Archive for June, 2012

Matti Klinge: Pääkaupunki – Helsinki ja Suomen valtio 1808–1863 [Capital City – Helsinki and the Finnish government 1808–1863]

27 June 2012 | Mini reviews, Reviews

Pääkaupunki – Helsinki ja Suomen valtio 1808–1863
[Capital city — Helsinki and the Finnish government 1808–1863]
Kuvitussuunnitelma [Pictorial design by] Matti Klinge and Yrjö Klinge
Helsinki: Otava, 2012. 509p., ill.
ISBN 978-951-1-26235-0
€ 53, hardback

As a result of the war between Sweden and Russia in 1808–1809, Finland became an autonomous Grand Duchy of the Russian Empire. In 1812 Helsinki was made Finland’s new capital, being more suitable than Turku, the administrative city of the time, as it boasted features such as the coastal fortress of Sveaborg (Suomenlinna), which was important to Russia. In his new book, Emeritus Professor Matti Klinge gives an account of the development of Helsinki as a capital city. Between 1808 and 1843 the Grand Duchy established its central administrative office, its civil service and the University in Helsinki. Tsars Alexander I and Nicholas I wanted Finland to have a monumental capital; Klinge describes the implementation of the carefully detailed city plan and the key buildings. He portrays the work of the individuals who contributed to Helsinki’s development as well as the city’s political, social and cultural life – Helsinki’s history is essentially the history of Finland. Also published in Swedish, this extensive work, which owes its origin to the Historical Commission of the City of Helsinki, is illustrated in a rich and informative manner.
Translated by David McDuff

Summer madness

27 June 2012 | Non-fiction, Tales of a journalist

Illustration: Joonas Väänänen

In the endlessly long days of the brief Nordic summer, what could be better than to go on a bender? Jyrki Lehtola explores a quaint Finnish custom

In Finland it’s cold and dark for nine months of the year. We spend the other three months drunkenly praying that tomorrow it might be warmer and lighter – and sometimes it is.

From the perspective of the national psyche, you’d think we might have learnt to live with the cold and the dark. We might have dealt with it and turned it into something useful to us and to our continued survival. Sadly though, this isn’t quite the case. For nine months we sit indoors staring at the television, complaining that there’s never anything worth watching and waiting for those three months to come so that we can go outside again.

And when we finally get outside, we go mad. No longer are we a silent, anxious people. Well, we are, but we pretend we’re a different kind of people: one that spends its time chattering joyfully on the beach, dancing, enjoying life, discussing, debating, participating, sharing.

The arrival of summer makes us go mad. By the end of June, this silent, anxious, suicidal nation has turned into the number one samba carnival of Northern Europe. More…

Smart Moomins

27 June 2012 | This 'n' that

From page to screen: Tove Jansson's classic

‘Here’s little Moomintroll, none other,
Hurrying home with milk for Mother,’

are the opening lines of Tove Jansson’s classic 1952 illustrated children’s tale of a sister lost and found, The Book about Moomintroll, Mymble and Little My, in the English poet and novelist Sophie Hannah’s beguiling translation. (Swedish original: Hur gick det sen? Boken om Mymlan, Mumintrollet och Lilla My; illustration: the Finnish version.)

The book has now been released as a smartphone app by the London publisher Sort Of Books and Helsinki’s WSOY in collaboration with the Finnish developer Spinfy.

At the tap of a finger, birds fly, forest creatures crawl up and down tree-trunks, flowers open and close, fish jump and hattifatteners wiggle. Unlike in the Japanese animated cartoons that have done so much to make the Moomins well-known worldwide, this is achieved without doing any violence to Jansson’s original graphics.

The app can be played either in text or, for very small children, read-to mode, voiced by the actor Sam West. Three more Moomin apps are scheduled for release later this year.

In other words

21 June 2012 | This 'n' that

Wordworkers meet: the translators' congress in Helsinki, 11–14 June. Photo: Hannele Jyrkkä

From Finnish or Swedish into 32 languages: in mid June FILI (the Finnish Literature Exchange) held the biggest international meeting of translators of Finnish literature of all time.

The congress, entitled Kääntäjän sana/Översättarens ord (Translator’s word) was planned with one eye on the Finnish theme of the 2014 Frankfurt Book Fair.

The former Lisa Hagman School, now the House of Learning, offered the premises for workshops and lectures for 120 professional translators and almost 70 scholars of language and literature.

Participants translating from both Finnish and Finland-Swedish were offered opportunities to meet writers, listen to lectures from experts in language and literature and gain feedback from other active professional readers. More…

Northern exposure

21 June 2012 | Reviews

Between Helsinki and St Petersburg: Vyborg. Illustration of Vyborg Castle by an unknown artist, 1709, Wikimedia

Tony Lurcock
‘Not So Barren or Uncultivated’. British travellers in Finland 1760–1830
London: CB Editions, 2010. 230 p.
ISBN 9-780956-107398
£10.00, paperback

Finland is not unique in raising scholars who have often attempted to treat historical travellers’ accounts as source material for historical facts, and then prove how ‘wrong’ they are in relation to reality. This is an unproductive way in which to read them: travel books are nearly always based on the authors’ own country and experiences projected on what they encounter abroad.

