Archive for October, 2012

Helsinki Book Fair 2012

25 October 2012 | In the news

The twelfth Helsinki Book Fair opens today at the Exhibition and Convention Centre. Last year the Fair attracted more than 80,000 visitors.

During four days around 700 interviews and discussions with writers will take place on twelve stages, and there will be more than 300 exhibitors in the various fields of literature.

Author Jari Tervo has been nominated the Book Fair Club’s columnist: in his first contribution, entitled ‘Median myllyt’ (‘The mills of the media’) Tervo says, among other things:

‘During the last 30 years the amount of public attention directed at Finnish authors has probably multiplied by ten. How has it affected the sales of literature? Not at all. The sales haven’t multiplied by ten, or even doubled. Has the increased public attention affected the content of literature? I don’t think it has….

‘The media doesn’t churn authors in its mill because literature is so exceedingly important. To the media the authors are a biomass that is able to articulate a touch more juicily than the average celebrity. An author needs less editing. It’s as simple as that.’

This time the featured country is Hungary: the guest writers are György Spiró, Sandor Zsigmond Papp, Vilmos Csaplár, Péter Esterházy and Léda Forgó. There are 30 guests from 11 countries.

The prize Rakkaudesta kirjaan, ‘Out of love for the book’, was awarded posthumously to the writer, critic and editor Jarmo Papinniemi (1968–2012), who, according to the jury of literary experts was an exceptionally versatile professional working in the field of the arts.

Katri Lipson: Jäätelökauppias [The ice-cream vendor]

25 October 2012 | Mini reviews, Reviews

[The ice-cream vendor]
Helsinki: Tammi, 2012. 300 p.
ISBN 978-951-31-6868-1
€ 36.20, hardback

The Finnish novel of the 2000s has been successfully set in other cultures. Like Kristina Carlson and Sofi Oksanen, Katri Lipson went her own way as an author in her award-winning debut novel Kosmonautti (‘Cosmonaut’, 2008), which was set in the Soviet Union of the 1980s. In her second novel Lipson (born 1965), who works as a doctor in Helsinki, portrays life in post-war Czechoslovakia. The novel begins with the making of a film. The director wants to work without a script, which is only in her head. The filming proceeds chronologically, so that the actors will not anticipate what happens to the characters in the future. The film tells the story of a man and a woman’s flight from danger in 1942. Although they do not know each other, they pretend to be a married couple and hide in the countryside. What will be their fate during the war and afterwards is left to the reader; the characters can be combined with those appearing in the novel’s later stages, in the 1960s and even the 1980s. Lipson’s technique boldly breaks with the supremacy of narrative and calls into question the construction of historical truth.
Translated by David McDuff

Pen to paper

25 October 2012 | Articles, Non-fiction

Writing is ancient: the act of taking a stylus, a quill or a pen into one’s hand still feels powerful. Will we find a way of scrawling in space, to mark our individuality, wonders Teemu Manninen

It was my vacation, and I wanted to catch up on some fun writing projects, but because I didn’t want to depend on my devices (would we have wifi? would the batteries last?) or carry around too much extra stuff I bought a red notebook and wrote in black ink on white paper while sitting in cafes and restaurants with my wife.

Writing by hand got me – surprise – to thinking about handwriting in general. Etymologically, ‘writing’, from Old English writan, means scratching, drawing, tearing. In the original Hebrew, God does not simply fashion humans out of clay, he writes them: his word is his image, giving life to the letter of his meaning, the human being.

Writing is violence. It brings about vivid change in the matter of the world: in the age of clay tablets, the stylus was a carving instrument. During the age of ink, cutting the tip of the quill was, if we believe the early Renaissance manuals of handwriting, as precise and violent an act as cutting someone’s head off. More…

It’s a long way to Cameroon

18 October 2012 | This 'n' that

Before takeoff: Ilmari looks slightly annoyed here, as his ankle rings are checked by Harri Koskinen before his release. Photo: Juhani Koivu

An eight-year-old Finnish male, named Ilmari, has emigrated to Africa; on 13 October he was spotted in Cameroon. He set off for the journey on 16 September.

