Archive for January, 2012

The fairest in the land

26 January 2012 | Children's books, Fiction

Two fables from Gepardi katsoo peiliin (‘The cheetah looks into the mirror’, Tammi, 2003). Illustrations by Kirsi Neuvonen. (More fables by Hannele Huovi here.)


The air rippled above the pile of stones. The lizard twitched her hip and took up an s-shaped pose like an ordinary photo model. After a moment she changed her left side to a convex curve. The movement was quick and graceful; the lizard’s tail swished through a broad arc so quickly you could hardly see it. Her thin, blistery skin pressed against the surface of the stone. The lizard felt the rough, raised patterns through the thin skin of her belly. She felt unpleasant, but otherwise the place was good, and the lizard did not have the energy to look for a better one. She looked through her eyelashes at the fissured sky and saw the golden disc shining at the centre of the dome. She was happy. Everything in her life was good, the weather was pleasantly dry, the temperature exactly suitable. More…

Tero Tähtinen: Katmandun unet. Kirjoituksia idästä ja lännestä [Kathmandu dreams. Writings about East and West]

26 January 2012 | Mini reviews, Reviews

Katmandun unet. Kirjoituksia idästä ja lännestä
[Kathmandu dreams. Writings about East and West]
Turku: Savukeidas, 2011. 332 p.
ISBN 978-952-268-005-1
€ 19.90, paperback

Tero Tähtinen’s second collection of essays is focused physically in the wilds of a Finnish national park and Nepal – where the author (born 1978), a literary scholar and critic, has frequently travelled – and mentally in the divergences of Western and Eastern thought, which Tähtinen, who is familiar with Zen and Buddhist philosophy, studies, occasionally by means of literary examples. The ‘Socratic ego’ of the Western egocentric, individual ‘I’, which strives in vain to understand the whole of reality by rationalising it, is his favourite bête noire. Tähtinen quickens the pace of his verbal virtuosity as he discusses both dogmatic, materialistic faith in science – as well as some of its representatives – and Christian faith: he considers that both, in their pursuit of an absolute and total explanation, end up in a metaphysical vacuum. Unlike them, Eastern philosophy, in which the individual ‘I’ is not the centre and measure of all things, does not give rise to the anxiety of compulsive cognition. The virtual narcissism of Facebook, a platform tailor-made for the Socratic ego, receives Tähtinen’s outright condemnation: ‘Facebook trivialises humanity,’ he declares. At the end of these passionate essays on the author praises silence.
Translated by David McDuff

Panu Rajala: Naisten mies ja aatteiden. Juhani Ahon elämäntaide [A ladies’ man of ideas. Juhani Aho’s art of living]

26 January 2012 | Mini reviews, Reviews

Naisten mies ja aatteiden. Juhani Ahon elämäntaide
[A ladies’ man of ideas. Juhani Aho’s art of living]
Helsinki: WSOY, 2011. 441 p., ill.
ISBN 9789510374412
€ 35, hardback

Of Juhani Aho (1861–1921) it is said that he created what have proved to be the most enduring descriptions of how traditional Finland began to be modernised; his most famous book is the novella Rautatie (‘The railway’, 1884) which portrays the arrival of the railway in the Finnish countryside. This new biography also shows once again how many international influences can be found in the work of Aho, who is often called a national author. Aho was active in student politics, and as a newspaper journalist. He was nominated for the Nobel Literature Prize twelve times, but for various reasons, some of them connected with language politics, lobbying on his behalf was not successful. Aho developed Finnish prose, bringing to it realism and impressionistic style. His experiences during a visit to Paris in 1889 form the basis of his novel Yksin (‘Alone’), which caused a stir in part because of its erotic flavour. This book by the author and literary scholar Panu Rajala provides a versatile insight into Aho’s personal story, the world of his ideas, his opinions on art, and his complex relationships.
Translated by David McDuff

Sound and meaning

20 January 2012 | Essays, Non-fiction

Harri Nordell’s poem from Huuto ja syntyvä puu (‘Scream and tree being born’, 1996)

Translating poetry is natural, claims Tarja Roinila; it is a continuation of writing it, for works of poetry are not finished, self-sufficient products. But is the translator the servant of the meaning – or of the letter?

