages by Pia Ingström.

Itämeren tulevaisuus [The future of the Baltic Sea]

17 February 2011 | Mini reviews, Reviews

Itämeren tulevaisuus
[The future of the Baltic Sea]
Contributors: Saara Bäck, Markku Ollikainen, Erik Bonsdorff, Annukka Eriksson, Eeva-Liisa Hallanaro, Sakari Kuikka, Markku Viitasalo, Mari Walls
Helsinki: Gaudeamus, 2010. 350 p., ill.
ISBN 978-952-459-132-6
€ 39, paperback

This publication covers the key environmental issues affecting the Baltic Sea and provides new perspectives on those issues. The Baltic, with its relatively small, shallow dimensions and low salinity, is one of only a few seas in the world that is home to both freshwater and saltwater fish species and inland and marine birds. The Kvarken Archipelago in the Gulf of Bothnia was granted UNESCO World Heritage Site status in 2006. There are some 85 million people living within range of the environmentally sensitive, heavily trafficked Baltic Sea in nine countries around its coastline and its drainage basin. Serious environmental alarm bells began to ring in the 1960s with the realisation that the white-tailed eagle was on the brink of extinction. The socio-political history of the Baltic has had an effect on its protection, since the border between two competing economic systems – communism and capitalism – ran right through it. The articles in this book make it clear that science has identified ways to protect the Baltic Sea, but these research findings are not being put into practice in official decision-making.
Translated by Ruth Urbom

Vesa Sirén: Suomalaiset kapellimestarit. Sibeliuksesta Saloseen, Kajanuksesta Franckiin [Finnish conductors. From Sibelius to Salonen and from Kajanus to Franck]

17 February 2011 | Mini reviews, Reviews

Suomalaiset kapellimestarit. Sibeliuksesta Saloseen, Kajanuksesta Franckiin
[Finnish conductors. From Sibelius to Salonen and from Kajanus to Franck]
Helsinki: Otava, 2010. 1,000 p., ill.
ISBN 978-951-1-21203-1
€ 38, hardback

This work, by music critic Vesa Sirén – awarded the Finlandia Prize for non-fiction in 2010 – attempts to explain what makes a good orchestra conductor. Including hundreds of interviews, the book takes a chronological approach, presenting portraits of sixty conductors from the 1880s up to current students of conducting. There are also contributions from music critics, as well as even tougher assessments from musicians, contemporaries of the conductors. The high standard of Finnish music education, which has been easily accessible to young people – at least until the recent times –, provides part of the answer, as does the conducting course at the Sibelius Academy under the long-serving leadership of Jorma Panula. Sirén’s archival research has unearthed some forgotten treasures, including the lost archives of Robert Kajanus and conductor’s notes in Jean Sibelius’ own handwriting.
Translated by Ruth Urbom

Inside and out

14 February 2011 | Reviews

Markku Pääskynen. Photo: Ville Palonen

It is typical of Markku Pääskynen’s fiction for horrible things to happen both in people’s internal worlds and what goes by the name of the objective reality around them, and you can’t always be sure which one they’re happening in – or they’re happening in both.

From his debut novel, Etanat (‘Snails’, 2002, Tammi), onwards Markku Pääskynen (born 1973) has created a highly original body of work. His special strengths are his linguistic and narrative virtuosity, which allow him to make surprising events and narrative solutions come off in a controlled manner.

Pääskynen’s third novel, Tämän maailman tärkeimmät asiat (‘The most important things of this world’, 2005, featured in Books from Finland 1/2006), was a description of a single day that focused on the relationship between an adult son and his mother. Pääskynen’s sixth book, Enkelten kirja (‘Book of Angels’, 2010), is constructed out of sensory perceptions, thoughts, feelings and memories. The reader has to stay on his toes in piecing together the course of events, gradually revealed from behind these elements, and to find the story behind the plot. More…

Do you remember the yellow house?

14 February 2011 | Fiction, Prose

Extracts from the novel Enkelten kirja (‘The book of angels’, Tammi, 2010)

[Tallinn, summer] The past will not go away

and the present is insurmountable. Summer vacation has begun, the newspaper hasn’t come; it doesn’t get delivered here anyway. Can you remember the Isabelline yellow house? Remember the alley with the name that means hurry? Surely you remember the home with all the maps on the shelves, the important papers and the brass objects bought from nearby antique dealers? Also the rugs from North Africa and the obligatory cedar camel figurines on the windowsill. And so many glasses and plates and empty lighters in a cardboard box on the shelf on the left hand side of the kitchen.

