Archive for August, 2012

The ruins of civilisation

31 August 2012 | Authors, Reviews

Juha Seppälä. Photo: WSOY

The eponymous central character of Juha Seppälä’s new novel Mr. Smith (WSOY, 2012) is almost an omnipotent man who moves freely in time and space, from Tsarist Russia to contemporary Los Angeles. He claims that he is a ‘sovereign individual’; sovereignty and individuality are traits that Seppälä’s protagonists have always striven towards.

On the other hand, he also says that he is a ‘necessary evil’ fulfilling the role of a protagonist in a novel. His name refers to anyone and everyone; he is, in a way, a minimalist relic of an individual.

On one level there is the suggestion that he is the alter ego of his creator: the author’s surname refers to a smith (seppä). More…

Money makes the world go round

31 August 2012 | Fiction, Prose

Extracts from the novel Mr. Smith (WSOY, 2012). Introduction by Tuomas Juntunen

I have a confession to make.

I couldn’t have lived on my salary. Most people would solve this by taking out a loan, living on credit. I’ve never lived in debt. Instead I’ve had to make my modest capital grow by investing it – through the company, of course, because irrespective of their colour governments generally understand companies better than small investors. You have to make money somewhere other than the Social Security Office.

Work doesn’t make money; money makes money.

You have to let money do the work.

This is nothing short of a profound human tragedy: most people are forced to waste the majority of their lives, to use it in the service of complete strangers, for unknown purposes, doing something for money that they would never do if they didn’t have to. The most shocking thing is that people actively seek out this state of affairs, strive towards it; it is a goal towards which society lends us its full support, no less.

Such wage slavery is called ‘work’. More…

Outsider art protected

31 August 2012 | This 'n' that

Moss lady: one of the 500 statues

Papermill worker Veijo Rönkkönen (1944–2010) lived all his life on a small, isolated farm in Parikkala, eastern Finland, close to the Russian border. In the 1960s he started sculpting statues in his free time which he placed in the garden around his house. The expanding statue park – take a look at the pictures! – was always open to visitors for free.

When the artist died, the Parikkala authorities were not willing to invest money in acquiring the garden and the park, a unique ‘total work of art’. Fortunately, it was bought by a businessman, Reino Uusitalo, founder of the Pyroll paper and cardboard company. An association now manages the park – and entry is still free. Rönkkönen’s outsider art continuously attracts nearly 30,000 visitors a year.

Over a period of fifty years, Rönkkönen created five hundred human and animal figures made of concrete. Living in his house in the middle of his garden, the artist avoided any contact with the thousands of people who came to wander in his extraordinary open-air gallery.

Now, thanks to Uusitalo’s generosity and the work of the association, the garden will keep growing – and the statues grow lichen and moss, ageing naturally.


Photographer and writer Veli Granö introduced the life and works of this self-made artist in his book Veijo Rönkkösen todellinen elämä / The real life of Veijo Rönkkönen (Maahenki, 2007): see Books from Finland‘s extract.

Do you speak my language?

23 August 2012 | Articles, Non-fiction

Finnish spoken outside Finland: Sweden (west), Estonia (south), Karelia/Russia (east), Norway (north). Illustration: Zakuragi/Wikipedia

Finland has two official languages, Finnish and Swedish. Approximately five per cent of the population (290,000 Finns) speak Swedish as their native language. All Finns learn both languages at school, and students in higher education must prove they have an adequate knowledge of the other mother tongue. But how do native speakers of Finnish cope with what is, for many of them, a minority language that they will never need or even wish to use? We take a look at bilingual issues – and a new book devoted to them

‘In many parts of the world, language can be a fiery and divisive issue, one that pits the powerless against the powerful, the small against the big. The Basques battle the Spanish. The Flemish tussle with the Walloons. The Québécois scuffle with the rest of Canada.’

That is how Lizette Alvarez illustrated her theme in her article ‘Finland Makes Its Swedes Feel at Home’, published in the New York Times in 2005.

In Finland, language has been a fiery issue at times, though things have cooled down a bit since the early 20th century. The use of Finnish as a written language dates back to the 16th century, but the territory of Finland was part of the Swedish Empire until 1809. Swedish was spoken by the nobility as well as most of the peasant class – the mechanism of the state did not serve Finnish-speaking peasants or other segments of the population in Finnish. More…

Egg in a Cage?

