Archive for March, 2015

The forest folk’s trip to Helsinki

26 March 2015 | Children's books, Fiction

Raul Roine: Metsänväki käy HelsingissäThe country comes to town in this coyly modern fairy story of 1937 by the classic children’s writer Raul Roine (1907-1960). Reynard the Fox, the village taxi-driver, celebrates restoring his beat-up old Ford by taking his woodland friends – squirrels, chaffinches, bobtails… – on a day out to Helsinki. Trouble starts when a policeman tells them off for eating the plants in the Esplanade park, but the fun really begins when the hares find themselves participating in the marathon which is being run through the city streets that day…

The translation of this delectable tale is by Books from Finland’s long-time collaborator Herbert Lomas (1924-2011), who was often at his best when working on the whimsy of children’s literature.

Spring had come to the forest homeland. The wood anemones were raising their heads shyly from under the moss, large tears of joy were flowing down the spruce trees’ beards of lichen, and sky-ploughs of cranes were coming from the south. They bugled mightily on their trumpets and then landed in the Great Marsh to sample the cranberries More…

Minna Lindgren: Ehtoolehdon pakolaiset [The refugees of Twilight Grove]

26 March 2015 | Mini reviews, Reviews

ehtoolehtoEhtoolehdon pakolaiset
[The refugees of Twilight Grove]
Helsinki: Teos, 2014. 334 pp.
ISBN 978-951-851-584-8
€29.90, paperback

This is the second volume of a novel trilogy by the writer and music editor Minna Lindgren (born 1963). The protagonists in Kuolema Ehtoolehdossa (‘Death in Twilight Grove’, 2013) were ladies in their nineties in an assisted living facility in Helsinki – administered by a foundation entitled (ironically enough), ‘Care and Love of the Elderly‘. Lindgren’s ‘adventure satire’ continues to focus on the lack of common sense, respect and empathy (as well as presence or interest of relatives) in the – often patronising – care of the elderly. The story revolves round the evacuation of the inhabitants from the facility to temporary housing as a tragicomically huge renovation project sets off, not without some seriously fishy business. This volume might be described as a slightly more sombre in its themes than the previous one, as illnesses and death occur – however, the point is that dying, not an unexpected turn in a person’s life after the age of 90, should be regarded as something natural. As what Lindgren writes about is by no means a phenomenon foreign to contemporary western societies, it is not surprising that so far the translation rights of the trilogy into eight languages have been sold.

Fifteen strange things about Finland

26 March 2015 | This 'n' that

Nokia rubber boots

The famous Nokia rubber boots. CC BY-SA 3.0

What are your favourite weird facts about Finland?

Personally, at Books from Finland, we like the ones about language – no is a verb, the personal pronoun is ungendered (there is no ‘he’, ‘she’ or ‘it’, just hän), there are fourteen or fifteen (depending how you count them) cases for nouns.

But, in a country that’s keen on the national this and the national that (composer, writer, epic), it’s also cool that we have a de facto national app (Angry Birds).

Now, FinnFacts, in collaboration with the bookings website, has come up with an image of Finland, entitled ‘The surprising truth about Finland’, with a whole lot more.

We’ve all read the press coverage of the fact that speeding fines are linked to what you earn. The largest fine so far is €116,000.

But how about this? One that has, amazingly, passed us by. Any Finnish noun can have over 2000 different forms.

And this: Finland is the first country to make a broadband connection a legal right.

Or this: Finns are the world’s biggest coffee drinkers, drinking a staggering four times more than Brits. And that’s despite the fact that Starbucks etc. are far from ubiquitous in Finland.

Or – did you know that the (national!) mobile phone company, Nokia, started life as a manufacturer of rubber boots and tyres?

You can check out this and much more here.

New from the archive

26 March 2015 | This 'n' that

This week, a cluster of pieces from and about left-leaning Tampere, the ‘Red City’ of Finland

The Tampella and Finlayson factories, 1954, Tampere. Photo: Veikko Kanninen, Vapriikki Photo Archives /  CC BY-SA 2.0.

The Tampella and Finlayson factories, 1954, Tampere. Photo: Veikko Kanninen, Vapriikki Photo Archives / CC BY-SA 2.0.

Also known as the ‘Manchester of Finland’ for its 19th-century manufacturing tradition, Tampere – or rather the suburb of Pispala – produced two important, and strongly contrasting, writers, Lauri Viita (1916-1965) and Hannu Salama (born 1936). Both formed part of a group of working-class writers who emerged after the Second World War, many of whom had not completed their school careers and whose confidence arose from independent, auto-didactic, reading and study.

