Archive for March, 2011

We are the champions

25 March 2011 | Prose

Heroes are still in demand, in sports at least. In his new book author Tuomas Kyrö examines the glorious past and the slightly less glorious present of Finnish sports – as well as the meaning of sports in the contemporary world where it is ‘indispensable for the preservation of nation states’. And he poses a knotty question: what is the difference, in the end, between sports and arts? Are they merely two forms of entertainment?

Extracts from Urheilukirja (‘The book about sports’, WSOY, 2011; see also Mielensäpahoittaja [‘Taking offence’])

The whole idea of Finland has been sold to us based on Hannes Kolehmainen ‘running Finland onto the world map’. [c. 1912–1922; four Olympic gold medals]. Our existence has been defined by how we are known abroad. Sport, [the Nobel Prize -winning author] F. E. Sillanpää, forestry, [Ms Universe] Armi Kuusela, [another runner] Lasse Viren, Nokia, [rock bands] HIM and Lordi, Martti Ahtisaari.

The purpose of sport at the grass-roots level has been to tend to the health of the nation and at a higher level to take our boys out into the world to beat all the other countries’ boys. We may not know how to talk, but our running endurance is all the better for it. However, the most important message was directed inwards, at our self image: we are the best even though we’re poor; we can endure more than the rest. Finnish success during the interwar period projected an image of a healthy, tenacious and competitive nation; political division meant division into good and bad, the right-minded and traitors to the fatherland. More…

Springtime in Paris: Nordic writers on a French visit

25 March 2011 | In the news

With an icy northerly wind at my back I took off from Helsinki and landed in Paris, where it was springtime and the cherry trees were in bloom. The aim of my trip was to join eleven translators from Finnish into all the main Nordic languages in examining the trickiest corners of the Finnish language and discussing the actual working conditions of literary translators, as well as the possibilities for Nordic literature to assert itself in the world.

I was also going to meet with and listen to more than sixty writers from all the Nordic countries. Why did I have to go to Paris to do it? Because this was where Bokskogen, the Forest of Books, had grown.

At the Salon du Livre held in Paris from 18 to 21 March, at which the Nordic countries were the guests of honour, FILI (the Finnish Literature Exchange) was in charge of coordinating the Nordic pavilion, some 400 square metres in area.

The airy Scandinavian Forest of Books was filled with the murmur of Parisians in search of something Nordic to read and intent on having their newly purchased books signed by authors like Sofi Oksanen, Kari Hotakainen, Matti Rönkä, Monika Fagerholm, Katarina Gäddnäs, Seita Parkkola, Aira Savisaari, Johanna Sinisalo, Aino Havukainen and Sami Toivonen.

Before the official inauguration by France’s Minister of Culture Frédéric Mittérand the programmes had already been underway for four days. Just over a hundred professional people –  publishers, translators and other cultural figures and institutions from across the Nordic countries – took part in various workshops to discuss common focal points and share experiences and best practices with each other and their French colleagues.

One of the major events was the Cultural Forum, a collaboration between FILI, the Nordic Council of Ministers and the Finnish presidency of the Nordic Council of Ministers. Its theme was the training of translators, and also the book industry in a global context.

In early March a dozen French journalists and booksellers toured Helsinki and Tammisaari (Ekenäs) in order to meet Finnish authors and interview them as a prelude to the big show. As a result Nordic literature also made its presence felt in France’s press and bookstores.

Translated by David McDuff

Kirjoituksia sankaruudesta [Writings on heroism]

25 March 2011 | Mini reviews, Reviews

Kirjoituksia sankaruudesta
[Writings on heroism]
Toim. [Ed. by] Ulla-Maija Peltonen & Ilona Kemppainen
Helsinki: Suomalaisen Kirjallisuuden Seura, 2010. 330 p., ill.
ISBN 978-952-222-207-7
€ 29, paperback

This book examines Finnish heroism and anti-heroism by using approaches from folklore studies, history and literary theory. Political ‘heroism’ manufactured by the media is explored through a study of in-depth personal portraits of Finnish politicians published in the country’s biggest newspaper, Helsingin Sanomat, between 1981 and 2005. According to the research material, a positive impression is made by a narrative about a politician who is an independent thinker even in the context of his own party, from an ordinary home, engaged in manual work in his youth and risen to success overcoming setbacks through his own merits and without intrigue. The story of the European Union’s Commissioner for Economic and Monetary Affairs, Olli Rehn, is a heroic story about a politician who dares believe in a European Finland even when it was disadvantageous to his career. Since the 1990s, writers have begun to take a renewed interest in war heroism; the climate in the 1960s and 1970s was pacifist, but now the ‘Winter War spirit’, which is deemed heroic, has been surfacing in an ever-increasing variety of situations, including economic crises.
Translated by Ruth Urbom