17 August 2012 | This 'n' that

Noises off: the Chapel of Silence. Photo: Mika Huisman/Decopic

A windowless wooden construction with a timber interior sits on a busy route between the bus and railway stations in the middle of Helsinki. The egg-shaped Chapel of Silence contains simple wooden benches, offering a moment of peace and quiet for anyone passing by.

Almost 12 metres high, 270 square metres in overall footprint, it is a sacral space, with a small cross and an altar at the back, but it is not intended for liturgical purposes – however, social services are available for private conversation during opening hours.

Helsinki is this year’s World Design Capital – together with the neighbouring cities of Espoo, Vantaa, and Kauniainen, and Lahti, a hundred kilometres to the north. Every second year the International Council of Societies of Industrial Design recognises one global city `for its accomplishments in utilizing design as a tool to improve social, cultural, and economic life’. More…

A library visit

17 August 2012 | In the news

Please come in: National Library of Finland. Photo: Kallerna/Wikimedia

Take a tour: browsing the online bulletin of the Finnish National Library, you’ll find a link (for iPad or other devices) which takes you inside the handsome main building, next to the Cathedral in the heart of Helsinki.

The library building, from 1845, was designed by the most important architect of the city, C.L. Engel.

The latest issue of the library bulletin includes articles on research, conservation and digitisation of the library collections as well as news and pictures.

Volgan mutkasta Siperiaan. Sukulais-kansat tämän päivän Venäjällä / From the Volga to Siberia. The Finno-Ugric Peoples in Today’s Russia

17 August 2012 | Mini reviews, Reviews

Volgan mutkasta Siperiaan. Sukulaiskansat tämän päivän Venäjällä
Toim. [Ed. by] Ildikó Lehtinen
Helsinki: Finnish Literature Society, 2012. 190 p, ill.
ISBN 978-952-222-345-6
€48, paperback
English-language edition:
From the Volga to Siberia. The Finno-Ugric Peoples in Today’s Russia
ISBN 978-952-222-346-3
€57, paperback

Finno-Ugric peoples make up 2.4 million of Russia’s inhabitants. This book examines the Khanty, Komi, Mari, Mordvins and Udmurt who live on the western side of the Urals, between the Volga River Bend and Western Siberia. The focus is on their ethnic identity, recent history and  present-day life. Various points of view are represented in articles by expert scholars, and the subjects include language, literature, theatre, social life, and the status of the family and of women. These national cultures recovered after the most difficult part of the Soviet period, but in today’s Russia they and their languages are increasingly at risk of dying out. Russification is advancing not only because of government, but also as a result of industrialisation and urbanisation. Half of the population of these groups live in rural areas where traditions and folk beliefs are particularly strong. Photographs from different eras and drawings by Udmurt children depict the story of the indigenous cultures and the changes they have undergone. Some of the articles also shed light on the harsh situation of other Finnic peoples in Russia.
Translated by David McDuff

Rainer Knapas: Kunskapens rike. Helsingfors universitetsbibliotek – Nationalbiblioteket 1640–2010 [In the kingdom of knowledge. Helsinki University Library – National Library of Finland 1640–2010]

9 August 2012 | Mini reviews, Reviews

Kunskapens rike. Helsingfors universitetsbibliotek – Nationalbiblioteket 1640–2010
Helsingfors: Svenska litteratursällskapet i Finland, 2012. 462 p., ill.
ISBN 978-951-583-244-3
€54, hardback
Tiedon valtakunnassa. Helsingin yliopiston kirjasto – Kansalliskirjasto 1640–2010

[In the kingdom of knowledge. Helsinki University Library – National Library of Finland 1640–2010]
Suomennos [Finnish translation by]: Liisa Suvikumpu
Helsinki: Finnish Literature Society, 2012. 461 p., ill.
ISBN 978-952-222-272-5
€54, hardback

The National Library of Finland was founded in 1640 as the library of Turku Academy. In 1827 it was destroyed by fire: only 828 books were preserved. In 1809 Finland was annexed from Sweden by Russia, and the collection was moved to the new capital of Helsinki, where it formed the basis of the University Library. The neoclassical main building designed by Carl Ludwig Engel is regarded as one of Europe’s most beautiful libraries and was completed in 1845, with an extension added in 1906. Its collections include the Finnish National Bibliography, an internationally respected Slavonic Library, the private Monrepos collection from 18th-century Russia, and the valuable library of maps compiled by the arctic explorer Adolf Erik Nordenskiöld. Renamed in 2006 as Kansalliskirjasto – the National Library of Finland – this institution, which is open to general public, now contains a collection of over three million volumes as well as a host of online services. This beautifully illustrated book by historian and writer Rainer Knapas provides an interesting exposition of the library’s history, the building of its collections and building projects, and also a lively portrait of its  talented – and sometimes eccentric – librarians.
Translated by David McDuff

