Author: Michel Ekman


25 November 2014 | Authors, Reviews

Susanne Ringell. Photo: Anders Larsson

Susanne Ringell. Photo: Anders Larsson

Dreams about and in the Eternal City. Leonard Cohen who plays a shanty by the Swedish poet Dan Andersson on the lute. The narrator of these prose poems gives birth to a daughter who is as small as a fountain pen, but perfect and just the right size – and she brings up a litter of puppies too.

This and much more is included in the wonderful new collection of prose poetry, Tärnornas station – en drömbok (‘The Lucia Maids’ station – a book of dreams’, Ellips, 2014) by Susanne Ringell (born 1955), one of the most personal voices in Finland-Swedish literature today. After an early career as an actress, she made her debut with a short story collection in 1993, and since then she has written short prose of different varieties, poetry, and plays. In Ringell’s work there is nothing amiss in the style and language, in the audacious combinations, in the chronicled sadness and the unwaveringly discrete humour. With fantastic clarity she approaches the most elusive of motifs, the deepest content of the soul, making it vivid and recognisable. More…

Peter Sandström: Transparente blanche

30 October 2014 | Mini reviews, Reviews

transparenteTransparente blanche
Helsinki: Schildts & Söderströms, 2014. 226 pp.
ISBN 978-951-523-461-2
€ 28, hardback
Finnish translation:
Valkea kuulas
Suomentanut [Translated by] Outi Menna
Helsinki: Schildts & Söderströms, 2014
ISBN 978-951-523-415-5

Peter Sandström debuted in 1998. His sixth book, the novel Transparente blanche [White transparent: apple variety], is about a middle-aged man who returns to the place of his upbringing and his elderly mother to help her with a strange task she has been given. He is confronted with memories of crucial experiences of his youth – the early death of his father, and his first love – experiences which, the reader understands, guided his life and made ​​him the alienated person he is. The novel also depicts in an unusually sensitive and penetrating way the relationship between a grown man and his mother. However, plot is never the focus of Sandström’s books. His interest lies in using a specific environment and precise and poetic language to depict the vaguest of existential experiences: transience, mortality, changes in the perception of one’s body and in things, the unreliability of memories, the enigma of other people, all that it means to be human, impermanent and thrown into the stream of time.

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…

That which simply is

24 October 2013 | Non-fiction, Reviews

Henrika Ringbom. Photo: Curt Richter

Henrika Ringbom. Photo: Curt Richter

Henrika Ringbom
Öar i ett hav som strömmar
[Islands in a flowing sea]
Helsingfors: Schildts & Söderströms, 2013. 78 p.
ISBN 978-951-52-3218-2
€21, paperback

Henrika Ringbom’s new collection of poems is emotionally touching and formally sophisticated – something only the very best poetry can manage. Ringbom is an experienced author whose output since her debut in 1988 has included five collections of poetry and two novels; even so, it feels as if she has taken another step forward in her writing with this latest volume.

The focal point is the loss of a beloved mother. The title, which translates as ‘Islands in a flowing sea’, emphasises the fleeting nature of all life, and the book radiates sorrow more than anything else. There has always been an intellectual, distancing quality to Ringbom’s writing. That stands her in good stead here, preventing the book from becoming too private and introverted, despite its highly personal themes. More…

Speaking with silence

26 September 2013 | Reviews

Bo Carpelan. Photo: Charlotta Boucht / Schildts & Söderströms

Bo Carpelan. Photo: Charlotta Boucht / Schildts & Söderströms

Bo Carpelan
Mot natten
[Towards the night. Poems 2010]
Helsinki: Schildts & Söderströms, 2013. 69 p.
ISBN 978-951-52-32-20-5
€21, paperback

‘Don’t change, grow deeper ,’ wrote Bo Carpelan: over the years he broadened his poetic range and his personal idiom evolved, but it happened organically, without sudden upheavals of style or idea.

Mot natten (‘Towards the night’) is Carpelan’s last collection of poems. This is underlined by the book’s subtitle, Poems 2010. By then Carpelan (1926–2011) was already marked by the illness that took his life in early 2011. It doesn’t show in the quality of the poems, but knowing it may make it harder for the reader to approach them with unclouded eyes. When a great poet concludes his work one wants to seek a synthesis or a concluding message, and that may encumber one’s reading. So is there such a message? In some ways there is, but Carpelan was not a man of pointed formulations. His ideals emerged without much fuss. More…

Becoming Finland

23 May 2013 | Reviews

Imaginary heroes: the title page of En resa i Finland

Imaginary heroes: the title page of En resa i Finland. Illustration by C.E. Sjöstrand (1828–1906)

Zacharias Topelius
En resa i Finland
[A journey in Finland (1873)]
Helsinki: Svenska litteratursällskapet i Finland, 2013. 173 p., ill.
Utgivare [Editor]: Katarina Pihlflyckt
ISBN 978-951-583-260-3
€38, hardback
(Stockholm: Atlantis förlag, 2013. ISBN 978-91-7353-616-5)

The birth of Finland as a country came as a surprise to those who lived there.

