Archive for October, 2011

Jari Tervo: Layla

28 October 2011 | Mini reviews, Reviews

Helsinki: WSOY, 2011. 361 p.
ISBN 978-951-0-38277-6
31 €, hardback

Social reality has stepped firmly into contemporary Finnish literature. Many of the new novels deal with economic inequality, immigration, prostitution or human trafficking. In his 13th novel Jari Tervo (born 1959) deals with them all. Layla is a young Kurdish girl whose cruel fate is about to be decided by the men of her family in Turkey. When she flees, Layla ends up in faraway Finland as a prostitute. Another storyline portrays a Finnish woman, Helena, who sells herself in part voluntarily. Tervo shows himself to be a feminist; the men he describes are cold tyrants who see a woman’s body as an object of lust and as merchandise. The novel is tragic and defiant, but also amusing and lively. Tervo’s style involves surprises and ingenious tricks, of which towards the end of the book there are slightly too many. Layla contains a good deal of information about Turkey, Kurdish culture and the people smuggling that takes place on the outer borders of the European Union. Some of the details have already been shown to be inaccurate, but this does not reduce the distressing quality of this story of a human fate.
Translated by David McDuff

Jussi T. Lappalainen: Kuninkaan viimeinen kortti [The king’s last card]

28 October 2011 | Mini reviews, Reviews

Kuninkaan viimeinen kortti. Viipurinlahden ja Ruotsinsalmen meritaistelut 1790
[The king’s last card. The naval battles of Viipurinlahti and Ruotsinsalmi 1790]
Helsinki: Suomalaisen Kirjallisuuden Seura, 2011. 214 p., ill.
ISBN 978-952-222-230-5
€ 44, hardback

The War of Gustav III (1788–1790) was a conflict between Sweden and Russia whose aim was to regain the Baltic lands and the eastern areas of Finland for Sweden. The war plan was based on a manoeuvre strategy considered ideal from the end of the15th century in which the aim was to achieve the desired outcome by deploying one’s own forces in such a way that the enemy was forced to surrender without fighting. A substantial part of the Swedish forces were made up of an impressive navy which was nevertheless surrounded by the Russians. The king’s trump card was his archipelago fleet, which managed to defeat the Russians completely on 9 July 1790. The battle of Ruotsinsalmi was, in terms of the number of vessels involved, one of the largest naval battles ever waged. Its anniversary is celebrated as the anniversary of the Finnish naval forces. The book traces the background of the reasons for the outbreak of the war and its consequences and describes the vessels weaponry and tactics. Included are numerous contemporary maps and battle paintings. Translated by Hildi Hawkins


24 October 2011 | Authors, Reviews

Jouni Tossavainen. Photo: Like

Poet and writer Jouni Tossavainen has directed his verbal curiosity towards blog writing in his eighth prose work, entitled Sivullisia (‘Outsiders’, Like, 2011); it consists of a collection of (fictional) blog posts, which seem to contain plenty of junk as well as treasures.

The book is a dizzying linguistic playground; it includes posts, around a page in length, from 157 ‘outsiders’. Escaping the familiar structures of language usage gives rise to snapshots of estrangement.

The narrator of the book claims to have assembled his material from a collection of blog posts received from the greater Helsinki region. Individual fragments of views and facts are like codes that have lost what they were meant to unlock. Mocking, satirical jibes emerge from the texts, accompanied by a sneaking suspicion of understanding and solace, as there ought to be in a true carnival. More…

The joy of work

24 October 2011 | Fiction, Prose

Short prose from Sivullisia (‘Outsiders’, Like, 2011). Introduction by Teppo Kulmala