To understand the place from which these writers emerged, it has to be remembered that there is more to Tampere than a proud radical tradition. As Pekka Tarkka remembers in his essay, the Reds were the losing side in the Finnish civil war of 1918, and for years afterwards they formed ‘a sort of embattled camp in Finnish society’. History is always written by the winners, and authors like Viita and Salama played an important role in giving the Red side back its voice.

Lauri Viita.

Lauri Viita.

Lauri Viita celebrated Tampere by offering an image of it that is, as Tarkka remarks, ‘poetic, deterministic and materialist’. His poetry differed sharply from the modernist verse of contemporaries such as Paavo Haavikko and Eeva-Liisa Manner, both of whom we have featured recently in our Archive pieces, which abandoned both fixed metres and end-rhymes. His work was an often heroic celebration of the ordinary life of proletarian Tampere, and the more traditional form into which it breathed new life made it accessible. My own mother, for example, who had grown up the child of a Red working-class family far away to the north, in Kajaani, steeped in the rolling cadences of poets such as Aaro Hellaakoski and Uuno Kailas, never really got the hang of Haavikko, or Manner; but she loved Viita.

Here we publish a selection of Viita’s poems, translated by Herbert Lomas, who does an excellent job of capturing his easy-going, unselfconscious rhythms. The introduction is by Kai Laitinen.

Hannu Salama. Photo: Ptoukkar  / CC BY-SA 3.0

Hannu Salama.
Photo: Ptoukkar / CC BY-SA 3.0

Salama is a far more politicised writer than Viita, and he is writing about a Tampere that is already in decline. In his major work, Siinä näkijä missä tekijä (‘No crime without a witness’, 1972), he writes about the travails of the communist minority, doomed to slow extinction – the same band of fellow-travellers to which my grandfather in Kajaani belonged. My mother wasn’t a Salama fan, though – I think his Tampere wasn’t beautiful, or heroic, enough. As someone who had moved far away, to England, she wanted to celebrate, not to mourn.

Here we publish a short story, Hautajaiset (‘The funeral’), which was written at the same time as Siinä näkijä missä tekijä. It’s an unvarnished account of a Tampere funeral which is, at the same time, the funeral of the old, radical way of life – which, sure enough, has vanished almost as if it never existed. As Pekka Tarkka writes of Salama’s short story and the revolutionary songs which run through it: ‘There will be no more singing of communist psalms, or fantasies of the family and of the revolutionary spirit.’

As Marx didn’t say, all that seemed so solid has melted, irretrievably, into air.


The digitisation of Books from Finland continues, with a total of 380 articles and book extracts made available online so far. Each week, we bring a newly digitised text to your attention.


New from the archive

26 March 2015 | This 'n' that

Kullervo's curse

Kullervo’s curse. Painting by Akseli Gallen-Kallela (1899)

Finland’s national epic adapted for the stage by Finland’s national writer: best known as the author of the first significant novel in Finnish, Seitsemän veljestä (Seven Brothers, 1870), Aleksis Kivi (1834-1972) also turned one of the Kalevala’s grimmest stories, that of Kullervo – a tale of incest, revenge and death– into a five-act tragedy.

The translation is by one of Books from Finland’s most long-standing collaborators, David Barrett (1914-1998), a true linguistic genius with a speciality in Georgian as well as Finnish in addition to classical Greek; as well as his work with texts in Finnish and Georgian, he made extensive translations of Aristophanes for Penguin Classics. Barrett felt, as he argues here in his introduction, ‘that Kullervo, if suitably translated, might succeed where Seven Brothers had failed, in bringing Kivi’s genius to the notice of the English-speaking world’.

Was he right? It is up to you, dear readers, to judge.

For a very different, demythologized, view of the Kullervo story, we also publish a manuscript by the modernist poet Paavo Haavikko (1931-2008) from his television adaptation Rauta-aika (‘Age of iron’, 1982).

The Kalevala is in development as a film by the Finnish entertainment company Rovio, of Angry Birds game, and the Finnish-born video game company Supercell. It remains to be seen how the Kalevala take to the big screen.


The digitisation of Books from Finland continues, with a total of 372 articles and book extracts made available online so far. Each week, we bring a newly digitised text to your attention.

New from the archive

26 March 2015 | This 'n' that

This week’s pick is a comic short story by Martti Joenpolvi about the gender divide

Martti Joenpolvi

Martti Joenpolvi.
Photo: Janne Aaltonen.