The Hunter King

9 August 2012 | Fiction, Prose

A story from the collection of fiction and non-fiction, Salattuja voimia (‘Hidden powers’, Teos, 2012)

And just as Gran Paradiso is the highest peak in unified Italy, the only mountain whose rugged, perpetually snow-capped summit reaches a height of over thirteen thousand feet (there are rumours that, on a clear day, you can see the peaks of both Mont Blanc and the Matterhorn from the top), so we know that the largest and most splendid mountain creature throughout Europe is the ibex, which grazes on the slopes of Gran Paradiso – the ibex, the alpine goat, the distant ancestor and modern-day cousin of our own homely goat, the French bouquetin and the German Steinbock.

The male ibex can be the size of a foal, about three feet tall, and its curved horns, like Oriental daggers decorated with rippling patterns, can grow to reach the same length as the creature’s own height. Local folklore tells us that, in the olden days when the mists of the distant Ice Age still hung heavy in the gullies of Valle d’Aosta and Valle d’Orso, herds of ibexes could still be seen further down the mountain slopes, but because the ibex loves the cooling mountain winds and values the cold, which keeps predators from the valleys at bay, they moved up to the most inhospitable terrain and made it their home.

But there was one beast that followed the ibex up these paths, sowing fear and causing death and destruction – and that beast was man. More…

Joni Krekola: Maailma kylässä 1962. Helsingin nuorisofestivaali [The world comes to visit in 1962. Helsinki’s youth festival]

3 August 2012 | Mini reviews, Reviews

Maailma kylässä 1962. Helsingin nuorisofestivaali
[The world comes to visit in 1962.  Helsinki’s youth festival]
Helsinki: Like, 2012. 310 p., ill.
ISBN 978-952-01-0757-4
€ 27.10, paperback

In the summer of 1962, in the middle of the Cold War, a week-long youth festival was held in Helsinki. Behind the scenes of the event a propaganda war between East and West was being waged, something not uncommon at such festivals, which were the venue for meetings of the International Union of Socialist Youth (IUSY, founded 1907). The main organisers were the World Federation of Democratic Youth (WFDY, 1945), generally regarded as a Soviet propaganda agency, and the International Union of Students (IUS, 1946). The Finnish government’s initially lukewarm attitude to the event turned more positive as a result of the influence of the the Soviet Union. Helsinki hosted some 12,000 guests from all over the world at the ‘Peace and Friendship’ festival, with a couple of thousand Finns taking part. To Finns, the festival introduced colourful and exotic foreign life, a novelty in the country at the time. Resistance to the festival sparked youth riots which were suppressed by the police, and a smaller shadow event was organised mainly with CIA funding. Although the press condemned the unrest, it kept fairly silent about the festival itself. According to Joni Krekola, however, it was a success; in his interesting book he studies a major event that historians have overlooked, its diverse programme, its side- and after-effects, and its wider impact on society.
Translated by David McDuff

Two to tango

3 August 2012 | This 'n' that

Tango: less romantic up north? Finns love it anyway. Photo: Orfeuz, Wikimedia

Picture the scene: it’s August, and the nightless days of midsummer have given way to darkening evenings. Candles are lit, and minds turn to the winter ahead.

The berries of the rowan trees are already turning bright scarlet and the purple rosebay willow herb catches the last of the sunset. From an outdoor dance floor across the meadow drift the melancholy strains of… the Finnish tango.

(The YouTube insert is from the film Tulitikkutehtaan tyttö [‘The matchbox factory girl’, 1990], by Aki Kaurismäki,  featuring the actress Kati Outinen. Satumaa [‘Wonderland’ by Unto Mononen] is sung by Reijo Taipale.)

Cheesy as it is, we confess we have a liking for this most northerly cousin of the fiery Argentine original. So, it seems, does the BBC Magazine, in a recent article, Mark Bosworth goes to witness the traditional Tango Festival in Seinäjoki. Check it out. More…