Archive for February, 2014

The princess who quit

27 February 2014 | Authors, Interviews

Alexandra Salmela. Photo: Heini Lehväslaiho

Alexandra Salmela. Photo: Heini Lehväslaiho

Interview with Alexandra Salmela, whose second book, Kirahviäiti ja muita hölmöjä aikuisia (‘The giraffe mummy and other silly adults’, Teos, 2013), is for children – and for those adults who admit their silliness

Once upon a time there was a boy called Sulo. Just a normal lad, more a middle-of-the-road character than winner material. And not even always brave, let alone cheerful. An ordinary sprog isn’t enough for Sulo’s parents, so they take the boy to a child repair shop. There, new parts are fitted to children: virtuoso fingers, football-feet and angel-faces.

In addition to Sulo, Alexandra Salmela’s Kirahviäiti ja muita hölmöjä aikuisia (‘The giraffe mummy and other silly adults’) introduces us to the misunderstood Flabby Monster, Adalmiina, who wings through trees like an ape, and a father who absentmindedly loses his head. The work is the second book by Alexandra Salmela, who was born in Bratislava, in what was then Czechoslovakia, and now lives in Tampere.

A-L E: How did the idea of a story-book come up? More…

Once upon a time

27 February 2014 | Children's books, Fiction

apinaStories from Kirahviäiti ja muita hölmöjä aikuisia (‘The giraffe mummy and other silly adults’, Teos, 2013), illustrated by Martina Matlovičová. Interview of Alexandra Salmela by Anna-Leena Ekroos

The monkey princess

Adalmiina’s life was not an easy one. Her parents decided to prepare her for her career as a princess when she was a little girl: when Adalmiina was three she was sent to ballet school, at four she started taking lute lessons and at five she went on a course in magic-mirror gazing.

When Adalmiina turned six, she received a giant suitcase full of princess clothes and shoes.

‘Put them on, darling, we want to see you in all your lovely beauty!’ her mother sparkled, waving a muslin veil.

‘I want to go to the jungle!’ Adalmiina demanded. ‘Without any clothes!’

‘Will we have to force you to dress in all your glory?’ her parents snapped.

‘You’ll have to catch me first!’ Adalmiina announced, running into the garden. More…

Avartuva maailma. Kartta-aarteita A. E. Nordenskiöldin kokoelmasta [The expanding world. Treasures of the A.E. Nordenskiöld Map Collection]

27 February 2014 | Mini reviews, Reviews

avartuvamaailmaAvartuva maailma. Kartta-aarteita A. E. Nordenskiöldin kokoelmasta
[The expanding world. Treasures of the A.E. Nordenskiöld Map Collection]
Tapio Markkanen, Leena Miekkavaara , Anna-Maija Pietilä-Ventelä
Helsinki: Finnish Literature Society, 2013. 175 pp., ill .
ISBN 978-952-222-431-6
€47, paperback

In the late 19th century the Finnish-born scientist and explorer Adolf Erik Nordenskiöld (1832–1901) assembled an extensive collection of historical maps which gained international recognition. The collection is housed in the Finnish National Library and in 1997 was included in UNESCO’s Memory of the World register. In 2013 an exhibition featuring part of the collection was held in Helsinki. Avartuva maailma is a beautifully illustrated book, with large pages containing plenty of text (in Swedish and English). Professor Tapio Markkanen examines the changing picture of the world from antiquity to modern times, as well as the development of maps and cartography. In some ancient maps the continents were portrayed in the likeness of people or animals, or with the south being placed at the top. An essay by map historian Leena Miekkavaara traces Nordenskiöld’s biography, showing how he acquired world fame after making the first complete crossing of the Northeast Passage in 1878. The Collection is presented and introduced by the researcher Anna-Maija Pietilä-Ventelä, with illustrations that also cover the history of cartography.