I am sitting in a cafe in Mexico City, trying to explain in Spanish what valokupolikiihko, ‘light-cupola-ecstasy’, means. And silmän valokupolikiihko, ‘the light-cupola-ecstasy of the eye’.

I take to praising the boundless ability of the Finnish language to form compound words, to weld pieces together without finalising the relationships between them, never mind establishing a hierarchy: the eye is a light-cupola, the eye is ecstatic about light-cupolas, light creates cupolas, the cupola lets out the light, the eye, in its ecstasy, creates a light-cupola. More…

Too much, too soon?

20 January 2012 | This 'n' that

Candace Bushnell’s Summer & the City (about Carrie Bradshaw’s first years in NYC, published last year) is categorised among books for children and young people on the Finnish best-sellers’ list. The Finnish translation occupied the eighth place in December.

But hang on, wasn’t this Carrie in the fantastically famous HBO television adaptation of Bushnell’s novel Sex and the City very much in her thirties, as were her three best friends – all with, yes, quite active ‘adult’ sex lives…? In Finland the series had a rather silly title, Sinkkuelämää, ‘Single life’.

Well, of course it would be foolish not to continue the fantasticaly famous money-spinning saga, so Bushnell has gone back in time, first to Carrie’s school years in small-town America in The Carrie Diaries (2010), then to her first years in NYC in  Summer & the City (2011) – and HarperCollins has pigeonholed them among its ‘teen books’.

Confusingly, the Finnish titles of these two books also contain the word referring to the television seriesSinkkuelämää – Carrien nuoruusvuodet and  Sinkkuelämää – Ensimmäinen kesä New Yorkissa. As the Finnish publisher Tammi has attached TV title to them, the customer assumes these are books for ‘adults’ – as indeed was the original Sex and the City.

This makes one wonder what exactly ‘books for young people’ are. The main characters are teens themselves? If Bushnell goes still further back in time, we shall be reading about naughty Li´l Carrie hitting another toddler on the head with her doll, in a board book.

Maria Vuorio: Kuningattaren viitta ja muita kiperiä kysymyksiä [The Queen’s cloak and other knotty issues]

19 January 2012 | Mini reviews, Reviews

Kuningattaren viitta ja muita kiperiä kysymyksiä
[The Queen’s cloak and other knotty issues]
Kuvitus [Ill. by]: Virpi Talvitie
Helsinki: Tammi, 2011. 71 p.
ISBN 978-951-31-6252-8
€ 20.60, hardback

The style of Maria Vuorio’s books demands quiet concentration – but you could get quite hooked on their slow, thoughtful, gentle story-telling. Vuorio carries on the tradition of classic animal fables, following in the footsteps of Hans Christian Andersen, but with a personal twist. She is masterful in describing different emotional states – whether evoking the inner lives of humans or of anthropomorphised animals. Her stories and fairy tales hand the reader a magnifying glass that brings into view even the smallest, most insignificant creature or thing. The entire universe is present in the stories, for example when an earthworm ponders the meaning of life, a bear breaks into the National Museum, or a noxious insect imperils cultural exchange between Finland and Denmark. Talvitie has drawn an allegorical picture for each tale.
Translated by Fleur Jeremiah and Emily Jeremiah

Marja-Leena Tiainen: Kahden maailman tyttö [The girl from two worlds]

18 January 2012 | Mini reviews, Reviews

Kahden maailman tyttö
[The girl from two worlds]
Helsinki: Tammi, 2011. 261 p.
ISBN 978-951-31-5937-5
€ 26.65, hardback