Paradoxically, much of what was written about foreign countries in the past was really about conditions and problems in the author’s own land, and can be understood only against that background – something that also emerges in this book about British travellers in Finland. More…

Jouni K. Kemppainen: Onnellinen mies. Arto Paasilinnan elämä [A happy man. The life of Arto Paasilinna]

21 June 2012 | Mini reviews, Reviews

Onnellinen mies. Arto Paasilinnan elämä
[A happy man. The life of Arto Paasilinna]
Espoo: Paasilinna, 2012. 307 p.
ISBN 978-952-5856-37-8
€ 28, hardback

Arto Paasilinna (born 1942) is an uncanny phenomenon. For Finns he is a popular, prolific author of picaresque novels – which in the 1970s, 80s and 90s were praised by the critics, while the books he produced later received less acclaim, though most of them have sold tens of thousands of copies. Paasilinna’s best-known novel is Jäniksen vuosi (The Year of the Hare, 1975). In Europe – particularly in France and Italy – he is considered to be a major natural philosopher. However, the charming social man of the world was capable of turning into a violent ruffian; journalist Jouni K. Kemppainen’s fluent biography highlights every aspect of the author’s character. The book describes the development of a boy from a poor northern Finnish family to an international best-selling author (his works have been translated into more than 40 languages) and introduces interesting correspondence between the author and his publisher. Kemppainen emphasises some recurring themes in Paasilinna’s work: relations between humans and animals, travelling. In 2009 the author suffered a head injury while drinking, and lost his memory almost completely. The title of his latest, thirty-fifth novel is  Elävänä omissa hautajaisissa (‘Alive at his own funeral’, 2009). The impression that this biography leaves on the reader’s mind is a picture of a now gentle man who delights in the fact that he has accomplished all that he is reported to have accomplished – and in that he managed to survive.
Translated by David McDuff

Tweet! Oink! Ow!

14 June 2012 | This 'n' that

Fan fun: Angry Birds theme park, Tampere. Photo: Hildi Hawkins

For anyone who’s not a fan, it can be hard to see what has made the Finnish-born game Angry Birds the number one paid smartphone app in the world.

Catapulting wingless birds at pigs seems an unlikely route to hours of focused fun; but then, the same could seem true, prima facie, of moving a set of unrelated figures around a chequerboard according to some rather arbitrary rules. There are similarities, though – as 10-year-old Sophia said, ‘Angry Birds is a lot like chess – only more fun.’

So, when the most junior members of the Books from Finland editorial team – Max (3), Tia (6) and the above-mentioned Sophia (see their previous review here) – discovered that the world’s first officially sanctioned Angry Birds theme park was opening during their visit to Finland, it was obvious they had to be there for the occasion.

Friday 8 June was a fabulously sunny day for a trip to Tampere, Finland’s second city, and its famous Särkänniemi fun fair,  on a spectacular location between two lakes. Angry Birds Land was packed with the nursery- and primary-aged children it’s intended for. More…

Special effects

14 June 2012 | Authors, Reviews

Veikko Huovinen. Photo: Harri Nurminen

Depictions of simple country folk who live close to nature, diabolical satire of the powers that be, playful rambling tales.

The humour of Veikko Huovinen has two dimensions: it is learned, intelligent, and insightful, but it is also exuberant and folksy. Critics have made comparisons to Nikolai Gogol and Mark Twain, and not without reason.

Huovinen (1927–2009) began writing stories in 1949 and published his final work in 2007, two years before his death. This half century saw the birth of a broad and multifaceted library, including a good number of works that do not fit any genre as such – Huovinen called his works that lay in the interstices between the short story, causerie and satire ‘short specials’. More…

Pop song lyrics

14 June 2012 | Fiction, Prose

A ‘short special’: a previously unpublished text (written in the 1960s) from Luonnonkierto (‘Nature’s circle’, Siltala, 2012). Introduction by Jarmo Papinniemi

The pop song is a wide, mysterious world. It is like an ocean. Like a snow-covered desert. Like a rose garden. Like a perfume factory. The pop song is as mysterious as spring. The pop song is as whimsical as the restroom of the city hotel in Samarkand. The pop song is as coarse as your father’s eldest brother. Pop songs snag everyone, especially the young and the old. The best pop songs are foreign, because the words make no sense. Pop stars rise into the sky. Lovely young women step into the arena smelling of perfume and sing about love or tell playful stories about animals or nursery rooms. And then on the other end of life the stars go out and start to look for a place to be buried. But before dying they drone on in their gruff voices about the temptations of the big city, and love, which in a certain sense tortured and wore out those concerned…

Up here in Finland, we write and set pop songs to music as well. But I have to say that they aren’t any good. We also translate and water down a lot of foreign hits as well. Well, of course they’re all popular and people hum them in parishes in the city and in the country, but from a critical perspective they stink. Usually the weak point of a pop song is its execrable lyrics. More…