At the beginning of his journey, in Hattula, southern Finland, in August, he weighed 1,370g.

Ilmari is an osprey. The Osprey Foundation (more photos here too) fitted him with a Microwave GPS-Argos satellite transmitter (weighing just 30g and running on solar power). This allows osprey researchers to follow his journeys.

Actually Ilmari hasn’t emigrated – he will return to where he was born, in March 2013. As this is Ilmari’s first recorded migration, his final destination is not known. But one of his countrymen (-birds), carrying a transmitter, Jukka, liked it so much in Cameroon that he spent the winter there. Will Ilmari do the same? Watch this space!

The journeys of Finnish migrating birds are long (in this case, more than 6000 kilometres) and dangerous, so we wish Ilmari safe travel back home as well.

Dear diary

18 October 2012 | Authors, Extracts, Non-fiction, poetry

The poet and translator Pentti Saarikoski (1937–1983) was a legend in his own lifetime, a media darling, a public drinker who had five children with four women. His oeuvre nevertheless encompasses 30 works, and his translations include Homer and James Joyce. The journalist Saska Saarikoski (born 1963) has finally read all that work – in search of the father whom he seldom met. The following samples are from his annotated selection of Pentti Saarikoski’s thoughts over 30 years, Sanojen alamainen (‘Servant of words’, Otava, 2012; see Figuring out father)

I try to write books whose reading will bring enjoyment, in other words not entertaining ones.
Suomentajan päiväkirjat
(‘Translator’s diaries’, 1970)

The term ‘world literature’ was invented by Goethe to describe the importance of Goethe.
Päiväkirjat (‘Diaries’, 1978)

A work of art is bad if it ‘makes you think’. About something other than itself. What is wrong with ‘art for art’s sake’ – or bread for bread’s sake? Art is art and bread is bread, and people need both in their diet.
Päiväkirjat (‘Diaries’, 1978) More…

Figuring out father

18 October 2012 | Extracts, Non-fiction

Pentti Saarikoski (1960s). Photo: Otava/Nikolai Naumoff

The poet and translator Pentti Saarikoski (1937–1983) jotted in one of his journals: ‘I have never cared for relatives.’ Thirty years after his death one of his five children set out to find out what his father was like – by reading almost all he left behind in writing; these comments by Saska Saarikoski are from his Sanojen alamainen (‘Servant of words’, Otava, 2012), an annotated selection of Pentti Saarikoski’s thoughts

Pentti Saarikoski died when I was 19. I remember complaining to my mother that I had not yet even got to know my dad. My mother answered: You’ve got plenty of time, the real Pentti is to be found in his books. She did not know how right she was, for she meant Pentti’s published books, not knowing what a mountain of texts awaited its readers in the archives of the Finnish Literature Society. Pentti had written everything down in his diaries.

I read Nuoruuden päiväkirjat (‘Youthful diaries’), published soon after Pentti’s death in 1983, as soon as they were published, but when his Prague, Drunkard’s and Convalescent’s Diaries appeared around the millennium, they went straight on to my library shelf. I was not terribly interested in the ramblings of Pentti’s alcoholic years.

It could be that my reluctance was influenced by the cool attitude I had adopted from early on in relation to my father. Other people were welcome to consider him a genius; for me, he was a father who did not telephone, write or come to see my football matches. I didn’t call him, either; for me, it was a father’s job. More…

Jukka Tarkka: Karhun kainalossa. Suomen kylmä sota 1947–1990 [Under the arm of the Bear. Finland’s Cold War 1947–1990]

18 October 2012 | Mini reviews, Reviews

Karhun kainalossa. Suomen kylmä sota 1947–1990
[Under the arm of the Bear. Finland’s Cold War 1947-1990]
Helsinki: Otava, 2012. 495 p, ill.
ISBN 978-951-1-25796-7
€ 36.70, hardback