We first published this short story by Martti Joenpolvi, an acknowledged master of the genre, in 1989; it comes from the collection Pronssikausi (‘The bronze age’, 1988), which was nominated for the Finlandia Prize.

The subject – the story is about a man taking his mistress on a secret visit to his summer-house – provides plenty of opportunity for sly humour. But it’s a more unsettling read in 2015 than we’re guessing it was twenty-five years ago – not so much for the plot itself, which makes ironic fun of the idea of woman-as-chattel, as for the characterisation, which subtly places the woman exactly where the story does.



The digitisation of Books from Finland continues, with a total of 375 articles and book extracts made available online so far. Each week, we bring a newly digitised text to your attention.

Kaisa Koivisto & Uta Laurén: Suomalaisen taidelasin kultakausi [The golden era of the Finnish glass]

19 March 2015 | Mini reviews, Reviews

taidelasiSuomalaisen taidelasin kultakausi
[The golden era of the Finnish glass]
Helsinki: Tammi, 2014. 326 pp., ill.
ISBN 978-951-31-7320-3
€49.90, hardback

The authors of this book specialise in Finnish glass and its history, working at the Finnish Glass Museum. The 1950s and the early 1960s formed the golden age of Finnish glass: young artists such as Timo Sarpaneva, Tapio Wirkkala, Gunnel Nyman, Nanny Still and Kaj Franck all began gaining fame as the number of prizes won at the 1950s Milan triennales made way for their international success. Finnish glass factories worked closely with artists, as serial production had to provide the commercial success. In the 1970s, however, the glass industry began to diminish due to heavy competition in the form of imported glassware. Unique objects of glass are still made and glass artists trained in Finland, but of six major factories only Iittala (est. 1881) is still working; for example, the 220-year old Nuutajärvi Glass Factory closed its doors in 2013. The majority of the excellent photographs in this comprehensive, beautiful book are from the Finnish Glass Museum or the Finnish Design Museum. The book includes short biographies of 27 Finnish glass artists and histories of glassworks as well as a glossary of glass-making terms.

The day peace came…

18 March 2015 | This 'n' that


Flags fly at half-mast in Helsinki. Photo: SA-Kuva

Seventy-five years ago, in the period known as the Phony War, while the rest of the world was preparing to fight, it looked as if hostilities were over for one country.

In the preamble to the Second World War, Soviet Union had attacked Finland on 30 November 1939, demanding substantial border territories for the protection of Leningrad. Germany had invaded Poland, and France and Great Britain had declared war; but the Nazi invasions of Norway and Denmark, Italy’s entry into the war, the Battle of Britain, Pearl Harbor, D-Day, Hiroshima, Nagasaki and all the other horrors of the Second World War were yet to come.

As the world watched, ‘plucky little Finland’, massively outnumbered in terms of both men and equipment but superior in morale, organisation and knowledge of the terrain, managed to keep the Red Army at bay for months – far longer than anyone had expected. Eventually, however, the Russians overcame Finnish border defences and the war ended on 13 March 1940. Now generally regarded by Finns as a defensive victory – Finland was not occupied by the Soviet Union – the peace treaty nevertheless imposed a heavy burden on Finland, which lost extensive territories in Karelia to the south and Salla to the north.

In the event, the war was far from over for Finland, which still had the Continuation War (1941-44) and the Lapland War (1944-45) to fight. But for the moment, the country was once more at peace.

To mark the 75th anniversary of the end of the war, the Helsingin Sanomat newspaper has published a selection of photographs of the day peace came.


Soldiers of the 69th infantry regiment are able to eat in peace at last. Photo: SA-Kuva

A tree

A tree felled across a road provides a makeshift border point. Photo: SA-Kuva


Soldiers in their white winter camouflage rest in Viipuri after peace is declared. Photo: SA-Kuva

Soldiers in Kuhmo

Soldiers in Kuhmo, north-eastern Finland, inspect the new border line. Photo: SA-Kuva

The last wounded soldiers

The last wounded soldiers are brought back by horse and cart from Saunajärvi. Photo: SA-Kuva

New from the archive

17 March 2015 | This 'n' that

Gösta Ågren

Gösta Ågren. Photo: Studio Paschinsky

Back in the day, in one of our periodic excursions into merchandising – the main criteria were that our goods should be flat (to fit into an envelope) and, of course, literary – we printed Books from Finland t-shirts. They were wildly popular – we must have sold, oh, dozens of them – and top of the list was a shirt with a laconic couplet by Gösta Ågren: ‘Don’t worry / it will never work out.’

