Archive for August, 2011

Slow down!

26 August 2011 | Letter from the Editors

Books for a desert island? Photo: Patrick Verdier (Wikimedia)

Might Tolstoy’s War and Peace  be the epitome of a novel that qualifies for reading on a desert island? (Maybe along with Tristram Shandy or Finnegan’s Wake, and possibly The Gateless Gate (the Zen Buddhist kōans). After all, who’s got time or energy for some 1,500 pages of a wartime story from the Napoleonic era with too many characters (580, and so many of them called Pierre)?

We do tend to consume everything quickly: busy busy! We eat fast, we talk fast, we exercise fast, we fast-forward through movies. We devour books like fast food. Hurry hurry! On to the next one, whatever it is, don’t hang about! More…

Peter von Bagh: Junassa [On the train]

26 August 2011 | Mini reviews, Reviews

Peter von Bagh
[On the train]
Helsinki: Love Kirjat / WSOY, 2011. 255 p., ill.
ISBN 978-951-0-37921-9
€18, hardback

Professor Peter von Bagh, a film director and academic, is the author of a wide range of books on the history of film and culture. In this small-scale volume of essays, he investigates the significant role played by trains and railways in cinematic plot structures since the days of silent film. The text chugs along in a series of snippets, reminiscent of a rail passenger’s experience of scenery zipping past. This book looks at classics of the film noir, Western and romance genres, along with films that have used trains as a deeper metaphor for life. von Bagh also considers the critically derided but widely loved Finnish popular culture from the 1940s and ’50s, as well as fiction. For example, author Juhani Aho’s first novel, Rautatie (‘The railway’, 1884), depicted an individual’s first experience of a train journey with a degree of authenticity that it can be compared to the uproar the Lumière brothers’ early films generated among the audiences. Unfortunately Junassa lacks an index of the works and people mentioned in the text.
Translated by Ruth Urbom

Under the August moon

26 August 2011 | In the news

The Night of the Arts, 2009. Photo: Sasa Tkalcan

Helsinki becomes a busy cultural city in every August: Helsinki Festival, Stage Theatre Festival and Poetry Moon festival, for example, have a great variety of happenings on offer.

Also the seventh annual Helsinki Poetics Conference – an international and interdisciplinary conference for poets, writers and literary scholars – takes place on 27 and 28 August.

The organisers are the poetry organisation Nihil Interit (the publisher of the journal Tuli&Savu, ‘Fire&Smoke’) in collaboration with the Finnish Literary Research Society, and it is a part of the Runokuu / Poetry Moon international poetry festival.

And The Night of the Arts, of Helsinki Festival, takes over the city – for the 23rd time, tonight.


Utopia or cacotopia?

19 August 2011 | Extracts, Non-fiction

Viljakansaari, Finland, 2008. ©Merja Salo

Do we live in the age of autopia, and if we do, what does that mean? On this earth there are now perhaps 800 million cars, all vital to our modern lifestyles. Professor and photographer Merja Salo observes landscapes through her camera with this question in mind

Extracts and photographs from Carscapes. Automaisemia (Edition Patrick Frey & Musta Taide, 2011. Translation: Laura Mänki)

The car may be the vehicle for the everyman, but not every man is a good driver. According to Hungarian- born psychoanalyst Michael Balint, good drivers have the psychological structure of philobats. With their sense of sight, they perceive space well and control it by steering their vehicle skilfully. Ocnophiles, on the other hand, are more at home as passengers. They structure the world through intimacy and touch. When driving, they cling anxiously to the steering wheel and do not perceive the continously changing situations in traffic.


Jean Sibelius kodissaan. Jean Sibelius, i sitt hem. Jean Sibelius at home

19 August 2011 | Mini reviews, Reviews

Jean Sibelius kodissaan. Jean Sibelius, i sitt hem. Jean Sibelius at home
Toimittanut [Edited by] Jussi Brofeldt
Helsinki: Teos, 2010. 103 p., ill.
ISBN 978-951-851-364-6
€ 29, hardback