Historian and author Jukka Tarkka’s book describes relations between Finland and the ‘Bear’ (i.e. the Soviet Union) during the Cold War, from the Paris Peace Treaty which ended Finland’s part in the Second World War to the new interpretation of some of the Treaty’s key points in 1990. Many people consider that Finland fell too much under the Soviet Union’s influence and became ‘Finlandised’. Tarkka shows that although in some cases Finland did give in, it also resisted Soviet pressure, built cultural and economic relations with the Western democracies and established an independent defence. In the light of its declared neutrality during the Cold War, Finland’s rapid integration into the EU is not at all surprising. The central figure in the thematically structured book is Urho Kekkonen, the country’s president for a quarter of a century. Kekkonen led the political struggle, but at the same time used the threat of the eastern neighbour as a weapon of domestic policy, as did many less influential figures in his shadow. Without sacrificing scholarly rigour Tarkka has written a popularly accessible outline of an important subject, relying on sources and references.
Translated by David McDuff

Best-selling books in September

18 October 2012 | In the news

Number one on the September list of best-selling Finnish fiction titles, compiled by the Finnish Booksellers’ Association, is Sofi Oksanen’s new novel Kun kyyhkyset katosivat (‘When the doves disappeared’, Like): which shot straight to the top of the list on its publication in August.

The huge national and international success of her previous novel, Puhdistus – in English, Purge – published in 2008 and also set in Estonia, has paved the way for Kun kyyhkyset katosivat; translation rights have been sold to several countries already.

Number two on the list was Riikka Pulkkinen’s third novel, Vieras (‘The stranger’, Otava). In third and fourth places were two new thrillers, Paholaisen pennut (‘The devil’s cubs’, Tammi), by Leena Lehtolainen, and Ylösnousemus (‘Resurrection’, WSOY), by Ilkka Remes.

In fifth place was Sirpa Kähkönen’s novel Hietakehto (‘Sand cradle’, Otava): number six in her series set in the Kuopio region of eastern Finland, during the Second World War.

The non-fiction (translated foreign as well as Finnish) list was topped by Blaine Harden’s Escape from Camp 14 (in North Korea; Gummerus). The variety of subjects on this list can be surprising: number two is about angels (Lorna Byrne’s A Message of Hope from the Angels, Otava), number three a biography of a Finnish ex-con turned surgeon (Veitsen terällä, ‘On knife’s edge’, by Arno Kotro & Christer Lybäck, Otava), number four about the Cold War in Finland (Jukka Tarkka: Karhun kainalossa, ‘Under the arm of the bear’, Otava) and number five about cupcakes (by Angela Drake, Otava)…

Mauri Kunnas: Aarresaari

The three best-selling children’s books were by seasoned Finnish authors: illustrator-writer Mauri Kunnas, with his tribute to R.L Stevenson, Aarresaari (‘Treasure island’, Otava), Aino Havukainen & Sami Toivonen, with Tatu ja Patu pihalla (‘Tatu and Patu outdoors’, Otava) and Sinikka Nopola & Tiina Nopola, with their Risto Räppääjä ja nukkavieru Nelli (‘Risto Rapper and Threadbare Nelly’, Tammi).

Jarmo Papinniemi in memoriam 1968–2012

9 October 2012 | In the news

Jarmo Papinniemi

The editor, literary critic and writer Jarmo Papinniemi has died of a sudden illness in Helsinki.

Two days later, the latest edition of Parnasso was published: Papinniemi became editor-in-chief of this august 60-year-old literary magazine in 2005. During his period as editor, the magazine’s readership increased, quite an achievement in the difficult world of periodicals.

Jarmo Papinniemi worked as a literary critic and as a news and arts reporter for Finnish Broadcasting Company from 1998 to 2005. He wrote and directed television documentaries, and was the author of numerous books on literature and music, including Aloittamisen taito (‘The art of beginning’, 2010, with Kaisa Neimala) and Sävelten siivillä (‘On the wings of music’, 2011), a study of the work of the composer Ilkka Kuusisto.