Erik Kruskopf: Alvar Aalto kuvataiteilijana [Alvar Aalto as visual artist]

14 June 2012 | Mini reviews, Reviews

Alvar Aalto kuvataiteiljana
[Alvar Aalto as visual artist]
Suomentanut [Translated from Swedish by]: Leena Vallisaari
Helsinki: Finnish Literature Society, 2012. 215 p., ill.
ISBN 978-952-222-294-7
€ 45, hardback

Finland’s most famous architect Alvar Aalto (1898–1976) is also well-known as a designer, but his activity as a visual artist has remained less familiar. Aalto was interested in drawing and painting at a young age. He also received some training from professional artists, and before graduating as an architect he supported himself by producing vignettes, illustrations and cartoons. His best works are considered to date from the late 1910s and early 1920s, and were diverse in themes and technique. After the Second World War he painted exclusively abstract works in which the originality of his vision is most clearly expressed. He also produced sculpture, especially wood reliefs, which are related to his work as a designer. Aalto saw his visual art as being closely connected with his architecture, a branch of it. The book contains many reproductions of Aalto’s art and demonstrates his masterful, form-seeking creativity. Summaries in Swedish and English.
Translated by David McDuff

Art for art’s sake

8 June 2012 | Letter from the Editors

Art, entertainment for the elite? ‘The two pantaloons’ by Jacques Callot (1616). Etching, British Museum. Picture: Wikimedia

It is the necessity, or the obsession, of the present age to measure everything in monetary terms: to know as exactly as possible how much money something is capable of making for the owner of its ‘rights’.

This also applies to various fields of art: for example, a play is expected to make profit for its producers – today also in the case of ‘uncommercial’ institutions such as National Theatres. Seats must be sold; bringing in busloads of people is a must.

But the purpose of creating art is not to increase the GDP. Art is not useful, as theatre director and playwright Esa Leskinen argues in a recent essay (in Finnish only): ‘Art doesn’t aspire to anything. Art isn’t something that is consumed in order to gather the energy to go on working. The purpose of art is not to burnish the image of Finland or make people feel good. Art is radically other than the field of sense and utility in which our everyday world is located.

‘There is no sense in art. Art is no use.’

We agree. We also think that’s how it should be. More…

Funny in favour (again)

8 June 2012 | In the news

The May list of best-selling Finnish fiction titles, compiled by the Finnish Booksellers’ Association, still features two novels about a grumpy old man (see In the news) by Tuomas Kyrö (a grumpy young man): Mielensäpahoittaja ja ruskeakastike (‘Taking offence and the brown sauce’) and Mielensäpahoittaja (‘Taking offence’, both WSOY) were number one and two.

Number three was a work by a classic humorist: Veikko Huovinen (1927–2009) was a highly original and versatile writer whose career lasted almost for 60 years. A selection of his short prose from 1950 to 2001, previously unpublished or published in various magazines, appeared in May: Luonnonkierto (‘Nature’s cycle’, Siltala) immediately shot up to the third place on the month’s list. (You’ll find one of these texts coming up next on this site!)

As summer was approaching at last, the non-fiction list featured several books on birds, grilling and cooking – as well as aphorisms and other food for thought, traditionally bought for young people graduating from school.

Rosemarie Tsubaki: Pehr Kalm, suomalainen Amerikan löytäjä [Pehr Kalm, the Finnish discoverer of America]

8 June 2012 | Mini reviews, Reviews

Pehr Kalm, suomalainen Amerikan löytäjä
[Pehr Kalm, the Finnish discoverer of America]
Alkuteos [original work, in Italian]: Il Viaggio di Pehr Kalm in Nord-America 1747–1751. Dissertation, University of Genoa, 2002/2003
Suomennos [Translated by]: Anto Leikola
Helsinki: Terra Cognita, 2011. 199 p., ill.
ISBN 978-952-5697-49-0
€ 25, paperback

The Finnish naturalist and pastor Pehr (in Finnish, Pietari) Kalm (1716–79), a pupil of the famous Swedish botanist Carl von Linné, was professor of economics and rector of Turku Academy, the only university in Finland during its period under Swedish rule. Kalm gained his international reputation as a result of his account of a scientific expedition he made to north America in 1747–51, which was translated into several languages. The trip was the first scientific expedition to the New World, and Kalm paid close attention to nature as well as the economics, living conditions and culture of both colonists and native inhabitants. One of his aims was the gathering of plants for use in Sweden. Of the plants he brought back a species of hawthorn, creeper vine and purple-flowered raspberry are still cultivated in Finland. The German scholar Rosemarie Tsubaki’s doctoral thesis examines Kalm’s writings and complements it with material from other sources where Kalm’s notes have been lost. The Finnish translation is furnished with an introduction and expertly translated by Anto Leikola, Professor Emeritus of History of Science.
Translated by David McDuff