Translated by David McDuff

Minority report

20 February 2014 | Reviews

tuva.k.Tuva Korsström
Från Lexå till Glitterscenen. Finlandssvenska tidsbilder, läsningar, författarporträtt 1960–2013
[From Lexå to the Glitter Scene. Finland-Swedish period pieces, readings, portraits of authors 1960-2013]
Helsinki: Schildts & Söderströms, 2013. 529 pp., ill.
ISBN 978-951-52-3224-3
€37.90, hardback

The only thing unequivocally separating the Swedish minority in Finland from the Finnish majority is language. Therefore the word – be it written, spoken, sung – has always occupied a privileged position amongst Finland-Swedes. This has resulted in a richness of literature and mass media, which is surprising for a minority that today numbers fewer than 300,000 people, or just over five per cent of the population. For Swedish language literature in Finland – the topic of Tuva Korsström’s book Från Lexå till Glitterscenen. Finlandssvenska tidsbilder, läsningar, författarporträtt 1960–2013 – the period following the Second World War has been a success history.

The strength and force of this literature has manifested itself in many ways: through an increasing professionalisation of the writing community, through a steady stream of new writing talent, and through increased diversification, both in terms of regions and genres. In competition for major national and Nordic prizes, such as the Finlandia Prize for Fiction, the Runeberg Prize, and the Nordic Council Literature Prize, Finland-Swedish books have been strong contenders, and authors [see the list] such as Tove Jansson, Märta Tikkanen, Bo Carpelan, Kjell Westö, and Monika Fagerholm have gained large audiences, both nationally and internationally. More…

In memoriam Mirkka Rekola 1931–2014

20 February 2014 | Authors, In the news

Mirkka Rekola. Photo: Elina Laukkarinen/WSOY

Mirkka Rekola. Photo: Elina Laukkarinen/WSOY

The poet and author Mirkka Rekola died on 5 February at the age of 82. From 1954 onwards she has written aphorisms, essays and 18 collections of poetry. Rekola was awarded many literary prizes, among them the Eino Leino prize (1979), the Finland prize (Suomi-palkinto, 1995) and the Dancing Bear poetry prize (1997). Her intellectual, linguistically brilliant poetry was not easy to translate – however, translations have appeared in Swedish, German, French, Hungarian, English and Macedonian.

The poet and translator Herbert Lomas wrote in his introduction to Rekola’s collection Valekuun reitti (‘The path of a false moon’) in 2004: ‘Mirkka Rekola was a minimalist before minimalism was invented.’ Her poems are, he said, ‘moments of crossing an edge towards an intenser awareness of the universe’s continuum, requiring us to wake up from sleep, as we do at times of heightened consciousness and love.’

At first light I put my hand
      in the hollow of a white willow –
once someone's cigarette box
had been left there –
      now a bird flew out
going seaward.
Touch of a wingquill on the back of my hand.
      It flew higher.
            In the evening
I felt its touch on my shoulder blade.

From Valekuun reitti, translated by Herbert Lomas


Markku Jokisipilä & Janne Könönen: Kolmannen valtakunnan vieraat. Suomi Hitlerin Saksan vaikutuspiirissä 1933–1944 [Guests from the Third Reich. Finland in the sphere of influence of Hitler’s Germany 1933–1944]

20 February 2014 | Mini reviews, Reviews

kolmasvaltakuntaKolmannen valtakunnan vieraat. Suomi Hitlerin Saksan vaikutuspiirissä 1933–1944
[Guests from the Third Reich. Finland in the sphere of influence of Hitler’s Germany 1933–1944]
Helsinki: Otava, 2013. 602 pp., ill .
ISBN 978-951-1-26881-9
€37, hardback

Germany had long been a great power with close historical ties to Finland, and when Hitler took over in 1933 the bond was still largely intact. Some Finnish cultural and scientific figures admired the new Germany and accepted its ideology, whereas the views of many Finland’s soldiers were influenced by the help received from Germany during the Civil War of 1918 and by the threat from the neighbouring Soviet Union. During the Winter War of 1939–40, when the Soviet Union attacked Finland and Germany was formally a Soviet ally, relations cooled. After the Winter War politicians sought support from Germany for reasons of Realpolitik, in preparation for another conflict. When the Germans invaded the Soviet Union during the Continuation War of 1941–1944, they sent military supplies to Finland and troops to the country’s north. Cultural relations with the Baltic superpower flourished. Hitler’s attendance in 1942 at the birthday party of Marshal Mannerheim (well known to be an Anglophile) was a spectacular display of Finnish-German friendship. However, no persecution of Jews took place in Finland. When it became obvious that Germany would be defeated, even the Nazis’ enthusiastic friends distanced themselves from them, and in the Lapland War of 1944–45 the German soldiers were driven out of Finland. The book provides a vivid and comprehensive reminder of a time when many Finns put their trust in Hitler’s Germany and were flattered to receive its attention.