Since I’ve been unemployed, I started a blog called Outsiders. It soon came to serve as work, and I became dependent on its benefits. Although describing being an outsider helped to anaesthetise me, and verbalising all of my afternoons didn’t even take up all my time, the feedback that came in was reward enough. I wouldn’t have taken any other reimbursement anyway because of the restrictions set on recipients of government benefits. Increasingly frequently I found myself longing for more. Even a short blog comment about being an outsider felt even truer than what I with my self-employed, jobless person’s competence was able to achieve in relation to being sidelined as an unemployed person, regardless of what kind of manager I had been in my previous life. When asking for more accounts of other people’s well-being, I wanted them to use their own names. I justified this because I did not want to read lies, which often come from and lead to chatter in cafés and on the web. Apart from the pure enjoyment of being present, using one’s own name – even in wrong-headed topics or notions – makes it easier to approach the harsh laws of the working world. When one knows that by using one’s own signature one is dragging one’s family into the mire, including those who have gone before and those yet to come, one is able to blaze trails along which one can outflank the passive to activate another, equally unemployed. I did not place any further requirements on the other commenters besides first name and surname, as the rules had been drawn up by professionals in their own field. The regulator’s work also requires skill, if not a tremendous craving, for damming up another flood of text so that one’s own advantages do not have a chance to dry up. To facilitate reading for myself and others, I introduced only a couple of restrictions, which I imagined that I, too, would be able to adhere to. Only one side of a sheet of A4 was to be used – that is, one page – and what people wrote had to be true. Truth, beauty and quality ensured that everyone would begin what they had to say by writing about their current work. More stories, anecdotes, even poems piled up than the law permits me to read – much less compile – during working hours. For this book I have selected only 157 stories from the Greater Helsinki area for the sake of efficiency. The faster you can read the work, the less time it will distract you from your main job. I chose to limit things to the capital area so that the stories about well-being from individuals linked to this place would seem to form a more integral work, or document at least, about what was happening in the Big H, the centre of the nation, at the start of the millennium. I will publish the tales of work from beyond the outer ring road at some later stage, if I manage to come to an agreement with the writers concerning intellectual property rights. More…

Juha Sihvola: Maailmankansalaisen uskonto [The religion of the world citizen]

21 October 2011 | Mini reviews, Reviews

Maailmankansalaisen uskonto
[The religion of the world citizen]
Helsinki: Otava, 2011. 199 p., ill.
ISBN 978-951-1-21279-9
€ 29, paperback

This book focuses on the core questions of religious philosophy with special emphasis on Christianity, but it also addresses Judaism, Islam and the Middle East conflict as well as conflicts between Hindu nationalists and Muslims. Juha Sihvola, a professor of history, ends up advocating the view which holds that religion and science are largely independent of one another: under-standing the special nature of belief enables a justifiable critique of both religious fundamentalism and radical neo-atheism. In this work, Sihvola examines the relationship of faith and morals to history, freedom of conscience, religious tolerance and the possibilities of developing a more pluralistic society. The ideas of contemporary philosophers John Rawls and Martha Nussbaum seem closest to Sihvola’s own thinking. He formulates an optimistic vision in which religion that is liberal, non-fundamentalist and understands the special nature of belief faces important tasks ahead.
Translated by Ruth Urbom

Vesa Heikkinen & Harri Mantila: Kielemme kohtalo [The fate of Finnish]

14 October 2011 | Mini reviews, Reviews

Kielemme kohtalo
[The fate of Finnish]
Helsinki: Gaudeamus, 2011. 235 p.
ISBN 978-952-495-188-3
€ 32, paperback

This book sets out to examine the reasons behind concerns about the decay of the Finnish language. The authors maintain that linguistic immutability is too often taken to be a synonym for ‘good’ language, even though a living national language is capable of picking up new influences all the time without being in danger of destruction. The factor which the authors consider to be the greatest threat to Finnish is not youth slang, global English, or immigration but Finglish, the practice of using a mixture of Finnish and English, which has become widespread in research, commerce and government. The names of companies and public bodies are changed into opaque English-language abbreviations. Linguists are also concerned by the bureaucratisation of language that is often linked with public-sector reforms. Increasing linguistic inequality is the most serious threat described in this book: in the worst-case scenario, children’s and young people’s poor skills in Finnish could increase the gaps between classes in society and give rise to a growing mass of the excluded alongside an elite who are well-versed in the nuances of the language.
Translated by Ruth Urbom


Publisher: sold!