Homo ludens, vita brevis

18 March 2011 | Letter from the Editors

Goddess of victory: charioteer and runner Nike (constructed from the damaged statue of Nike of Paionios, from ca. 420 BCE). Photo: Wikimedia

No one should ever start a piece with already the ancient Greeks…’ , but here goes:

Already the ancient Greeks practised the noble arts of sport. The Romans extended the cultivation (their word!) of culture to leisure, amusing themselves by throwing Christians to the lions. Formula F1 came a couple of thousand years later, as did post-modern art, sitcoms and reality TV, whose presenters take the place of lions and whose celebrities are today’s Christians.

The Olympics, founded by the Greeks, were in full swing as early as the seventh century BCE, until the Christian Roman Caesar Theodocius I banned them as irretrievably pagan in the year 393. However, they were revived 1,500 years later. More…

Teemu Keskisarja: Vihreän kullan kirous. G.A. Serlachiuksen elämä ja afäärit [The curse of green gold. The life and affairs of G.A. Serlachius]

17 March 2011 | Mini reviews, Reviews

Vihreän kullan kirous. G.A. Serlachiuksen elämä ja afäärit
[The curse of green gold. The life and affairs of G.A. Serlachius]
Helsinki: Kustannusosakeyhtiö Siltala, 2010. 350 p., ill.
ISBN 978-952-234-041-2
€ 35, hardback

In the famine years of the 1860s and with no inherited fortune to his name, G.A. Serlachius (1830–1901) built his industrial centre in the rural backwoods of Mänttä. His work laid the foundations for what would become one of Europe’s leading paper manufacturers. G.A. Serlachius was a Finnish self-made man whose education was cut short due to his family’s financial difficulties. The energetic Serlachius is considered to have pioneered contacts with Western European markets; he was responsible for bringing the first icebreaker ship to Finland. Serlachius was also known as a patron of the arts and a supporter of artists; the collection of the Serlachius Art Foundation is his best-known legacy. According to this biography, Serlachius suffered from ‘an extremely advanced megalomania’ in the opinion of his bankers, and his personality was ‘more aggressive than many Finnish-born generals of the Pax Russica’. The Association of the Friends of History selected this book as its History Book of the Year for 2010.
Translated by Ruth Urbom

From the land of abundant reindeer…

17 March 2011 | This 'n' that

Rangifer tarandus, Finnish Lapland. Photo: Grand-duc (

Is Finland, a land of reindeer, ‘dense pine forests and deep snows’ also a ‘quiet literary landscape’?

Not exactly, as we at Books from Finland hope we are demonstrating. And over on the Bookslut website, Bonnie B. Lee comes to the same conclusion, after having mused about the reindeer (yes: in Helsinki you find tasty chunks of them in the freezer boxes of any foodstore) and reading three Finnish novels in English translation.

The novels Lee reviews are Purge by Sofi Oksanen (Puhdistus, 2008, translated by Lola Rogers, published last year), When I forgot by Elina Hirvonen (Että hän muistaisi saman, 2005, translated by Douglas Robinson, published in 2009) and The Year of the Hare by Arto Paasilinna (Jäniksen vuosi, 1975, first published in an English translation by Herbert Lomas in 1995, reprinted as a Penguin edition last year).

We have just entered the Year of the Rabbit, in recognition of which Paasilinna’s book (about a man who rejects his old life and goes roaming the wildernesses with a hare as his only companion) has appeared on the tables of large bookstores in the US. ‘The Year of the Hare is only the most Finnish, and perhaps most antically Zen-ish, of a shelf-load of books that tell us to find and live by our own ideas of contentment,’ said The Wall Street Journal.

The traumatic experiences of war and Finland’s deep forests are the common feature of these novels, Bonnie B. Lee finds. She also opines that ‘melancholy pervades the Finnish psyche’, and that ‘Finland vies with Hungary for highest suicide rate in Europe‘. Oh, but this latter is no longer true: number one on a World Health Organisation suicide rates list is Lithuania, followed by Hungary, Slovenia, Estonia and Latvia – Finland is number six.