Tallinn, June 7th. The floors creak. One step has split in half; some of the lights have burned out. This is a lovely home. A small window upstairs is ajar to the courtyard. Tuomas had latched it behind the Virginia creepers. The fountain in the courtyard is dry. On cold nights the smoke from the fireplace grows like a statue for the crows until it wraps around over the layered rooftops like a snake eating its tail. Russian men are repairing the attic of the house across the street for wealthy people to live in; they laugh in front of the window and smoke. Tuomas waves at them, and they wave back. The courtyard is creepy when it’s empty. Soon the neighbours would go about their day and quietly close their doors behind them, and two nearby churches would divide the hours into quarters, Russians and their gossip would make their way to the Alexander Nevski Cathedral, and the Estonians and their gossip would go to their own churches where a wise and peculiar, almost human scent would rise from between the headstones. Tuomas wouldn’t smell it, Aino would and would move to stand beneath the the center tower. More…

Gustaf Mannerheim: Dagbok förd under min resa i Centralasien och Kina 1906–07–08 [Journal of my travels in Central Asia and China 1906–07–08]

11 February 2011 | Mini reviews, Reviews

Dagbok förd under min resa i Centralasien och Kina 1906–07–08, Vol 1–3
[Journal of my travels in Central Asia and China 1906–07–08, Vol. 1–3]
Redaktör [Edited by]: Harry Halén
Bildredaktör [Photo editor]: Peter Sandberg
Helsingfors: Svenska litteratursällskapet i Finland, 2010. 1,128 p., ill.
ISBN 978-951-583-196-5 (complete set)
€ 80, hardback

Carl Gustaf Mannerheim (1867–1951), a Finnish officer in the Imperial Russian Army, later Commander-in-Chief of the Finnish Army and President of Finland, undertook a military reconnaissance mission, posing as an academic researcher, to Central Asia and China in 1906–1908. His journey on horseback across Asia to Peking also generated a wealth of ethnographic material: field notes, photographs and artefacts. In his travel diaries, Mannerheim describes the landscapes as well as his diverse encounters with the inhabitants of the areas he travelled through. During his visit to a Tibetan monastery, Mannerheim was pelted with stones by pilgrims. He gave the Dalai Lama an automatic pistol as a gift. These journals are now being published in full for the first time in their original language, Swedish, including Mannerheim’s own notes concerning his military mission. The photographs, some of which have never been published before, show that Mannerheim was a skilled photographer. Harry Halén, an expert in Central Asian languages and cultures, has contributed an extensive preface and copious notes.
Translated by Ruth Urbom

Of the people, by the people

10 February 2011 | In the news

Democracy is doing well in Finland, according to a democracy barometer showing the development of the thirty ‘best’ democracies in the world.

Finland came second after Denmark and before Belgium in this latest update of the barometer, compiled by the University of Zurich and the Social Science Research Center Berlin, using a hundred empirical indicators to measure how well countries comply with the principles of freedom, equality and control and placed between the years 1995 and 2005.

At the bottom end of the scale were the democracies in Poland, South Africa and Costa Rica. The US was tenth, Japan 25th, Great Britain 26th and France 27th. Germany was placed 11th, and Switzerland 14th.

The democracy barometer measures nine quality indicators: the protection of personal freedom from infringements by third parties, especially the state; the rule of law; an active citizenship; transparency; participation; representation; political competition; a system of checks and balances; and the ability to implement democratic decisions.

According to the researches, the barometer shows no evidence of a ‘crisis of democracy’: there was an increase in the quality of democracy in 21 countries. However, the remaining nine countries exhibit a lower quality than in 1995 (Italy, the Czech Republic, Portugal, the US, Costa Rica, France, Ireland, Australia and Germany). Read more here.

Winning stories of alternative realities

10 February 2011 | In the news

The Runeberg Prize for fiction, awarded this year for the twenty-fifth time, went to a collection of short stories by Tiina Raevaara.

Her En tunne sinua vierelläni (‘I don’t feel you beside me’, Teos, 2010) mixes fantasy and realism, dealing with, for example, animal kingdom, human mind and artificial intelligence. See the introduction and translation of a story which we ran here on the Books from Finland website.

Raevaara (born 1979) holds a doctorate in genetics; the prizewinner is her second work of fiction. The prize, worth €10,000, was awarded on 5 February – the birthday of the poet J.L Runeberg (1804–1877) – in the southern Finnish city of Porvoo.

The jury – representing the prize’s founders, the Uusimaa newspaper, the city of Porvoo, both the Finnish and Finland-Swedish writers’ associations and the Finnish Critics’ Association – chose the winner from a shortlist of eight books: a collection of poetry, Vagga liten vagabond (‘Swing, little wanderer’, Söderströms) by Eva-Stina Byggmästar, the novel Poikakirja (‘Boys’ Own Book’, Otava) by Olli Jalonen, the novel Kiimakangas (WSOY) by Pekka Manninen, two collections of essays, Kuka nauttii eniten (‘Who enjoys most’) by Tommi Melender and Halun ja epäluulon esseet (‘The essays of desire and suspicion’) by Antti Nylén (both publlished by Savukeidas), a collection of poetry, Texas, sakset (‘Texas, scissors’, Otava) by Harry Salmenniemi and another collection of short stories, Apatosauruksen maa (‘The land of the apatosaurus’, WSOY) by Miina Supinen.

