Author: Suvi Ahola

Late developer

Issue 2/2001 | Archives online, Authors, Reviews

Sisko Istanmäki, 73, set out as a writer from a similar position to the Canadian Carol Shields: first, she lived an entire life as a wife and mother, and only in mature middle age was it the turn of her own writing. She herself remembers her beginnings as follows: ‘When I turned 60, one of my children brought me an electric typewriter as a present and asked me to write a novel.’

Although there is always something sad about a late debut, both Shields’ and Istanmäki’s works have demonstrated that good prose does not always take a great deal of practice. More…

A writer like himself

Issue 4/1998 | Archives online, Authors, Reviews

I first got to know Jari Tervo in the early 1980s, when we were both studying to be journalists at the same college. He had already, at that time, published a volume of poetry, but he did not seem to me in the least like a poet. No anaemic appearance, dark, floating hair or incipient beard. Instead, resolutely curly flaxen hair, a good deal of body mass, a grey jacket and funny boots.

Tervo became a good general reporter, particularly fond of the early morning shift on evening newspapers, the ones where you have to wake up at three in the morning. On those shifts you ring round the police stations and ask what criminal homicides have been committed during the night. Another common job is to wake a celebrity or politician up with an early morning call and demand a statement on some issue or another. More…

The personal is real

Issue 1/1994 | Archives online, Authors

It is never easy to be a writer, but it can be particularly difficult if you are forever thrusting weapons into your critics’ hands. A writer who mixes and interleaves her literary texts with her own life is very vulnerable to both literary and other criticism.

Anja Kauranen (born 1954) is precisely this kind of writer. The characters and events of ali her seven prose works have clear connections with Kauranen’s own life, her Helsinki childhood, her Karelian family background, her sporting youth, her personal losses. She is not ashamed to allow herself to be interviewed by women’s magazines on subjects including, for example, boxing. She writes magazine columns on feminism and television programmes and took part enthusiastically in the debates over this winter’s presidential elections.

She is a talkative, lively and good-looking woman. This merely increases the burden she has to bear: if Kauranen writes about sex, it must be based on her own experiences. That is what was thought when her first novel, Sonja O. kävi täällä (‘Sonja O. was here’) was published in 1981. The newspaper reviews of the time consistently confused the novel’s writer with its narrator, a literature student who collected experiences and men. It was a young women’s odyssey and Entwicklungsroman which also attempted to analyse the arrival of feminism in Finland, in the midst of the extreme left-wing student movement of the 1970s. More…

Towards the empty page

Issue 3/1991 | Archives online, Authors

This autumn, a Japanese-made animated series about the inhabitants of Moomin valley will be seen on television screens across Europe and the United States; a range of merchandise including Moomin ice-cream, biscuits, back-packs and mugs is already available. As Moomin Valley goes commercial, Suvi Ahola examines in her essay the psychoses, sexual ambiguity and concern for personal freedom that lie at the heart of Tove Jansson’s children’s books

A quiet Sunday afternoon, some time in the first decade of this century, in one of the massive, handsome art nouveau tenement blocks of the Katajanokka district of Helsinki.

On the second floor of Luotsikatu Street 4 B two children are playing. The girl, two years older, advises her friend, a little boy, how to walk across the pile carpet in such a way that the snakes in the pattern won’t get him. Clutching a large handkerchief, the boy advances across the carpet in tiny steps, arms outstretched. The carpet’s brown garlands – the snakes – begin to writhe voraciously. Try and jump, the girl shouts. More…

Lady into Bird

Issue 1/1991 | Archives online, Authors

One of the ways in which the comparative youth of Finland’s culture makes itself felt is in the fact that there is never any great distance between low and high culture. Finnish literature has always naturally mixed popular and high art elements: in dealing with the themes and traumas that define the national consciousness, it has proved possible to use folk tales, pop songs or jokes as a distancing mechanism.

The work of Aulikki Oksanen is characterised by just this kind of mix. She is not only a writer: since her literary debut in 1966, she has also been well-known for her work as an actress, a singer of radical political songs, and for her illustrations of her own children’s books.

Oksanen’s interest in the world of folk tales and myths, and their modern equivalents, popular song and cinema, can be partly explained by her generation and its political consciousness. Appearing in politically engaged plays and films, writing and singing political songs, Oksanen (born 1944) was one of the most prominent figures in the Finnish cultural life of the Sixties. More…

Real lives

Issue 1/1990 | Archives online, Authors, Reviews

Finnish literature rests largely on a realist tradition. Literature has been valued most when it gives a faithful description of the world. Realistic descriptions of people and nature gradually gave way to social realism, which in turn developed into psychological realism, currently the major trend; sometimes a tiring one. Contemporary Finnish literature overflows with portraits of relationships, family hells and Bildungsromanen, most of them scarcely indistinguishable from one another.

Psychological realism is at its most interesting when it has a social dimension. When – according to the realist tradition – it also deals with its own time, human conditions and ideals, or their absence. The work of Annika Idström (born 1947) has always included this dimension. It may be the main reason for the passion her books provoke, and for their undisputed importance contemporary Finnish literature. More…