It was created by Napoleon and Alexander I, becoming a reality following Russia’s victory over Sweden in the so called Finnish War. In 1809 Alexander exalted Finland as ‘a nation among nations’, however the new nation still needed to feel like a nation. The Russian rulers supported gentle and non-political nationalism in Finland, in the hope that it would mentally distance the country from Sweden. In this tranquillity, the sense of community they had envisioned grew in Finland.

For this, there were three key factors, all of which stemmed from the 1830s. Elias Lönnrot published the Kalevala, the national epic, proving that Finnish mythology and culture did indeed exist. The poet J.L. Runeberg (who would later become known as the national poet) gave Finland an appearance that was an ideology. He depicted a poor, pious and simple people, a harsh and beautiful wilderness, and with his poems he described the Finnish War, that Finland had lost, as a heroic battle of the people, fought for Finnish values. More…

Johanna Holmström: Asfältsänglar [Asphalt angels]

21 March 2013 | Mini reviews, Reviews

[Asphalt angels]
Helsinki: Schildts & Söderströms, 2012. 294p.
ISBN 978-951-52-3120-8
€29.90, hardback
Finnish translation:
Helsinki: Otava, 2012. 333 p.
Suom. [Translated by] Tuula Kojo
ISBN 978-951-1-26841-3
€29.90, hardback

The immigrant novel has not played a significant role in contemporary Finnish literature; since the wave of Russian refugees in the early 19th century, there have been few immigrants to Finland. In her short story collection Camera Obscura (2009) Johanna Holmström (born 1981) managed to combine realism and fantasy in a fascinating way; her new novel, Asfaltsänglar, is the directly yet eloquently told story of two young immigrant sisters. Leila, bullied at school, is becoming a drop-out, while Samira, who has tried to live according to western norms, lies unconscious after an unexplained accident. Their Finnish mother is a fanatical convert to Islam and their father comes from the Maghreb region. The novel confronts claustrophobic Arabic family culture and western ideals of freedom, taken so far that people completely lose any sense of responsibility for one another, with the adults’ betrayal of their children playing a key role. Holmström goes to great lengths to give a balanced portrayal of both cultures and show why her characters act as they do, even when the results are tragic.
Translated by Claire Dickenson

Jörn Donner: Mammuten [The mammoth]

14 February 2013 | Mini reviews, Reviews

mammutenMammuten. Efterlämnade handlingar
[The mammoth. Leftover business]
Helsinki: Schildts & Söderströms, 2013. 1,128 p., ill.
ISBN 978-951-152-311-54
€37.90, hardback
Finnish translation:
Mammutti. Jälkeenjääneet tekoset
Helsinki: Otava, 2013. 1,087 p., ill.
Suom. [Translated by] Kari Koski
ISBN 978-951-126-311-1
€69,90, hardback

Born in 1933 to a Swedish-speaking family in Helsinki, Jörn Donner, a prominent figure in Finland and Sweden for decades, has published some sixty books. His novel Far och son (‘Father and son’) won him the Finlandia Prize for Fiction in 1985. He has directed and produced films; as a producer he received an Academy Award for Ingmar Bergman’s film Fanny and Alexander. Donner has served two terms in the Finnish Parliament and one in the European Parliament, and represented or supported five different political parties, from the Moscow-loyal Left to the right-wing National Coalition party. Donner’s life has often been the subject of television programmes and he has never passed up the opportunity for more or less well-considered provocations. When he publishes his autobiography at the age of eighty, expectations are high, but Mammuten does not live up to them. It is a sloppy collage of old newspaper articles and introverted diary entries; what emerges is the picture of a man who is disappointed in almost everything he has achieved in life and who sees most of his human relationships as failures. Strangely enough, of the principles that have guided his restless activity and the goals he has striven for in the longer term, Donner writes almost nothing.
Translated by David McDuff

Pertti Lassila: Metsän autuus. Luonto suomalaisessa kirjallisuudessa 1700–1950 [Bliss of the forest. Nature in Finnish literature 1700–1950]

21 December 2012 | Mini reviews, Reviews

Metsän autuus. Luonto suomalaisessa kirjallisuudessa 1700–1950
[Bliss of the forest. Nature in Finnish literature 1700–1950]
Helsinki: Suomalaisen Kirjallisuuden Seura (The Finnish Literature Society), 2011, 260 p.
ISBN 978-952-222-322-7
€35, paperback

