Archive for December, 2011

Away with darkness

28 December 2011 | This 'n' that

Helsinki Cathedral, lit by Martin Kuhn. Photo: Ralph Larmann

Helsinki is about to celebrate its third Season of Light. A team of designers and artists have created a series of works that will transform the urban milieu and buildings into ‘an experience for the senses and emotions’ in early January (31st December to 9 January).

For example, Helsinki Cathedral will be illuminated by light artist Mikki Kunttu, accompanied by a special sound environment. The light installation will run every day from 5 pm to 11 pm.

The German lighting designer Martin Kuhn will create an installation around Unioninkatu street, using LED technology. It will run from 6 pm to 10 pm.

Take a look at the programme – there are also photo and video samples from the previous Seasons of Light – here.

Who knows whether Helsinki will see any snow at New Year either (Christmas was black this time); nevertheless, these colours will brighten up the darkest hours in the city.

And hey, the winter solstice is already behind us, there is going to be more and more light each day!

Hatefully yours

23 December 2011 | Non-fiction, Tales of a journalist

Illustration: Joonas Väänänen

In the new media it’s easy for our pet hatreds to be introduced to anyone who is interested. And of course everyone is interested, how else could it be? Jyrki Lehtola investigates

Twitter, Facebook, Twitter, Twitter, Twitter, Facebook, Twitter, how can we get the revenue model to work by using our old media, Twitter, Facebook, Twitter, Twitter, hey, what about that revenue model of ours, Twitter.

The preceding is a poignant summary of what the Finnish media was like in 2011 when the rules of the game changed like they have changed every year. And we still don’t even fully understand what the game is supposed to be. More…

Eeva-Kaarina Aronen: Kallorumpu [Skull drum]

23 December 2011 | Mini reviews, Reviews

[Skull drum]
Helsinki: Teos, 2011. 390 p.
ISBN 978-951-851-413-1
€ 27.40, hardback

Eeva-Kaarina Aronen (born 1948) did not begin her writing career untill 2005, after a long career as editor of the newspaper Helsingin Sanomat. Her third novel Kallorumpu  was shortlisted for the  Finlandia Prize for Fiction 2011. Aronen’s interest in historical characters and themes that challenge historical truth was already evident in the of her first novel Maria Renforsin totuus (‘The truth of Maria Renfors’, Teos, 2005). At the centre of Kallorumpu is the legendary figure of Finland’s Field Marshal C.G. Mannerheim (1867–1951). The book concentrates on the description of one day in November 1935 by an old filmmaker, the narrator of the novel, who is showing his documentary to a small group of viewers in the present day. He comments on his own film, complementing it with stories about Mannerheim’s home in Helsinki.  At home the Marshal’s staff – a cook, a maid and a valet – not only provide narrative twists and turns, but also an insight into the class divisions of the Finnish civil war. Aronen’s portrayal of her gallery of characters is an interesting one,  and the novel’s demanding structure, with its alternating time zones, is sound.
Translated by David McDuff

Suomalainen piru. Paholainen kansanperinteessä [The Finnish devil. The Evil One in Finnish folklore]

23 December 2011 | Mini reviews, Reviews

Suomalainen piru. Paholainen kansanperinteessä
[The Finnish devil. The Evil One in Finnish folklore]
Toim. [Ed. by] Mari Purola
Kuvitus: [Illustrations]: Christer Nuutinen
Helsinki: Finnish Literature Society, 2011. 144 p., ill.
ISBN 978-952-222-289-3
€ 25, hardback

In Finnish folklore the Devil has borrowed features both from ancient popular belief and from the Christian faith. Unlike the devil of Christianity, the Finnish devil is not wholly evil, and the relation between man and devil may sometimes recall a contractual relationship: man can benefit from his link with the devil without losing his soul. In the mythological stories the devil is a a creature that supports the values of village society, who punishes misdemeanours and with whose help inexplicable phenomena like surprisingly good luck or illness can be explained. Finnish folk belief contains a numerous group of lesser magical figures such as elves and sprites. The devil has also borrowed the powers of the ancient gods, such as good luck in hunting from Tapio, and in fishing from Ahti. The folk archives of  the Finnish Literature Society contain a collection of devil-themed stories from the 1880s to the 1960s.
Translated by David McDuff

A new publishing company – and old

23 December 2011 | In the news

In the early months of 2012 Finland’s two old and time-honoured Swedish-language publishers, Schildts and Söderströms, will merge.