14 October 2011 | In the news

WSOY trademark: design by Akseli Gallen-Kallela

The Swedish media company Bonnier (est. 1804) has bought the Finnish WSOY (Werner Söderström Corporation, est. 1878) publishing company, formerly owned by the now multinational Sanoma Corporation. Bonniers’s learning materials in Finland and Sweden were simultaneously bought by Sanoma.

Leena Majander-Reenpää, former managing director of Otava Publishing Company (est. 1890; she resigned from her job last year), is the new vice CEO responsible for the publishing programme and foreign rights at WSOY.

Anne Valsta, CEO of the Tammi Publishers, (est. 1943, also owned by Bonnier since 1996) is also the CEO of the new WSOY.

The president of the Swedish Bonnierförlagen AB, Jacob Dalborg, will be the Chairman of the Boards of both Tammi and WSOY; he says both will continue as independent companies.

Bonnier operates in 17 countries and employs more than 10,000 people. WSOY last year shed 40 jobs and now employs some 100 people.

Where’s life best for women?

14 October 2011 | This 'n' that

Ice, lava & quality life for women: Iceland. Photo: Soila Lehtonen

In Iceland.

The Daily Beast – the online home of Newsweek Magazine – has compiled the rankings of the best and worst countries for women to live in. 165 countries were analysed by using five factors – justice, health, education, economics and politics – and awarding scores of 0 to 100.

Each category included between four and ten data points, depending on the reliable data points available. The results, published last month, show that for a woman Iceland is the best place: overall score was 100.0. Second was Sweden (99.2), third Canada (96.6), fourth Denmark (95.3) and fifth Finland (92.8). The next five were Switzerland, Norway, USA, Australia and the Netherlands.

The final ranking is based on how much better or worse a country is for women when measured against the average level of women’s rights for all 165 countries – of which the worst three are Yemen, Afghanistan and Chad.

Some progress seems to have been going on in the world lately; in politics women have become more visible. They will now even be allowed to vote in Saudi Arabia. (But there women are still not able to leave the country or work without a permission from a male relative – or drive a car.)

Iceland’s current prime minister is Johanna Sigurdardottir; the country’s score points for politics is 92.8, whereas Finland’s is 100.0.

However, justice and economics do not score as high in Finland as in Iceland. ‘Prevalence of intimate partner physical and sexual violence’ may cause the loss of points in the former case, and ‘women’s wages as a percentage of men’s’ in the latter.

Finland is the only country on the list with 100.0 points in politics: currently the president, 84 of the 200 members of the parliament and nine ministers out of 19 are women. So, it might be quite possible that women will make Finland climb up towards the top of the mountain – or rather, volcano?

Are we stupid or what?

14 October 2011 | Non-fiction, Tales of a journalist

Are we dumbed down by the Internet? Jyrki Lehtola takes a look at who might be to blame

Because I am not a historian and Googling this topic would take more than two clicks, I do not know whether Gutenberg was accused of ruining the future of young people and making adults even stupider.

There would have been reason to. The invention of the printing press took us away from what is truly important. The world was better before Gutenberg.

People knew themselves and each other; they were connected to nature and what really matters. After Gutenberg invented the printing press, those poor people were forced to read books, creating an ever-worsening state of helplessness. More…

Your heart on your sleeve

7 October 2011 | This 'n' that

Street cred of Hel Looks: Josua and Julius. Photo: Sampo Karjalainen

The founder of Hel Looks, which charts clothing styles of Helsinki denizens (which we featured here on the Books from Finland website), has been talking to Finnish television (programme in Finnish) about her website.

Established in 2005, the site – which has an eye for the weird and wonderful rather than the classically stylish – attracts an average of 10,000 visitors a day, two thirds of them from outside Finland.

Fashion editor Liisa Jokinen says she got the idea for the site while on holiday in Sweden. ‘I think a lot of Finns admire the Swedes’ fashion sense and in particular their stylishness. But in fact the range of styles is greater in Helsinki, and Finns have the courage to be different,’ she says.

Recent images from the site bear her comments out, and chart the sheer range of costume that she and the photographer Sampo Karjalainen set out to document. Take the 13-year-old fashionistas Josua and Julius (left), snapped on Bulevardi in central Helsinki on 1 October, for example: ‘We dance hip hop and house. It inspires our style. We try not to dress up like all other boys’; or Noel Coward fan Janne, 51, seen on 3 September: ‘I’m wearing an English tweed suit tailor-made in London. I live in Mexico, where I normally wear a white linen suit.’

