Author: Tuomas Juntunen

Happy days, sad days

28 February 2013 | Reviews

lehtonenPekka Tarkka
Joel Lehtonen II. Vuodet 1918–1934
[Joel Lehtonen II. The years 1918–1934]
Helsinki: Otava, 2012. 591 p., ill.
ISBN 978-951-1-25924-4
€38.50, hardback

A well-meaning bookseller’s idealism, inspired by Tolstoyan ideology, is brought crashing down by the laziness and ingratitude of the man hired to look after his estate: conflicts between the bourgeoisie and the ‘ordinary folk’ are played out in heart of the Finnish lakeside summer idyll in Savo province.

Taking place within a single day, the novel Putkinotko (an invented, onomatopoetic place name: ‘Hogweed Hollow’) is one of the most important classics of Finnish literature. Putkinotko was also the title of a series (1917–1920) of three prose works  – two novels and a collection of short stories  – sharing many of the same characters [here, a translation of ‘A happy day’ from Kuolleet omenapuut, ‘Dead apple trees’, 1918] .

In 1905 Joel Lehtonen bought a farmstead in Savo which he named Putkinotko: it became the place of inspiration for his writing. With an output that is both extensive and somewhat uneven, the reputation of Joel Lehtonen (1881–1934) rests largely on the merits of his Putkinotko, written between 1917 and 1920. More…

Riku Korhonen: Nuku lähelläni [Sleep close to me]

28 February 2013 | Mini reviews, Reviews

rkorhonenNuku lähelläni
[Sleep close to me]
Helsinki: WSOY, 2012. 300 p.
ISBN 978-951-0-39305-5
€29.90, hardback

Contrary to the more agreeable expectations that might be prompted by its title, this book is dominated by the image of a masked anarchist raising his hand in a cloud of teargas. Korhonen (born 1972) is an analyst of social problems who in his most recent novels has expanded his field of vision from the realities of suburban Finland to the global centres of money and power. This novel, his fifth book, offers a pessimistic picture of Europe today. The collapse of the economy has left people with an inner sense of emptiness and anger. A young man travels to a central European financial centre to collect his brother’s corpse. The dead man had a management level job in banking, but his body is discovered with an anti- globalisation protest mask on its face. Analysis of the world situation is combined with elements of a detective thriller. The novel’s love affair is likened to a business deal: capital, profit and risk are equated with desire, hope and sorrow. This anti-capitalist metaphor is a typical theme of contemporary Finnish prose fiction.
Translated by David McDuff


The ruins of civilisation

31 August 2012 | Authors, Reviews

Juha Seppälä. Photo: WSOY

The eponymous central character of Juha Seppälä’s new novel Mr. Smith (WSOY, 2012) is almost an omnipotent man who moves freely in time and space, from Tsarist Russia to contemporary Los Angeles. He claims that he is a ‘sovereign individual’; sovereignty and individuality are traits that Seppälä’s protagonists have always striven towards.

On the other hand, he also says that he is a ‘necessary evil’ fulfilling the role of a protagonist in a novel. His name refers to anyone and everyone; he is, in a way, a minimalist relic of an individual.

On one level there is the suggestion that he is the alter ego of his creator: the author’s surname refers to a smith (seppä). More…

Out of the body

13 January 2011 | Reviews

Veikko Huovinen. Photo: Irmeli Jung

‘Where will you be spending your eternity?’ ‘A spot of transmigration’, a short story by Veikko Huovinen (1927–2009), immediately confronts its main character, a man named Leevi Sytky, with this ultimate question.

Behind it is the sense of sin and fear of damnation typical of the religious life of northern Finland. Anyone who has made it as far as this final short story of Huovinen’s 1973 collection, Rasvamaksa (‘Fatty liver’) will, however, not make the mistake of taking the question too seriously; something diverting is clearly once again on offer.

Soon Leevi Sytky takes his leave of life in slightly sinful circumstances, but in the hereafter it turns out that these are not looked upon with disapproval. More…

A sweep is as lucky as lucky can be

27 August 2009 | Authors, Reviews

Photo: Ville Palonen

Jari Järvelä. Photo: Ville Palonen

The heroine of Jari Järvelä’s new novel begins telling the story of her life from inside an oven, beneath which a murderer is stoking a fire: a gripping start.

The reader of Mistä on mustat tytöt tehty? (‘What are black girls made of?’) has to wait until the end of the novel to find out what happens to the captive female chimney sweep, Katariina or ‘Rööri’ (‘Pipey’). In those moments in the oven, Pipey’s life flashes before her eyes.

In his previous novels, Jari Järvelä (born 1966) has concentrated on exploring people on the margins of Finnish history; rather than portraying the lives of significant figures, he chooses instead to depict everyday people and their day-to-day lives.

In his recent trilogy, Järvelä gave an account of the years between Finland’s independence in 1917 and the beginning of the Second World War. (The final part of this trilogy, Kansallismaisema [‘National landscape’, 2006] was featured in Books from Finland 4/2006). Since 1995 his output has included seven novels, collections of short stories and radio plays. More…

A hard day’s night

Issue 2/2008 | Archives online, Authors, Reviews

Arne Nevanlinna. Photo: Veikko Somerpuro/WSOY.

Arne Nevanlinna. Photo: Veikko Somerpuro/WSOY.

Marie Myhrborgh was born in Strasbourg on the last day of the 19th century. A hundred years later she is living her last days in a Finnish nursing home. Her mind wanders, searching for a vanished time in the landscapes of her childhood and her later life in Finland, where she was brought by a hasty marriage, formed amid the clamor of the First World War.

In his first novel Marie (WSOY, 2008) Arne Nevanlinna follows his protagonist’s associations and reminiscences, creating comic and ironic, as well as tragic parallels between the eras and the cultures that it describes.

With her marriage, Marie’s life as a Frenchwoman under the authority of the Germans changes to that of an outsider in the narrow social circles of the Finland-Swedish gentry, which her outsider’s eyes see in an ironic light. More…

In the Congo

Issue 4/2006 | Archives online, Authors, Reviews

During the 1930s the Finnish government planned to establish a number of work camps with the intention of turning young men into model servants of the fatherland through a regime of hard work and discipline. Jari Järvelä’s novel Kansallismaisema (‘National landscape’, Tammi, 2006) is set in the forests near the Russian border on a work camp for young offenders called the Congo. The principal aim of the camp is to socialise these boys through hard work and education, though there seems to be a somewhat military aspect to the project too; the year is 1938, and the rise of fascism and the threat of war are not far from anyone’s mind.

The central character Yrjö Pihlava, an antihero who in the past has worked as a logger and tried his hand at numerous other professions, is hired at the camp as a guard. He doesn’t appear to understand quite what is going on, and in this respect the reader is much wiser than he is. More…