Marja-Leena Tiainen (born 1951) has dealt with unemployment, immigration, and racism in her works, in ways that are accessible to her young readership. She researches her topics with care. The idea for this book dates back to 2004, when the author made the acquaintance of a Muslim girl who lived in a reception centre in eastern Finland; her experiences fed into Tara’s story. Tiainen’s central theme, ‘honour’ violence in the Muslim community, is surprisingly similar to Jari Tervo’s  Layla (WSOY, 2011). Tiainen’s is a traditional story about a girl growing up and surviving, but the novel’s strong points are the authentic description of everyday multiculturalism, and the intensity of the narration. The reader identifies with Tara’s balancing act, which she must carry out in the crossfire of her father’s authority, family tradition, and her own dreams. In spite of everything, the community also becomes a source of security and support for Tara. The narrative arc is coherent and, despite the numerous overlapping time-frames, the tension is sustained right up to the final, conciliatory solution.
Translated by Fleur Jeremiah and Emily Jeremiah

Jani Kaaro: Evoluutio [Evolution]

18 January 2012 | Mini reviews, Reviews

Kuvitus [Ill. by]: Väinö Heinonen
Helsinki: BTJ Finland Oy/ Avain, 2011. 64 p., ill.
ISBN 978-951-692-766-7
€ 19.90, hardback

This non-fiction book, intended for 8- to 14-year-olds, takes as its main character Charles Darwin, who as a child begins to ponder where people came from. Various myths about the origins of the world, achievements of European natural historians and problems of early evolutionary theorists are explored briefly but elucidatingly; they are linked to the acquisition of new knowledge as the church fathers continue to trust in the Bible. The prehistory of the Earth, evolution and natural selection, animal populations, man and his ancestors are explained with the aid of plentiful and humorous illustrations. Scientific results are interestingly presented, but a separate fact box, for example, on the structure of the cell or the nature of DNA might have been useful. In the last picture, the 200,000-year-old Homo sapiens is seen scrawling his cave paintings: ‘so long as we are genetically unique individuals, our evolution will never cease’.
Translated by Hildi Hawkins

Hannele Huovi & Kristiina Louhi: Jättityttö ja Pirhonen [The giant girl and Mr Pirhonen]

17 January 2012 | Mini reviews, Reviews

Jättityttö ja Pirhonen
[The giant girl and Mr Pirhonen]
Kuvitus [Ill. by]: Kristiina Louhi
Helsinki: Tammi, 2011. 31 p.
ISBN 978-951-31-5852-1
€ 19.95, hardback

Hannele Huovi and Kristiina Louhi, two eminent professionals in the field of children’s literature, have been collaborating for a long time. Their mutual trust is reflected in the way they grant each other artistic freedom, at times submitting to the text, at others to the illustrations. The depiction of the love story between a giant girl and a tiny man was an exceptional challenge for the illustrator; Tyyne’s tears nearly drown her tiny friend, and to see him properly, she needs a magnifying glass! Louhi has again kept her style economical, and she boldly paints large expanses of colour and forms. Alongside the unequal but happy love story, this picture book deals with tolerance. Tyyne’s enormous size effectively manifests her feeling that she is an outsider. The book also advocates a relaxed attitude to life and the avoidance of unnecessary strain. The example of the giant girl helps the reader to develop a sense of proportion and to realise the value of the everyday.
Translated by Fleur Jeremiah and Emily Jeremiah

Annika Luther: De hemlösas stad [The city of the homeless]

17 January 2012 | Mini reviews, Reviews

De hemlösas stad
[The city of the homeless]
Helsingfors: Söderströms, 2011. 237 p.
ISBN 978-951-522-846-8
€ 21.10, paperback
Kodittomien kaupunki
Suomennos [Translation from Swedish into Finnish]: Asko Sahlberg
Helsinki: Teos, 2011. 240 p.
ISBN 978-951-851-404-9
€ 33.10, paperback