Söderströms will buy Schildts, whose owners (two non-profit associations, Svenska folkskolans vänner and Finlands svenska lärarförbund) will acquire a nearly 20 per cent share in the new company. The largest share in Schildts & Söderströms will be held by the art association Konstsamfundet (24 per cent), while the company’s third major owner will be Svenska Litteratursällskapet i Finland (15 per cent).

Both publishers have been operating with a loss in turnover of approximately half a million euros, though at the same time investment capital has brought them almost the same amount. Textbook publishing has been profitable for both, while general literature has been published at a loss.

With a turnover of slightly over six million euros, the new Schildts & Söderströms will employ a workforce of nearly 50.

Holger Schildt founded the Finnish-Swedish publishing house of Schildts in 1913. Its most internationally famous and best-selling fiction writer is the mother of the Moomins, Tove Jansson (1914–2001). Edith Södergran, Runar Schildt, Bo Carpelan and Robert Åsbacka are, for example, Schildts’ authors.

Werner Söderström founded the company that bears his name in 1878. Now known as WSOY, it originally published both Finnish and Swedish-language literature; the firm of Söderström & Co. was founded in 1891 for the exclusive publishing of Swedish-language literature. Söderström’s authors have included Gunnar Björling, Jörn Donner, Monika Fagerholm and Kjell Westö, among others.

It is thought that the merger may lead to a reduction in the number of fiction and poetry titles published – but there are also hopes that there may be an improvement in their quality.

The balance of grief

19 December 2011 | Authors, Reviews

Henriikka Tavi. Photograph: Heini Lehväslaiho

In recent years volumes of contemporary Finnish poetry have offered readers the chance to enjoy excellent cover artwork. Right down to the typographical layout, the visual aspects of recently published volumes of poetry – by small and large publishers alike – have turned these books into highly refined, almost holistic works of art.

In such a way the poetics of the language and, in particular, the thematic starting point of the poems are lent a platform that both enhances and strengthens them.

Decorated with images of butterflies, the mournful grey jacket sleeve of Toivo (‘Hope’, Teos 2011), the third volume of poetry by Henriikka Tavi (born 1978), conceals the book’s bright yellow covers and an illuminated woodland path winding its way across them.

In this way the troubled central theme of this multi-disciplinary, collage-style work is immediately reflected in Camilla Pentti’s cover design. More…

Leave and stay

19 December 2011 | Fiction, poetry

Butterflies, metamorphoses, burial and remembering are the recurrent images in Henriikka Tavi’s third collection, entitled Toivo (‘Hope’). Introduction by Mervi Kantokorpi

Poems from the collection Toivo (‘Hope’, Teos, 2011)

Mourning cloak

I will tell you, though you cannot hear it.
This is a story that you will come to forget.
I have gone, but there is no departure. And as
the meadow of absence begins to lapse into grief:
Do not grieve.

I was here a moment ago and
soon will be between the dermis and the epidermis.
I stand in a row behind myself; I am a memory of you.
Oh, you weak spark! You powerful
desire to turn into a fortune!
You were the crowd in my head.

I am serious, you only imagine me.
Don’t disappear. Leave and stay.
I’ll be no further than this. More…

Helene Schjerfbeck. Och jag målar ändå [Helene Schjerfbeck. And I still paint]

16 December 2011 | Mini reviews, Reviews

Helene Schjerfbeck. Och jag målar ändå. Brev till Maria Wiik 1907–1928
[Helene Schjerfbeck. And I still paint. Letters to Maria Wiik 1907–1928]
Utgivna av [Edited by]: Lena Holger
Helsingfors: Svenska Litteratursällskapet i Finland; Stockholm: Bokförlaget Atlantis, 2011. 301 p., ill.
ISBN (Finland) 978-951-583-233-7
ISBN (Sweden) 978-91-7353-524-3
€ 44, hardback
In Finnish:
Helene Schjerfbeck. Silti minä maalaan. Taiteilijan kirjeitä
[Helene Schjerfbeck. And I still paint. Letters from the artist]
Toimittanut [Edited by]: Lena Holger
Suomennos [Translated by]: Laura Jänisniemi
Helsinki: Suomalaisen Kirjallisuuden Seura, 2011. 300 p., ill.
ISBN 978-952-222-305-0
€ 44, hardback