The composer Jean Sibelius (1865–1957) disliked being photographed. This book contains 50 stills selected from the documentary film Jean Sibelius at home, a compilation of cinematographic material in which the composer is seen at home in 1927 and 1945. Some of the shots were originally cut, and have not been previously published. The film was made by the brothers Heikki Aho and Björn Soldan, who were neighbours of Sibelius in their childhood – their father was the author Juhani Aho, a friend of the Sibelius family. Founded in the 1920s, the film company Aho & Soldan was influenced by the experimental spirit of the Bauhaus and became known for its commissioned work aimed at spreading the image of Finland abroad. The Sibelius film offers a rare peek into the composer’s home life at his villa of Ainola. In addition to the photographs, the trilingual book also contains seven articles on Sibelius and the film. Heikki Aho’s daughter, the pioneer photographer Claire Aho relates her own memories of the 1945 filming. Jussi Brofeldt, the book’s editor, is her son.
Translated by David McDuff

Tchotchkes for the tsar

11 August 2011 | Reviews

Cornflower and ear of oats: one of the several Fabergé gemstone ornaments now owned by Queen Elizabeth of England (gold, rock crystal, diamonds, enamel, ca 18 cm)

Ulla Tillander-Godenhielm
Fabergén suomalaiset mestarit
[Fabergé’s Finnish masters]
Design: Jukka Aalto/Armadillo Graphics
Helsinki: Tammi, 2011. 271 p., ill.
ISBN 978-951-31-5878-1
€57, hardback

In its online shop, the Hermitage Museum in St Petersburg sells a copy of a most delicate, enchanting little nephrite-and-opal lily of the valley that perfectly imitates nature, sitting in a vase made of rock crystal that looks like a glass of water.

These small flowers made of gold and gemstones were manufactured by the jeweller Fabergé a hundred years ago. The lily of the valley was the most frequently used floral motif in the Fabergé workshops ­–  it was the favourite flower of Empress Alexandra (1872–1918), and the imperial family was the the foremost client of the world’s foremost jeweller.

The replica (13.5 centimetres high) is available at the Hermitage as a ‘luxury gift’ for the price of mere  $3,300. (N.B. Since we published this review, the ‘luxury gift’ items seem to have disappeared from the Hermitage online shop selection, so we have removed the link. Several Fabergé egg replicas are available though, ranging in price from $200 upwards – link below.)

For those who feel the price is excessive, there is  also a rather modestly-priced little bay tree (original: gold, Siberian nephrite, diamonds, amethysts, pearls, citrines, agates and rubies as well as natural feathers, about 30 centimetres tall, featuring a little bird that emerges flapping its wings and singing when a small key is turned) at just $ 219,95. Despite its form, it is classified as one of the famous imperial Easter eggs. (However, as I write, this item is unfortunately sold out…) More…

Sodan haavoittama lapsuus [A childhood scarred by war]

11 August 2011 | Mini reviews, Reviews

Sodan haavoittama lapsuus
[A childhood scarred by war]
Toimittaneet [Edited by]: Anne Kuorsalo & Iris Saloranta
Helsinki: Gummerus, 2010. 288 p., ill.
ISBN 978-951-20-8107-3
€ 34, hardback

Around 1.5 million Finns were children during the Winter and Continuation Wars of 1939–1944. Three hundred children are estimated to have been killed by bombs, and between 55,000 and 80,000 were orphaned by the war. Many more deaths were caused by diseases such as tuberculosis, polio and cerebral meningitis. Some children lived fairly secure lives on farms with their own families or with relatives; some were sent to live with foster families in Sweden; some were evacuated from Karelia and a small number were interned in camps because of their German heritage. Many under-18s served in the Finnish military and would now be considered child soldiers. Finns who were born in the 1930s and early 1940s have long been a neglected group: for several decades, discussions of the victims of war were avoided for foreign policy reasons as well. It is only in recent years that discussions have emerged concerning the fates of the children who were sent to Sweden during the war and those who were born to Finnish women, fathered by German soldiers. This book includes the stories of thirty people. The views of some refugees who have settled in Finland are included as well, such as the story of Mahmoud, who fled from Iraq via people smugglers.
Translated by Ruth Urbom

Summer in the bookshop

11 August 2011 | In the news

Not a surprise: in June and July Finns liked to read thrillers, both Finnish and foreign, as the Bookseller’s Association of Finland’s list of the best-selling Finnish fiction shows. Three out of top five on the Finnish fiction list were crime stories; number one was Mustasiipi (‘Blackwing‘, Otava), a thriller by Reijo Mäki.

Tuomas Kyrö’s book of short prose about a grumpy old man resisting all sorts of contemporary fads, Mielensäpahoittaja (‘Taking offence’, WSOY), was stubborn enough to stick to number four (as in May).