Best of all, says Jokinen, is when she comes across someone for a second time without realising that she took their picture a year or so back. The image of Helsinki reflected by Hel Looks is made up of people, not buildings. ‘I believe people and their clothes contribute much more to a city than its buildings do,’ Jokinen says.

The photos on the Hel Looks site, currently numbering some 1,200, offer us visions of how people want to be seen; in this selection, few dress to play a role. People wear what they think is fun or/and stylish, and we, the onlookers, enjoy being the judges of this city catwalk.

On the Trans-Siberian express

3 October 2011 | Authors, Reviews

Rosa Liksom. Photo: Veikko Somerpuro

A Finnish girl studying archaeology in Moscow finds herself sharing a train compartment with a Russian man on the long journey from Moscow through Siberia to Ulan Bator. The girl travels for weeks to see the region’s ancient rock-paintings; the man’s destination is a big building site. The drama of the enclosed space  is built of two people and two worlds that cannot escape one another.

The story, in Hytti no 6 (‘Compartment number 6’) by Rosa Liksom, develops through small stories and reminiscences as the backgrounds of the girl and the man open up. At the places where the train stops, other people from the steppe and cities of Russia become intertwined with the narrative.

The career of the Lapp writer Rosa Liksom spans more than 25 years and demonstrates a rare ability to master various fields of both writing and the visual arts. In the history of contemporary Finnish prose, her novels and collections of short prose are a fantastic chapter of originally developed Nordic localism and post-modernist world citizenship. Liksom’s first book, short prose, was published in 1985; her work has been translated into 14 languages. More…

Back in the USSR

3 October 2011 | Fiction, Prose

Extracts from Rosa Liksom’s novel Hytti nro 6 (‘Compartment no 6’, WSOY, 2011). Review by Mervi Kantokorpi

Moscow hunched itself in the dry, frosty March night, protecting itself from the touch of the icy red sun as it set. The girl entered the train’s last sleeping carriage, found her compartment, compartment number six, and breathed deeply. There were four beds in the compartment, the upper ones folded agains the wall, while between the beds was a small table, on the table a white table cloth and a plastic flower vase containing a bunch of pink paper carnations, faded by time; the shelf above the end of the bed was full of large, untidily secured parcels. The girl shoved her modest old suitcase, the one she had got from Zahar, into the metal luggage space under the hard, narrow bed; her small backpack she threw on the bed. When the station bell sounded for the first time, the girl went to stand by the corridor window. She breathed in the scent of the train, iron, coal-dust, the smells left behind by dozens of cities and thousands of people. Travellers and those who had come to see them off pushed past her, shoving her with their cases and parcels. The girl touched the cold window with her hand and looked at the platform. This train would take her through villages inhabited by deportees, through the open and closed towns of Siberia to the capital of Mongolia, Ulan Bator. More…

Thrills ‘n’ spills

3 October 2011 | In the news

Thrillers occupied half the top ten spaces on August’s list of best-selling fiction titles in Finland, compiled by the Finnish Booksellers’ Association. Top place was taken by Leena Lehtolainen’s latest crime thriller, Oikeuden jalopeura (‘The lion of justice’, Tammi).

At number two was Kaari Utrio’s new historical novel, Oppinut neiti (‘Learned Miss’, Amanita), followed by Kari Hotakainen’s  Jumalan sana (‘God’s word’, Siltala).

The non-fiction list reflected Finns’ passion for mushrooming. Since August, rain and warmth have worked wonders for friends of fungi: zillions of ceps, boletuses, chanterelles as well as poisonous specimens are abundant everywhere, so you’d better know which are safe to put into your pan. The top 20 list includes four guidebooks/cookbooks for those who love roaming in the forests and fields in pursuit of mycotic delicacies. The list was topped by Sienestäjän opas (‘Mushroom hunter’s guide’, Gummerus), which even beat the Finnish version of  Harry Potter Film Wizardy.