Culture and art are relatively recent phenomena in Finland, but the forests, lakes and swamps have been here forever: national introspection has therefore always revolved around different ways of interpreting nature. National poet J.L. Runeberg (died 1877) romanticised the wilderness of the north and its starving inhabitants; pragmatic national philosopher J.V. Snellman (died 1881) rejoiced in the advances of continental culture in the farming regions of southwest Finland. Attempts to combine these two stances characterised the building of political and cultural ideas. Literary researcher Pertti Lassila follows the theme of nature through Finnish- and Swedish-language literature, including almost all major works up until the 20th century and some of the most important ones from the last century. His book is, at the same time, a description of the flow of ideas from the centre to the periphery, from the French classicist Carl Philip Creutz, author of hedonistic pastoral poetry, to Joel Lehtonen, writer of modern epics, whose endless pessimism was a largely constructed attempt to shape the split between nature and the alienated citizen of the 20th century; how successful he was is debatable. Nature remains a major theme in Finnish literature.
Translated by Claire Dickenson

Fredrik Lång: Av vad är lycka. En Krösusroman [From what is happiness. A Croesus novel]

4 December 2012 | Mini reviews, Reviews

Av vad är lycka. En Krösusroman
[From what is happiness. A Croesus novel]
Helsingfors: Schildts & Söderströms, 2012. 221 p.
ISBN 978-951-523-002-7
€20.25, hardback

What is happiness? According to the Western thought, happiness is to have, to own, and whenever possible to get even more – it is interesting to find out what our forefathers thought about the question before it was answered. This is precisely what Fredrik Lång does in this novel, the best since the ancient-inspired Mitt liv som Pythagoras (‘My life as Pythagoras’, 2005). Lång describes the Lydian king Kroisos, the richest man of his day, and his attempt to overthrow the wise Greek Solon’s idea that moderation and a contemplative lifestyle lead to happiness. Even if the driving force behind this novel is philosophical, it is brought alive with graphic depictions, extravagant battlefield scenes, intrigue and heartrending romance. Lång’s narrative is often ironic or comical, yet it still manages to emphasise the hard lives of its characters and the complete and utter inequality between master and slave, rich and poor, man and woman. Despite the immersion in the past, it is his own time Lång writes about, sometimes via shameless anachronism, sometimes subtle hints.
Translated by Claire Dickenson

Winter journey

1 November 2012 | Authors, Reviews

Tua Forsström. Photo: Mao Lindholm

The Finland-Swedish poet Tua Forsström publishes rarely, and so when she does the expectations are always high. It is a pleasure to note that her new book, En kväll i oktober rodde jag ut på sjön (‘One evening in October I rowed out on the lake’), once again lives up to them.

Forsström’s poetry is simultaneously concrete and existential, rooted in attention to the everyday and open to symbolic readings. The highly-charged images in her poems mostly grow out of the sort of things that anyone can observe around them. More…

Coolness and warmth

21 April 2011 | Reviews

Bo Carpelan. Photo: Irmeli Jung

The coolness on the mountain
streams of water, black forests
in the west a growing light
foreboding sleep

These lines are from Gramina, the twenty-second and last collection of verse by the Finland-Swedish poet Bo Carpelan, which appeared last summer.

The short poem captures much of what was typical of Carpelan’s poetic style: a visually sharp and objective image which juxtaposes the world we see with a sense of something different, undefined. Time the unstoppable, which changes everything, was his central theme, and it also figures here.

Carpelan (1926–2011) made his debut in 1946 and was hailed early on as a renewer of the modernist tradition that in Finland began in the early 20th century with Edith Södergran (1892–1923) and Elmer Diktonius (1896–1961). He combined the Finnish-Swedish heritage of reflective nature poetry with imagistic stimuli from Swedish- and English-language modernism. More…

Going on a summer holiday

Issue 2/1995 | Archives online, Authors

As the setting of her first novel, Underbara kvinnor vid vatten (‘Wonderful women beside the water’), Monika Fagerholm has chosen the Finland-Swedish summer paradise, a group of summer cottages by the sea just outside Helsingfors. The portrayal of summer cottages is, as Fagerholm herself has pointed out, almost a genre within Finland-Swedish literature; writings on the subject include those of Tove Jansson and Johan Bargum. Summer-cottage life involves a return to the safe lucidity of childhood, while those who live all the rest of the year in a cramped
 city apartment understandably enough 
dream of the freedom that the sea and the sun represent. Above all, the life that is lived in summer is more whole, more full than anything that is experienced during the dark winter. More…

Reclaiming the body

Issue 3/1992 | Archives online, Authors

The work of Agneta Enckell is a good example of what happened in young Finland-Swedish writing during the 1980s. The developments that took place then have much in common with what had happened earlier in the rest of Scandinavia: the strong social and political interests which a large number of the writers had explored since the mid 1960s changed character and were supplemented by a critical scrutiny of language itself, and by an examination of the possibilities and limitations of literature as a form of communication.

In Finland the writers of the 1960s, led by the poet Claes Andersson, called into question the inheritance of Edith Södergran and the modernists of the 1920s, who at that time seemed to represent a tradition that was burdensome and limiting rather than living and productive in an Eliotian sense. More…