Annika Luther’s novel is an example of the popular genre of dystopia. Its ecocritical overtones prompt radically new ways of thinking about the effects of climate change. In 2050, the bulk of the earth’s surface is under water, and people from various corners of the earth have been evacuated to Finland. The majority of the residents in Helsinki are Indian and Chinese. Finns are in the minority, and most of them are hopelessly addicted to alcohol. Fifteen-year-old Lilja lives in the city of Jyväskylä with her family, in a protected and tightly controlled neighbourhood. She becomes interested in her family history and decides to find out about her aunt, a marine biologist who remained in flooded Helsinki. Gradually, the mysteries of the past open up to her. The novel is about survival and adaptation. Luther is an original writer, uncompromising in her ethical stance. As in her previous novel, Ivoria (2009), she describes Helsinki with affection: despite the ruined landscape, the city maintains its proud bearing.
Translated by Fleur Jeremiah and Emily Jeremiah

Leena Krohn: Auringon lapsia [Children of the sun]

16 January 2012 | Mini reviews, Reviews

Auringon lapsia
[Children of the sun]
Kuvitus [Ill. by]: Inari Krohn
Helsinki: Teos, 2011. 32 p.
ISBN 978-951-851-311-0
€ 29.40, hardback

It is great news that Leena Krohn has not abandoned the young readership she first addressed through her first book Vihreä vallankumous (‘The green revolution’, 1970), an ecocritical title that also touched on active citizenship. This novel, too, is about the encounter between man and nature. Ten-year-old Orvokki (Violet) is a delivery girl for a florist; like her, the reader is incited to marvel with naive curiosity at life’s various wonders. Krohn is supremely good at writing literature that knows no age limits. Nothing here will go over a child’s head; the essence of the book is accessible to all. In this nicely old-fashioned children’s novel the measured language and expression are pleasing both to the eye and the ear. The hand-coloured graphic prints by the artist (and writer’s sister) Inari Krohn are a homage to Maria Sibylla Merian (1647–1717), the German natural scientist and illustrator who produced life-like paintings of insects and plants.
Translated by Fleur Jeremiah and Emily Jeremiah

Tuuve Aro: Korson purppuraruusu [The purple rose of Korso]

16 January 2012 | Mini reviews, Reviews

Korson purppuraruusu
[The purple rose of Korso]
Kuvitus [Ill. by]: Sanna Mander
Helsinki: WSOY, 2011. 109 p.
ISBN 978-951-0-38052-9
€ 25.70, hardback

Sometimes a book’s appearance is enough to win the reader over. The first children’s novel by writer and film critic Tuuve Aro (born 1973) encourages the belief that things will work out for the best. The book’s positive undertones are also reflected in Mander’s fresh illustrations, which exude retro-nostalgia for the 1950s and 1960s in shades of orange, black, and brown. Tallulah, a jungle princess, turns up unexpectedly to sort out the complicated affairs of Topi, a schoolboy who is being bullied. Tallulah comes into the suburb of Korso from the silver screen, out of Woody Allen’s film The Purple Rose of Cairo. The jungle princess helps Topi to see the bleak suburb as an exotic habitat where adventures are waiting just round the corner. The adult reader gets to enjoy a few carefully chosen references to major cinematic landmarks. Aro eschews problem-centred realism and angst, even though the children’s problems are an indirect result of decisions taken by adults. The Tallulah figure incorporates a hefty dose of anarchy, familiar from Astrid Lindgren’s Pippi Longstocking.
Translated by Fleur Jeremiah and Emily Jeremiah

Helsinki: World Design Capital 2012

13 January 2012 | This 'n' that

Swimming in the rain: winter joys of Helsinki. Photograph: Valtteri Hirvonen – Eriksson & Co.

After Turin (Italy, 2008) and Seoul (Republic of Korea, 2010), 2012 Helsinki is the third World Design Capital, selected in 2009 by the International Council of Societies of Industrial Design (ICSID).