Lee is clearly intrigued by her travels in contemporary Finnish literature. ‘The search for identity, a reckoning with a troubled past, and an outsider’s view looking in,’ she comments, ‘are all the stuff of great writing, and Finland is poised to continue to produce poignant and introspective literature that we can appreciate now that English translators have begun the work.’

Poignant and introspective or occasionally funny and fantastical, this is the work we try to offer an early glimpse of, in translation, at Books from Finland. Stay with us!

The books that sold

11 March 2011 | In the news

-Today we're off to the Middle Ages Fair. – Oh, right. - Welcome! I'm Knight Orgulf. – I'm a noblewoman. -Who are you? – The plague. *From Fingerpori by Pertti Jarla

Among the ten best-selling Finnish fiction books in 2010, according statistics compiled by the Booksellers’ Association of Finland, were three crime novels.

Number one on the list was the latest thriller by Ilkka Remes, Shokkiaalto (‘Shock wave‘, WSOY). It sold 72,600 copies. Second came a new family novel Totta (‘True’, Otava) by Riikka Pulkkinen, 59,100 copies.

Number three was a new thriller by Reijo Mäki (Kolmijalkainen mies, ‘The three-legged man’, Otava), and a new police novel by Matti Yrjänä Joensuu, Harjunpää ja rautahuone (‘Harjunpää and the iron room’, Otava), was number six.

The Finlandia Fiction Prize winner 2010, Nenäpäivä (‘Nose day’, Teos) by Mikko Rimminen, sold almost 54,000 copies and was fourth on the list. Sofi Oksanen’s record-breaking, prize-winning Puhdistus (Purge, WSOY; first published in 2008) was still in fifth place, with 52,000 copies sold.

Among translated fiction books were, as usual, names like Patricia Cornwell, Dan Brown and Liza Marklund.

In non-fiction, the weather, fickle and fierce, seems to be a subject of endless interest to Finns; the list was topped by Sääpäiväkirja 2011 (‘Weather book 2011’, Otava), with a whopping 140,000 copies. Number two was the Guinness World Records 2011, but with just 43,000 copies. Books on wine, cookery and garden were popular. A book on Finnish history after the civil war, Vihan ja rakkauden liekit (‘Flames of hate and love’, Otava) by Sirpa Kähkönen, made it to number 8 on the list.

The Finnish children’s books best-sellers’ list was topped by the latest picture book by Mauri Kunnas, Hurja-Harri ja pullon henki (‘Wild Harry and the genie’, Otava), selling almost 66,000 copies. As usual, Walt Disney ruled the roost in the translated fiction list.

The Finnish comics list was dominated by Pertti Jarla (his Fingerpori series books sold more than 70,000 copies, almost as much as Remes’ Shokkiaalto!) and Juba Tuomola (Viivi and Wagner series; both mostly published by Arktinen Banaani): between them, they grabbed 14 places out of 20!

Jera Hänninen & Jyri Hänninen: Tuhansien aatteiden maa. Ääriajattelua nyky-Suomessa [Land of a thousand ideologies. Extremist thought in contemporary Finland]

11 March 2011 | Mini reviews, Reviews

Tuhansien aatteiden maa. Ääriajattelua Nyky-Suomessa
[Land of a thousand ideologies. Extremist thought in contemporary Finland]
Helsinki: Johnny Kniga Kustannus, 2010. 267 p.
ISBN 978-951-0-36072-9
€ 30, paperback

There are a number of extremist ideologies with a foothold in Finland. Even though most such groups are very small, religious and political extremism have experienced growth and do not always remain on the margins. The authors of this book have chosen to include only those ideologies whose efforts are clearly directed against particular groups or that would result in an erosion of democracy if they were to gain some real power. Topics receiving the greatest amount of attention in the media have been immigration and the polarisation within the Finnish Lutheran Church. According to some reports, the Church is being split over the issues of female clergy and homosexuality. This book also covers Finnish-born Islamists who support Sharia law, Communists who distort history and venerate the Soviet Union, honour killings carried out in Finland, and NRA Finland, a hard-line pro-gun lobbying organisation. The authors also discuss how these zealots, having gained more support, have also begun to influence the positions of mainstream political parties.
Translated by Ruth Urbom

The pirate’s friend

11 March 2011 | Articles, Non-fiction

Intellectual property was hot stuff half a millennium ago, and not much has changed: Teemu Manninen takes a look at piracy and mercenaries in the age of electronic books

Sir Fulke Greville, 1st Baron Brooke (1554–1628) by Edmund Lodge. Photo: Wikimedia

In November 1586 Fulke Greville (later 1st Baron Brooke) sent Queen Elizabeth’s spymaster Sir Francis Walsingham a letter complaining about some ‘mercenary printers’‘ plans to print the romance novel Arcadia written by his friend (and Walsingham’s son-in-law) Sir Philip Sidney, who had died that very same year. This ‘mercenary book’ needed to be ‘stayed’, i.e. censored by the authorities, so that Sidney’s friends and relatives might take control, and also because publishing his works without consulting Greville or someone close to Sidney might damage his reputation or even his ‘religious honors’.