Jarmo was also a member of the Editorial Board of Books from Finland from 2002. He was a quick, industrious and knowledgeable reader and writer whose opinions were well grounded and expressed, and he was interested in an unusually wide range of culture. Cheerful, humorous, a connoisseur of music, Jarmo was a colleague with whom conversations were always enjoyable and thought-provoking; he will be greatly missed by all of us who worked with him.

Celebrity boobs and other news

9 October 2012 | Non-fiction, Tales of a journalist

Illustration: Joonas Väänänen

Anyone can find the latest news and the vital information he or she requires – latest pictures of some celebrity’s breasts, the reasons why men cheat on their wives – immediately from the Internet. Jyrki Lehtola takes a look at why the printed media are in trouble

We are living in an age of newspaper death. Several publications have already closed up shop in Finland just this autumn. The most notable of these was Finland’s oldest and most influential teen magazine, Suosikki (‘Favourite’), which had been in circulation for some 52 years.

This was where several generations, particularly the boys of several generations, got all of their information about sex, where they learned how to tape posters to their walls without them peeling off, where they got information about rock stars’ drug use and favourite foods and where they learned that even if something can be expressed with a period, expressing it with an exclamation point is still preferable. More…

Older and wiser?

9 October 2012 | This 'n' that

Illustration: Virpi Talvitie (from Täyttä päätä. Runoja ikääntyville, ‘Full steam ahead. Poems for ageing people’, edited by Tuula Korolainen and Riitta Tulusto)

Nobody can claim that old age is hot, or media-sexy. Yes, but what are older people really like? Are they the bingo-obsessed grannies in floral frocks or old geezers living in the past of popular opinion?

No longer. In just a few years the baby-boom generation will be entering their seventies, when ‘old age’, in its current Western definition, begins. (Until then, senior citizens are allowed to remain ‘adults’.)

Are the old people’s homes ready for them? This new elderly generation will be wanting to listen to Elvis, the Rolling Stones and the Beatles rather than the tango. More…

Sofi Oksanen: Kun kyyhkyset katosivat [When the doves disappeared]

9 October 2012 | Mini reviews, Reviews

Kun kyyhkyset katosivat
[When the doves disappeared]
Helsinki: Like, 2012. 365 p.
ISBN 978-952-01078-19
€ 27.90, hardback

Four years after the huge national and international success of her third novel Puhdistus (Purge, 2008, now translated into 38 languages), Sofi Oksanen has published a new novel to the accompaniment of trumpets and drums – a launch cruise to Tallinn, Estonia, workshops and public readings. The Finnish film version of Puhdistus received its world premiere at the same time. Oksanen has earned her star status as a writer, but Kun kyyhkyset katosivat is not as good as its predecessor. The story of Estonian freedom fighter (‘Forest Brother’) Roland and his cousin Edgar, an opportunist who manoeuvres his way through the Nazi and Soviet occupations of Estonia from 1941 until the apparent liberalisation of the 1960s, is thin and fragmentary. The language and style are uneven and diffuse, while Edgar’s chameleon-like shifts of identity from pro-German sympathies through Siberia to complicity with the KGB deserve to be more carefully explored. While the book’s themes are unquestionably authentic and relevant, they don’t really blend together into a moving novel in the way that Puhdistus does.
Translated by David McDuff

Here, now

1 October 2012 | Extracts, Non-fiction

Beijing, China, 1989. Photo: Pentti Sammallahti

Photographer Pentti Sammallahti (born 1950) has travelled widely over six decades; his mostly black-and-white photographs portray humans, animals, cities as well as open landscapes, in Nepal, France, Kalmykia, the US, Morocco, Russia – in more than 40 countries. His beautifully executed retrospective work, entitled ‘here far away’, containing more than 250 photographs, is introduced by Finn Thrane


Here far away is a retrospective work that comprises nearly fifty years of photographic activity and unfolds in almost as many countries. Despite this, Pentti Sammallahti’s discreet title points to the paradox that the photograph always represents a here-and-now: an encounter in the exhibition or on the page of the book between artist and viewer, which is of course subject to the law of mutability, but constantly reflects the capacity of the two to enter into a dialogue, to extend the picture’s mirror of the past into the viewer’s present and future. More…