Translated by David McDuff

Happy birthday to us!

13 February 2014 | Letter from the Editors

Picture: Wikipedia

Picture: Wikipedia

It’s been five years since Books from Finland went online, and we’re celebrating with a little bit of good news.

In the past year, the number of visits to the Books from Finland website has grown by 11 per cent. The number of US and UK readers grew by 29 per cent, while the number of readers in Germany – stimulated perhaps by the publicity Finnish literature is attracting as a result of its Guest Country status at this year’s Frankfurt Book Fair – increased by an astonishing 59 per cent.

We’re chuffed, to put it mildly – and very thankful to you, dear readers, old and new. More…

Coffee with a twist

13 February 2014 | This 'n' that


The Italian food illustrator and artist Gianluca Biscalchin combines authors and coffees in this picture: an amusing quiz for any friend of literature. (We think Beckett is particularly incisive.)

One could try out the same method adapted to Finnish authors; it first comes to mind that there are names that would work the same way as Hemingway here. Pentti Saarikoski, the hard-drinking literary enfant terrible of the 1960s and 1970s (1937–1983), for example.

The comic writer Arto Paasilinna (born 1942; very popular in translation in Italy, by the way), surely, would have a pair of hare’s ears sticking out of his cup (his most-translated novel is Jäniksen vuosi, The year of the hare – L’anno della lepre).

The prolific lyric modernist, playwright and author Paavo Haavikko (1931–2008), would have a leafy tree in his cup, as one of his best collections of poetry is entitled Puut, kaikki heidän vihreytensä (‘The trees, all their green’).

And of course: out of Tove Jansson’s cup a moomintroll or a hemulen would peep out!

Puupää comics prizes 2014

13 February 2014 | In the news

Picture: Terhi Ekebom

Picture: Terhi Ekebom

The Finnish Comics Society was founded in 1971 and has since 1972 it annually awarded the Puupäähattu prize to an established Finnish comics artist. The prize is not money but a honorary hat – named after a classic Finnish cartoon character, Pekka Puupää (‘Pete Blockhead’), by Ola Fogelberg and later his daughter Toto. The Puupää comic books were published between 1925 and 1975, and some of the stories were made into films.

The 2014 Puupää prize was awarded to illustrator and comics artist Terhi Ekebom (born 1971). Ekbom began work as a comics artist in the early 1990s. Using diverse techniques, she often depicts feelings and states of minds. Her work has been shown at the Angoulême comics festival and has been published in English, French, Swedish and Czech.

A special title, sarjakuvaneuvos or ‘comics councillor’, was also awarded to two people; the comic artist Harri ‘Wallu’ Vaalio, and to the director of FILI, Iris Schwank who, as part of the Finnish Cultural Spring project held in France in 2008, commissioned a Finnish comics exhibition which attracted widespread attention. In her role at FILI Schwanck has been an energetic promoter of international visibility for Finnish comics.

Tuomo Pietiläinen & Tutkiva työryhmä [Research working group]: Wahlroos: epävirallinen elämäkerta [Wahlroos: an unofficial biography]

13 February 2014 | Mini reviews, Reviews

wahlroosWahlroos: epävirallinen elämäkerta
[Wahlroos: an unofficial biography]
Helsinki: Into Kustannus Oy, 2013. 432 pp. , ill.
ISBN 978-952-264-243-1
€35, hardback

Björn Wahlroos (born 1952) is a business and banking executive who is now chairman of Nordea, the Nordic region’s largest bank. The journalist Tuomo Pietiläinen, working in collaboration with 25 students, has produced a biography of Wahlroos as part of a course in investigative journalism, without the involvement of the subject himself. Wahlroos is a firm believer in the hard market economy. Based on careful background research, this biography charts Wahlroos’s progress from boy scout to radical left-wing student, his conversion to capitalism and his rapid rise to become a popular professor of economics. In the 1980s Wahlroos moved to the banking sector and climbed to the top of Finland’s business elite. Outspoken, both admired and hated, he is also the owner of an estate with cultural and historical significance, where he works as a part-time farmer. His hunting partners include the King of Sweden. This account of Wahlroos’s colourful career is written clearly and informatively enough to be understood even by those who don’t know anything about business.