Helsinki was considered to be a city where ‘design has for decades been a pivotal enabler to building an open city’.

The theme is ‘Open Helsinki – Embedding Design in Life‘. The idea is to improve the everyday life and environment of the citizens and the development of both public services and private enterprises.

In addition to Helsinki, the realisation of the Design Capital year will be carried out by four other cities: neighbouring Espoo, Vantaa and Kauniainen as well as Lahti (some hundred kilometres north of the capital). The Finnish government, two ministries, 21 commercial companies and some universities will co-operate in this project, which has a budget of 16 million euros (2010–2013).

The programme includes some 300 different events, half of them development projects, themed ‘The changing city’ or ‘New solutions’; the other half consists of various exhibitions and encounters for the citizens of Helsinki, tourists and design people.

The ultimate goal of this all is said to be ‘permanent change’. Whatever that really means – good luck!

However, as writer and design critic Kaj Kalin noted in a review in Helsingin Sanomat newspaper (30 December), Finland is full of well-educated designers, but lacks both investment money prepared to take risks and working industry: soon all production will have moved to cheaper countries – and nobody will be able to produce anything. New Finnish design, Kalin argues, mostly approximates merely to ‘a show parade of models and prototypes’.

Once upon a time…

13 January 2012 | Articles, Non-fiction

Sari Airola's illustration in Silva och teservisen som fick fötter (‘Silva and the tea set that took to its feet’, Schildts) by Sanna Tahvanainen

The future of book publishing is not easy to predict. Books for children and young people are still produced in large quantities, and there’s no shortage of quality, either. But will the books find their readers? Päivi Heikkilä-Halttunen takes a look at the trends of 2011, while in the review section we’ve picked out a selection of last year’s best titles

The supply of titles for children and young adults is greater than ever, but the attention the Finnish print media pays to them continues to diminish. Writing about this genre appears increasingly ghettoised, featuring only in specialist publications or internet chat rooms and blogs.

Yet, defying the prospect of a recession, Suomen lastenkirjakauppa, a bookshop specialising in children’s literature, was re-established in central Helsinki in autumn 2011, following a ten-year break. Pro lastenkirjallisuus – Pro barnlitteraturen ry, the Finnish society for the promotion of children’s literature, has been making efforts to found a Helsinki centre dedicated to writing and illustration for children. The society made progress in this ambition when it organised a pilot event in May 2011. More…

Sanna Tahvanainen & Sari Airola: Silva och teservicen som fick fötter [Silva and the tea set that took to its feet]

13 January 2012 | Mini reviews, Reviews

Silva och teservicen som fick fötter
[Silva and the tea set that took to its feet]
Kuvitus [Ill. by]: Sari Airola
Helsingfors: Schildts, 2011. 32 p.
ISBN 78-951-50-2053-6
€ 21.20, hardback
Silva ja teeastiasto joka sai jalat alleen
Suomennos [Translation from Swedish into Finnish]: Jyrki Kiiskinen
Helsinki: Schildts, 2011. 32 p.
ISBN 978-951-50-2054-3
€ 21.20, hardback

Sari Airola’s ability to depict different emotions makes her one of the most interesting Finnish illustrators of children’s books. Airola has long lived in Hong Kong and one can often sense an oriental spirit in her work. In this book, she makes use of Asian textile printing plates to enliven the surfaces of the images. The subject of this debut children’s book by Tahvanainen (born 1975), who is also a poet and novelist, evokes empathy with family situations that deviate from the norm. Silva lives in a big house with her mother, an isolated control freak and migraine sufferer. When her mother suffers an episode, Silva is unable to establish any contact with her and feels insecure. Although the text is allegorical, the book’s message, which concerns a parent’s caring responsibilities and a child’s need to be loved, remains accessible to children. Once the migraine attack is over, the mother goes out to look for Silva; mother and daughter are reconciled when Silva, at last, puts her fears into words.
Translated by Fleur Jeremiah and Emily Jeremiah