Sofi Oksanen’s hugely successful novel about women and Estonian history, Puhdistus (2008), English version: Purge, keeps going strong: it is still number six on the list.

On the non-fiction list there were books, among others, on cooking, gardening and birds – in summer Finns like to grill barbecues while listening to birdsong and reading about diets, trekking and handicrafts…

Sun and shade

3 August 2011 | Extracts, Non-fiction

Springtime: the new graduates celebrate the beginning of summer. Photos: ©Jussi Brofeldt

Documentary film-making and photography arrived in Finland in the 1920s with pioneers like Heikki Aho and Björn Soldan, who founded a film company in 1925 in Helsinki. They also took thousands of photographs of their city; in a selection taken in the turbulent 1930s, people go on about their lives, rain or shine

Photographs from Aho & Soldan: Kaupunkilaiselämää – Stadsliv – City life. Näkymiä 1930-luvun Helsinkiin (‘Views of Helsinki of the 1930s’, WSOY, 2011)
Photos: Aho & Soldan@Jussi Brofeldt. Texts, by Jörn Donner and Ilkka Kippola, are published in Finnish, Swedish and English.
The exhibition ‘City life‘ is open at Virka Gallery of the Helsinki City Hall from 1 June to 4 September.

Aho and Soldan were half-brothers, Heikki the eldest son of the writer Juhani Aho (1861–1921; an extract from one of his novels is available here) and the artist Venny Soldan-Brofeldt. (Juhani Aho changed his original Swedish surname, Brofeldt, to Aho in 1907), Björn Soldan was Aho’s son from an extramarital relationship. More…

Aamu Nyström: I.K. Inha – Valokuvaaja, kirjailija, kulttuurin löytöretkeilijä [I.K. Inha – Photographer, writer, cultural explorer]

3 August 2011 | Mini reviews, Reviews

I.K. Inha – Valokuvaaja, kirjailija, kulttuurin löytöretkeilijä
[I.K. Inha – Photographer, writer, cultural explorer]
Jyväskylä: Minerva, 2011. 271 p., ill.
ISBN 978-952-492-441-2
€ 31, hardback

I.K. Inha (1865–1930) was a photographer, a writer, a translator and a journalist. He is known particularly for his photographic journeys in Finland and Russian Karelia. Both the texts and the photographs in Inha’s landscape and nature works are of a high aesthetic standard. This book focuses on Inha’s lesser-known works and the various phases of his life. Inha’s travel diary documents the cycle journey he made as a student in 1886 to Germany and Switzerland. In 1897 Inha was appointed Finland’s first-ever foreign correspondent; from Athens he reported on events such as the Greco-Turkish War. In 1899 and 1901 Inha was posted to England, where he observed Queen Victoria’s funeral and the coronation of King Edward VII. Aamu Nyström, the niece of Inha’s brother, has had access to letters, photographs and written and oral recollections of family members.
Translated by Ruth Urbom

Timo Kalevi Forss & Martti Lintunen: Karjala edestakaisin [Karelia back and forth]

3 August 2011 | Mini reviews, Reviews

Karjala edestakaisin
[Karelia back and forth]
Teksti [Text by]: Timo Kalevi Forss
Kuvat [Photographs by]: Martti Lintunen
Helsinki: Like Kustannus, 2010. 164 p., ill.
ISBN 978-952-01-0504-4
€ 29, paperback

At the end of the Continuation War (1941–44), some 400,000 Karelians were forced to abandon their homes. They were resettled in various parts of Finland, and nowadays around a fifth of Finns have some Karelian heritage. Through interviews with fifteen people living in the modern-day region of Karelia, this book documents the part of Karelia that was ceded to the Soviet Union. The researchers travelled to Vyborg, Sortavala, Priozersk, and the Valaam Monastery. The interviewees include a construction company owner building a house on an old Finnish stone foundation, a rock music club owner from Vyborg and a colonel who served in the counter-terrorism division of the Russian army. The photographs convey the range of buildings in Karelia, from Finnish houses to traditional Karelian homesteads, from mansions of the nouveaux riches to Soviet-era tower blocks. In the idyllic villages around Lake Ladoga, cows graze near small houses; time seems to have been frozen around the turn of the last century. The long sandy beaches of the spa towns on the shores of the Gulf of Finland are now filled with tourists from St Petersburg.
Translated by Ruth Urbom