This work contains a half of the collection of some 200 letters (owned by the Signe and Ane Gyllenberg’s foundation), until now unpublished, from artist Helene Schjerfbeck (1862–1946) to her artist friend Maria Wiik (1853–1928), dating from 1907 to 1928. They are selected and commented by the Swedish art historian Lena Holger. Schjerfbeck lived most of her life with her mother in two small towns, Hyvinge (in Finnish, Hyvinge) and Ekenäs (Tammisaari), from 1902 to 1938, mainly poor and often ill. In her youth Schjerfbeck was able to travel in Europe, but after moving to Hyvinge it took her 15 years to visit Helsinki again. In these letters she writes vividly about art and her painting, as well as about her isolated everyday life. Despite often very difficult circumstances, she never gave up her ambitions and high standards. Her brilliant, amazing, extensive series of self-portraits are today among the most sought-after north European paintings;  she herself stayed mostly poor all her long life. The book is richly illustrated with Schjerfbeck’s paintings (mainly from the period), drawings and photographs.

What Finland read in November

16 December 2011 | In the news

The latest thriller, Teräsleijona (‘Steel lion’, WSOY), by Ilkka Remes (his 15th) was at the top of the November list of best-selling fiction titles in Finland, compiled by the Finnish Booksellers’ Association.

The second place was occupied by Jari Tervo’s Layla, the third by  Minä Katariina (‘I, Catherine’, Otava), a Finlandia Prize -listed historical novel by Laila Hirvisaari. Tuomas Kyrö occupied both the fourth and the tenth place with his novels Kerjäläinen ja jänis (‘The beggar and the hare’, Siltala – a pastiche-style story inspired by Jäniksen vuosi / The Year of the Hare by Arto Paasilinna) and Mielensäpahoittaja (‘Taking offence’, WSOY). Strangely, we think, the Finlandia-winning novel by Rosa Liksom, Hytti no 6 (‘Compartment no 6’, WSOY), was not yet on the list – the day of the awarding was 1 December.

The best-selling list of translated fiction didn’t contain any surprises – Liza Marklund, Jens Lapidus, Paulo Coelho, Henning Mankell, Stephen King – except perhaps for the tenth book, a selection of stories entitled Hyvää joulua, Jeeves! (‘Happy Christmas, Jeeves!’, Teos), by good old P.G. Wodehouse: some of the stories have not been translated into Finnish earlier, hence the delight of local Wodehouse fans.

Among the best-selling books for children and young people were just two foreign names (Thorbjörn Egner, Lisa Jane Smith) and the three at the top were works by very well-known authors: Aino Havukainen & Sami Toivonen, Sinikka Nopola & Tiina Nopola and Mauri Kunnas. (The list is available, in Finnish, here.)

The life and deeds of the late Steve Jobs interested a lot of readers, in Finland as elsewhere, and Walter Isaacson’s translated biography topped the non-fiction list.

A musical advent calendar

9 December 2011 | This 'n' that

The Finnish Broadcasting Company has delved into its vast archives, and its website, YLE Areena, is throughout December featuring a series of musical numbers, many with reference to Christmas, sung or played Finnish singers and musicians. These inserts are being broadcast on each day, from 1 to 24 December, and they can be listened to via the Internet (although be warned, the information is given in Finnish only).

Among the Finnish composers are, among others, Oskar Merikanto (1868–1924), Erkki Melartin (1875–1937), Toivo Kuula (1883–1918) and Jean Sibelius. The sopranos Irma Urrila and Helena Juntunen are presented, singing Mozart and Gounoud respectively.