Translated by David McDuff

Human destinies

7 February 2014 | Articles, Non-fiction

To what extent does a ‘historical novel’ have to lean on facts to become best-sellers? Two new novels from 2013 examined

When Helsingin Sanomat, Finland’s largest newspaper, asked its readers and critics in 2013 to list the ten best novels of the 2000s, the result was a surprisingly unanimous victory for the historical novel.

Both groups listed as their top choices – in the very same order – the following books: Sofi Oksanen: Puhdistus (English translation Purge; WSOY, 2008), Ulla-Lena Lundberg: Is (Finnish translation Jää, ‘Ice’, Schildts & Söderströms, 2012) and Kjell Westö: Där vi en gång gått (Finnish translation Missä kuljimme kerran; ‘Where we once walked‘, Söderströms, 2006).

What kind of historical novel wins over a large readership today, and conversely, why don’t all of the many well-received novels set in the past become bestsellers? More…

Kirjailijoiden Kalevala [The writer’s Kalevala]

7 February 2014 | Mini reviews, Reviews

Layout 1Kirjailijoiden Kalevala
[The writer’s Kalevala]
Toim. [Ed. by]: Antti Tuuri, Ulla Piela ja Seppo Knuuttila
(Kalevalaseuran vuosikirja 92, the Kalevala Society’s yearbook 92)
Helsinki: Suomalaisen Kirjallisuuden Seura, 2013. 313 pp., ill.
ISBN 978-952-222-429-3
€47, hardback

The Kalevala is the Finnish national epic, compiled from oral folk poetry by Elias Lönnrot. It has provided a source of inspiration to Finnish culture since 1839. Kirjailijoiden Kalevala continues a project entitled ‘The artists’ Kalevala’, started in 2009. To start with, four scholars examine, from different viewpoints, the influence of folk poetry and the Kalevala on literature. Some twenty Finnish-language authors then approach the epic with original thoughts and literary means. The result may take the form of reminiscing, of a short story, poem or cartoon. In some texts the Kalevala is present only indirectly, in others some character of the epic is placed in the focus – Väinämöinen, Kullervo, Lemminkäinen or Aino. Kirjailijoiden Kalevala offers a multifaceted collection of viewpoints; aptly, the editors, in their foreword refer to the epic as a literary sampo, the mysterious, mythical object of the Kalevala that generates wealth and riches.

3 x Runeberg: poet, cake & prize

5 February 2014 | This 'n' that

J.L. Runeberg. Painting by Albert Edelfelt. 1893. WIkipedia

J.L. Runeberg. Painting by Albert Edelfelt, 1893. WIkipedia

Today, the fifth of February, marks the birthday of the poet J.L. Runeberg (1804–1877), writer, among other things, of the words of Finnish national anthem.

Runeberg’s birthday is celebrated among the literary community by the award of the Runeberg Prize for fiction; the winner is announced in Runeberg’s house, in the town of Borgå/Porvoo.

Runeberg's favourite. Photo: Ville Koistinen

Runeberg’s favourite. Photo: Ville Koistinen

Mrs Runeberg, a mother of seven and also a writer, is said to have baked ‘Runeberg’s cakes’ for her husband, and these cakes are still sold on 5 February. Read more – and even find a recipe for them – by clicking our story Let us eat cake!

The Runeberg Prize 2014, worth €10,000, went to Hannu Raittila and his novel Terminaali (‘Terminal’, Siltala).

Hannu Raittila. Photo: Laura Malmivaara

Hannu Raittila. Photo: Laura Malmivaara

According to the members of the prize jury – the literary scholar Rita Paqvalen, the author Sari Peltoniemi and the critic and writer Merja Leppälahti – they were unanimous in their decision; however, the winner of the 2013 Finlandia Prize for Fiction, Jokapäiväinen elämämme (‘Our everyday lives’) by Riikka Pelo, was also seriously considered.

Read more about the 2014 Runeberg shortlist In the news.