I rehearse this ancient tale because of its exemplary value for us today. From our point of view there seems nothing extraordinary about Greville’s actions: he is seeking to defend his friend’s literary estate from ‘mercenaries’ who steal intellectual property (IP): pirates. More…

Jorma & Päivi Tuomi-Nikula: Nikolai II: Suomen suuriruhtinas [Nicholas II: Grand Duke of Finland]

11 March 2011 | Mini reviews, Reviews

Nikolai II: Suomen suuriruhtinas
[Nicholas II: Grand Duke of Finland]
Jyväskylä: Atena, 2010. 283 p., ill.
ISBN 978-951-796-650-4
Swedish-language edition:
Nikolaj II: Storfurste av Finland
Helsingfors: Schildts, 2010
ISBN 9789515018714
€ 41, hardback

This work is the first Finnish biography of the last Grand Duke of Finland, Tsar Nicholas II (1868–1918). It provides a new approach to historical writing in its treatment of the Tsar’s relationship with Finland in the face of increasing terror, the First World War and the 1917 revolutions. Terrorism as a form of resistance during the period of oppression in 1904–07 was more widespread in Finland than previously thought. Extracts from diaries, letters and other documents provide the background to events on the global political stage as well as the private lives of the figures. Finns initially responded favourably to Nicholas’ ascent to the throne in 1894, but this trust soon declined with Nicholas’ policy of Russification. Despite these increasingly strained relations, Nicholas enjoyed spending his holidays in Finland. This book contains a wealth of photographs, including some from the personal albums of Anna Vyrubova, a lady-in-waiting who fled to Finland. There are also never-before-published postcards dating from the era of oppression and revolution. The authors have previously written about the Tsars in Finland’s era as a Grand Duchy of Russia in their book Keisarit kesälomalla Suomessa (‘The emperors on summer holiday in Finland’, 2002).
Translated by Ruth Urbom



That’s life

4 March 2011 | Authors, Essays, Non-fiction, On writing and not writing

Writer's block

 In this series Finnish authors ponder their profession. If this is writing, there’s no method in its madness: Markku Pääskynen finds he wants to write as life allows, not bend his life to suit his writing

I was born in 1973. I’ve written six novels, and I’m working on my seventh. I’ve written short stories and essays, and translated. That may sound productive, but it isn’t: I can’t stand to sit in front of the computer for more than a couple of hours a day.

My work is elsewhere – in everyday chores: going to the store, taking out the trash, fixing meals, washing dishes, cleaning, playing with the kids. Normal days are full of work and messing around. And my literary work has to fit in with that. I don’t have it in me to write methodically. I do know how to keep deadlines and meet contracts, but the methodicalness is lacking. More…

Mikko Lahtinen: Kirjastojen maa [Land of libraries]

4 March 2011 | Mini reviews, Reviews

Kirjastojen maa
[Land of libraries]
Tampere: Vastapaino, 2010. 394 p., ill.
ISBN 978-951-768-315-9
€ 43, hardback

Libraries are the most widely used cultural service in Finland. Kirjastojen maa describes the journey undertaken by the protagonist, who refers to himself as ‘the Library Man’, and his entourage to 250 public libraries around Finland between 2008 and 2010. Many of these sites were celebrating their 150th anniversaries at the time, since there was a great enthusiasm for establishing public libraries in Finland in the 1850s. This travel journal provides a history of libraries as an institution and their development into a central pillar of society. The author also considers Finnish intellectual space in this age of digital media. Libraries currently face significant challenges: the recent wave of local authority mergers, centralisation of public services and funding cuts are all hampering the development of library operations. The importance of libraries is further underlined by the fact that local residents have launched protests in support of libraries threatened with closure –  in spite of the usual difficulty of rousing Finns to man the barricades. The author is a philosopher, political researcher and active participant in public policy discussions.
Translated by Ruth Urbom