For example: on 6 December, the Finland’s Independence Day, one of the three inserts is a piano piece, entitled Pankakoski, by composer Heino Kaski (who died a day earlier than Sibelius, in September 1957), played by Juhani Lagerspetz (1995). The other two are Andante Festivo (1922), a work originally composed for a string quartet, by Jean Sibelius, played by the Radio Symphony Orchestra (1995) and a song from the 1970s opera Punainen viiva (‘The red line’) by Aulis Sallinen, sung by Matti Salminen (1984).

Fifteen more days to go…

Dolce et espressivo: Violin concerto by Sibelius, 1st movement (1905). Photo: Wikimedia

A crafty Christmas

9 December 2011 | This 'n' that

Advent calendar: make one yourself! Illustration: Virpi Penna

December: the street decorations, which have been up for a month, are beginning to look a little tawdry; the office party season is in full swing and most people are beginning to feel a little the worse for wear; there are only – let’s not count them, but far too few, shopping days left till Christmas.

Festive stress has already set in, and we’re not even halfway through the month.

That’s the scene in London, at least.

In Finland, Christmas and the weeks leading up to it are a much more muted, not to say calmer, affair. The customary greeting at this time of year is ‘rauhallisia joulunalusviikkoja’ – ‘peaceful before-Christmas weeks’ (well, who isn’t afraid of Xmas panic…) and Christmas itself has a quiet, candle-lit, somehow pious quality (even for non-believers).

The tone is set by the announcement of the Christmas peace from the city of Turku at noon on Christmas Eve, and many people still begin their celebrations with a visit to the graveyard to set a lighted candle on the graves of nearest and dearest before proceeding to the festivities: the traditional Christmas dinner (with its centrepiece of ham, not turkey), followed by a visit by Father Christmas, preferably in person.

In the harsh weather and short daylight hours of this time of year so far north, staying in has a lot to recommend it, and making things at home in preparation for Christmas has always been a popular pastime – with children in particular. This year the Thisisfinland website together with Tammi publishers, in conjunction with the writer Mysi Lahtinen and the children’s illustrator Virpi Penna, has produced an online advent calendar with a crafts project for each day up to Christmas Eve.

Whether it’s making a snowflake window from cut paper, simply painting birch-twigs white or, if the climate permits, celebrating Finland’s Independence Day (6 December) by making a lantern out of snow and a candle, these are projects that can be tackled by the young, and the young at heart, of any age.

While Joulupukki may feel slightly stressed (but with him, of course, it’s an occupational hazard), we wish you a peaceful pre-Christmas fortnight!

Funny peculiar

9 December 2011 | Articles, Comics, Non-fiction

Samuel, the creation of Tommi Musturi (featured in Books from Finland on 7 May, 2010, entitled ‘Song without words’)

Comics? The Finnish word for them, sarjakuva, means, literally, ‘serial picture’, and lacks any connotation with the ‘comic’. The genre, which now  also encompasses works called graphic novels, has been the subject of celebrations this year in Finland, where it has reached its hundredth birthday. Heikki Jokinen takes a look at this modern art form

Comics are an art form that combines image and word and functions according to its own grammatical rules. It has two mother tongues: word and image. Both of them carry the story in their own way. Images and sequences of images have been used since ancient times to tell stories, and stories, for their part, are the common language of humanity. The long dark nights of the stone age were no doubt enlivened by storytellers.

One of the pioneers of comics was the Swiss artist Rodolphe Töpffer. As early as 1837, he explained how his books, combinations of images and words, should be read: ‘This little booklet is complex by nature. It is made up of a series of my own line drawings, each accompanied by a couple of lines of text. Without text, the meaning of the drawings would remain obscure; without drawings, the text would remain without content. The whole gives birth to a sort of novel – but one which is in fact no more reminiscent of a novel than of any other work.’ More…

Tuomas Heikkilä & Liisa Suvikumpu: Suomen Turku julistaa joulurauhan. Åbo kungör julfred [Finland’s Turku announces the Christmas peace]

9 December 2011 | Mini reviews, Reviews

Suomen Turku julistaa joulurauhan. Åbo kungör julfred
[Finland’s Turku announces the Christmas peace]
Swedish translation: Malena Torvalds-Westerlund
Helsinki: Kirjapaja, 2011. 71 p., ill.
ISBN 978-952-247-229-8
€ 24, hardback