Writing in Swedish and hailing from a small village in Ostrobothnia, in the far north-west of Finland, Ågren (born 1936) is the author of poems, essays and biographies. He may often choose to adopt the persona of a country curmudgeon, but the laconic tone of his poems belies a tenderness, a universalism, and an underlying political commitment, that speaks of a love of the world, a desire to make it into a better place.

The volume from which these poems are taken, Jär (‘Here’, 1989), won the Finlandia Prize for Literature in 1989.


The digitisation of Books from Finland continues, with a total of 372 articles and book extracts made available online so far. Each week, we bring a newly digitised text to your attention.


A walk on the West Side

16 March 2015 | Fiction, Prose

Hannu Väisänen

Hannu Väisänen. Photo: Jouni Harala

Just because you’re a Finnish author, you don’t have to write about Finland – do you?

Here’s a deliciously closely observed short story set in New York: Hannu Väisänen’s Eli Zebbahin voikeksit (‘Eli Zebbah’s shortbread biscuits’) from his new collection, Piisamiturkki (‘The musquash coat’, Otava, 2015).

Best known as a painter, Väisänen (born 1951) has also won large readerships and critical recognition for his series of autobiographical novels Vanikan palat (‘The pieces of crispbread’, 2004, Toiset kengät (‘The other shoes’, 2007, winner of that year’s Finlandia Prize) and Kuperat ja koverat (‘Convex and concave’, 2010). Here he launches into pure fiction with a tale that wouldn’t be out of place in Italo Calvino’s 1973 classic The Castle of Crossed Destinies…

Eli Zebbah’s shortbread biscuits

Eli Zebbah’s small but well-stocked grocery store is located on Amsterdam Avenue in New York, between two enormous florist’s shops. The shop is only a block and a half from the apartment that I had rented for the summer to write there.

The store is literally the breadth of its front door and it is not particularly easy to make out between the two-storey flower stands. The shop space is narrow but long, or maybe I should say deep. It recalls a tunnel or gullet whose walls are lined from floor to ceiling. In addition, hanging from the ceiling using a system of winches, is everything that hasn’t yet found a space on the shelves. In the shop movement is equally possible in a vertical and a horizontal direction. Rails run along both walls, two of them in fact, carrying ladders attached with rings up which the shop assistant scurries with astonishing agility, up and down. Before I have time to mention which particular kind of pasta I wanted, he climbs up, stuffs three packets in to his apron pocket, presents me with them and asks: ‘Will you take the eight-minute or the ten-minute penne?’ I never hear the brusque ‘we’re out of them’ response I’m used to at home. If I’m feeling nostalgic for home food, for example Balkan sausage, it is found for me, always of course under a couple of boxes. You can challenge the shop assistant with something you think is impossible, but I have never heard of anyone being successful. If I don’t fancy Ukrainian pickled cucumbers, I’m bound to find the Belorussian ones I prefer. More…

Reasons to be cheerful

14 March 2015 | This 'n' that


Photo: Vipul Mathur / CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Translation, as the German philosopher and critic Walter Benjamin argued, is an art form. Amid all the conventional doom ‘n’ gloom about literary translation, then – and even though we at Books from Finland are among its biggest supporters, we have to put up our hands and admit that we do our fair share of hand-wringing – it’s refreshing to see this over at Better than Sliced Bread, a blog edited by English students at Helsinki University: a love-letter by Seattle student Elizabeth Oakes to the ‘vast and beautiful’ vistas that the process of translation can open up.

New from the archives

13 March 2015 | This 'n' that

Eeva-Liisa Manner

Eeva-Liisa Manner. Photo: Tammi.

Today we have a real treat – a selection of the sumptuously minimalist poetry of Eeva-Liisa Manner (1921–1995) by her near-contemporary, the British poet Herbert Lomas (1924–2011).

Born in Helsinki, Manner spent her youth in Viipuri, in what was then part of Finland; her life was, like Eeva Kilpi’s, marked by evacuation from her home and the subsequent loss of Karelia to the Soviet Union in the Second World War. Her breakthrough collection, Tämä matka (‘This journey’, 1956) marked a major arrival on the modernist poetry scene and her work has been widely translated. Always lyrically minimalist, Manner’s poetry sometimes seemed to approach the limits of language – silence:

The words come and go.
I need words less and less.
Tomorrow maybe
I’ll not need a single one,

she wrote in Niin vaihtuvat vuoden ajat (‘So change the seasons’), as early as 1964.

Lomas brought to the delicate, beautiful textures of Manner’s poetry with its themes of grief, suffering and loneliness a bluff Yorkshire, and entirely masculine, sensibility. For him, Manner had a ‘splendid sanity’ and sense of humour; hers was an oeuvre ‘that heals by listening and recovery’.