Sari Peltoniemi: Kissataksi [Cat taxi]

4 February 2011 | Mini reviews, Reviews

[Cat taxi]
Kuvitus [ill. by]: Liisa Kallio
Helsinki: Tammi, 2010. 154 p.
ISBN 978-951-31-5243-7
€16, hardback

Children’s novels with a humane, everyday approach like that of Kissataksi are few and far between. Juho is a skinny eight-year-old boy with a perfect life: pleasant parents, a nice little brother and a dog called Rekku. But one day, he comes across seven cats and an old biddy – and find that the cats have a plan to alleviate her gloom. Juho finds himself driving a taxi for the cats, who are searching for a reliable carer for their mistress, and soon Juho is joined by Virsu, a punk girl. Kissataksi charms the reader with its genial child’s pace. Understanding of displaced people, and empathy in general, have been sadly lacking in children’s literature in recent years. The title of this book is a homage to the Japanese master animator Hayao Miyazaki’s film My Neighbour Totoro, in which a cat bus figures significantly. As in Peltoniemi’s previous novels for children and young people, there is a pinch of magic in this book.
Translated by Ruth Urbom

What are we like?

4 February 2011 | Non-fiction, Tales of a journalist

To be, or not, a true Finn? Illustration: Joonas Väänänen

Elections are coming: what will the vox populi, the voice of the people, dictate? And which people will be deciding Finland’s political future? As columnist Jyrki Lehtola reports, a political debate has arisen about the ‘right’ and the ‘wrong’ sort of pollster – and the ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ kind of Finn

Finland will be holding parliamentary elections in April. We’ve been organising them every four years, like clockwork, for the past two decades, a rare example of stability in a parliamentary democracy. Finland is the European Union’s model student, and the differences between our main political parties are nearly pro forma (who wouldn’t want to protect nature? who wouldn’t want better health care?), so elections in recent years have been more like an endearing tradition than significant, world-changing events.

However, this year everything is different. The upcoming elections have forced us to look in the mirror – and we aren’t liking what we’re seeing. More…

Reetta Niemelä & Salla Savolainen: Sinisen kärpäsen sirkus ja muita runoja [The blue fly circus and other poems]

3 February 2011 | Mini reviews, Reviews

Sinisen kärpäsen sirkus ja muita runoja naapurinötököistä
[The blue fly circus and other poems about neighbourhood creepy-crawlies]
Kuvitus [Ill. by]: Salla Savolainen
Helsinki: Otava, 2010. 40 p.
ISBN 978-951-1-24002-0
€20, hardback

Reetta Niemelä has provided a breath of fresh air in Finnish children’s poetry with her collections Makkarapiruetti (‘Sausage pirouette’, 2005) and Kakaduu (‘Cockatooo’, 2009), whose onomatopoeic sounds and whimsical grammar are reminiscent of children’s language play as they learn to speak. This book opens up the secrets of the world of earthworms and the tiniest of insects to the reader, revealing natural wonders at (literally) grass-roots level. The most delightful aspect, however, is to be found in its illustrations: Salla Savolainen employs a painstaking, richly nuanced woodcut technique, which puts a natural finishing touch to the collection. This sort of delicacy has not been seen in children’s book illustration in a very long time! Savolainen’s images seem light, breezy and lively – each little bug has its own charismatic personality.
Translated by Ruth Urbom

Timo Parvela & Jussi Kaakinen: Taro maan ytimessä [Taro at the centre of the Earth]

3 February 2011 | Mini reviews, Reviews

Taro maan ytimessä
[Taro at the centre of the Earth]
Kuvitus [Ill. by]: Jussi Kaakinen
Helsinki: WSOY, 2010. 24 p.
ISBN 978-951-0-36718-6
€22, hardback

Illustrator Jussi Kaakinen (born 1978) is known for, among other things, his illustrations for the graphic novel version of Risto Isomäki’s sci-fi work Sarasvatin hiekkaa (‘The sands of Sarasvati’, 2008) and two children’s non-fiction books, Suomen lasten historia (‘A Finnish children’s history’, 2005) and Suomen lasten taidehistoria (‘A Finnish children’s art history’, 2009). Taro maan ytimessä is his first picture book in his own right. Kaakinen employs an experimental illustration style here, borrowing from comic book techniques, to create an appropriately fast-paced text. The children in the story are curious to find out whether they can dig deep enough in their sandbox to reach the other side of the world. Taro has a bear for a friend who constructs a machine out of old junk that can dig into the Earth and then into outer space. On their daredevil journey, the pair encounter a greedy monster worm with a sweet tooth. Their adventure ends when Taro returns home, although the space worm, making a racket in the sewers, ought to be hidden from his parents…. Taro maan ytimessä is a pacey, visually striking adventure that will be especially enthralling to boys.
Translated by Ruth Urbom