This bilingual book offers a broad interpretation of a unique Christmas tradition upheld by the Finns: at 12 on Christmas Eve a large proportion of the population falls silent to listen to the declaration of the Christmas peace from Turku cathedral. After its bells have rung noon, the deputy mayor ceremonially opens a manuscript prepared according to mediaeval tradition and reads the announcement in both Finnish and Swedish. After the announcement, the land settles down to celebrate Christmas following traditions dating from the 13th century. The Christmas peace has been announced in Turku almost without interruption since the Middle Ages. The last time it went unread was in 1939, during the Winter War. The Finnish Broadcasting Company broadcasts the occasion to all the member countries of the European Broadcasting Union EBU. The Christmas peace is also sent out into the world by Swedish radio, reaching a total of some 140 countries.
Translated by Hildi Hawkins

Finlandia Junior Prize 2011

7 December 2011 | In the news

The musician Paula Vesala has chosen, from a shortlist of six, a book for young people by the poet Vilja-Tuulia Huotarinen, Valoa valoa valoa (‘Light light light’, Karisto). The story, which is set at the time of the Chernobyl nuclear power station disaster, poetically describes the passion and pain of first love, longing for mother and death.

‘Not just what is told, but how it is told. The rythm and timbre of Vilja-Tuulia Huotarinen’s language are immensely beautiful. Her phrases do not exist merely to tell the story, but live like poetry or song. Valoa valoa valoa does not incline toward young people from the world of adults; rather, its voice comes, direct and living, from painful, confusing, complex youth, in which young people should really be protected from adults and their blindness. I would have liked to read this book when I was fourteen,’ commented Vesala.

The other five shortlisted books were a picture book for small children, Rakastunut krokotiili (‘Crocodile in love’, Tammi) by Hannu Hirvonen & Pia Sakki, a philosophical picture book about being different and courageous entitled Jättityttö ja Pirhonen (‘Giant girl and Pirhonen’, Tammi) by Hannele Huovi and Kristiina Louhi; a dystopic story set in the 2300s, Routasisarukset (‘Sisters of permafrost’, WSOY), by Eija Lappalainen & Anne Leinonen; a novel about the war experiences of an Ingrian family, Kaukana omalta maalta (‘Far away from homeland’, WSOY) by Sisko Latvus and an illustrated book about gods and myths of the world, Taivaallinen suurperhe (‘Extended heavenly family’, Otava) by Marjatta Levanto & Julia Vuori.

The prize, awarded by the Finnish Book Foundation on 23 November, is worth €30,000.

Round and round

2 December 2011 | Essays, Non-fiction

In this essay, Olli Löytty imagines himself in a revolving door that is able to spin his old family home and its inhabitants backwards in time – as far as prehistory. In addition to his own family’s past, Löytty zooms back into the history of the world’s great changes, for a moment playing the part of a cosmic god examining our globe

An essay from Kulttuurin sekakäyttäjät (‘Culture-users’, Teos, 2011)

If a film camera had stood outside my home from the time when it was built, I would rewind the movie it made from the end to the beginning. The story would begin with my children, one autumn morning in 2011, walking backwards home from school. The speed of the rewind would be so fast that they would quickly grow smaller; I, too, would get thinner and start smoking. I would curiously seek out the point where my wife and I are seen together for the last time, stepping out of the front door, back first, and setting out on our own paths, to live our own separate young lives.

At that time my grandmother still lives in the house with her two daughters and their husbands, and lodgers upstairs. The next time I would slow the rewind would be the point where, at the age of 18, finally move out of the house. The freeze-frame reveals a strange figure: almost like me, but not quite. In the face of the lanky youth I seek my own children’s features.

When I let the film continue its backwards story, I seek glimpses of myself as a child. Even though we lived in distant Savo [in eastern Finland], we went to see my grandmother in the city of Tampere relatively often. We called her our Pispala grandmother, although her house was located to the west of the suburb limit, in Hyhky. I follow the arrival of my grown-up cousins, their transformation into children, the juvenation of my grandmother and her daughters, the changing lodgers. At some point the film becomes black-and-white. More…