Manner’s work has more recently been translated by another English writer, Fleur Jeremiah, in a volume entitled Bright, dusky, bright (Waterloo Press, 2009). A sample of the approach taken by a woman of a different generation can be found here.


The digitisation of Books from Finland continues apace, with a total of 360 articles and book extracts made available online so far. Each week, we bring a newly digitised text to your attention.

Petri Pietiläinen: Koirien Suomi. Kansanperinnettä ja historiaa [Dogs in Finland. Folk tradition and history]

12 March 2015 | Mini reviews, Reviews

koiriensuomiKoirien Suomi. Kansanperinnettä ja historiaa
[Dogs in Finland. Folk tradition and history]
Helsinki: Finnish Literature Society, 2014. 239 pp., ill.
ISBN 978-952-222-540-5
€32, hardback

Non-fiction writer Petri Pietilä is the author of the award-winning book Koirien maailmanhistoria (‘Dogs in world history’), which deals with the general cultural history of the dog. In the first half of this lively and fascinating new book he discusses the dog in Finnish folk tradition, while in the second half he gives an account of the history of the dog in Finland to the present day. Dogs have been domesticated in the North European region for thousands of years. In folk poetry, such as the national epic, the Kalevala, the dog is first and foremost a house guard and a partner in hunting. In Finnish folk tradition, the dog is viewed more leniently than in other countries, and stories about hellhounds are rare. Yet the attitude towards dogs in Finnish proverbs is not an exclusively positive one. Pietilä also says that the dog’s change of status has been linked to its becoming a helper and beloved pet, and today there are more than half a million of them in Finland. In addition, they are increasingly being used in various work and service roles. The book also presents the six Finnish dog breeds, and includes a dog name day calendar.

Translated by David McDuff

Leena Liukkonen: Aatos

12 March 2015 | Mini reviews, Reviews

Helsinki: Siltala, 2014. 155 pp.
ISBN 978-952-234-225-6
€28.50, hardback

Aatos Erkko (1932–2012) was a prominent newspaper publisher and principal owner of the Sanoma group; the company’s largest and most prestigious paper is Helsingin Sanomat. Reticent by nature and possessed of a difficult personality, Erkko nonetheless tried to act in accordance with his ideals. Rarely seen in the public eye, during his lifetime he was considered one of Finland’s most influential forces behind the scenes. Even though he was not keen on taking over the reins of the paper from his father Eljas (son of the original founder) whose wish it was, Aatos Erkko took the role seriously, developing Helsingin Sanomat into the Nordic region’s largest newspaper. Journalist and writer Leena Liukkonen’s small-scale, warm-hearted portrait is based mostly on Erkko’s later years, making use of discussions and correspondence, as well as interviews recorded by a Swedish colleague. Known as Finland’s richest man, Erkko talks frankly about his difficult relationship with his parents, and the disappointments of his life. The book leaves the impression of a friendship portrayed in terms that are open and honest.

Translated by David McDuff

Maria Turtschaninoff: Maresi. Krönikor från röda klostret [Maresi. Chronicles of the red convent]

6 March 2015 | Mini reviews, Reviews

turtschaninoffMaresi. Krönikor från röda klostret
[Maresi. Chronicles of the red convent]
Helsinki: Schildts & Söderströms, 2014. 213 pp.
ISBN 978-951-52-3471-1
€18.90, hardback
Maresi. Punaisen luostarin kronikoita
Suom. [Translated from Swedish into Finnish by]: Marja Kyrö
Helsinki: Tammi, 2014. 213 pp.
ISBN 978-951-31-8000-3
€25.90, hardback

Maria Turtschaninoff (born 1971) has quickly established a place as a leading author of Finland-Swedish young adults’ literature. Her fantasy novel Maresi is set in an old convent run entirely by women. The narrator Maresi is a conscientious girl loved by the congregation of sisters; she is gradually learning of her own special talents and what is expected from her. The peace of the convent is threatened with the arrival of the mute, uncommunicative Jai. Her experience of trauma gradually come to light and the girls work up their collective courage, together with the other women, to challenge the despotism of men. Turtschaninoff is a visual storyteller; her descriptions of nature, convent life, and animal care are indelible. The setting is vividly drawn and the sheltered environment feels well depicted. The novel unflinchingly takes on women’s experiences of physical and psychological violence, and its points of identification transcend all cultural boundaries. This provocative, feminist novel won the 2014 Finlandia Junior prize.

Translated by Lola Rogers