Fools and devils

Issue 2/2007 | Archives online, Authors, Interviews, Reviews

Anneli Kanto.

Anneli Kanto. Photo: Gummerus/Milka Alanen

Witch trials began to be history in 17th century Finland, thanks to the arrival of the country’s first university and an enlightened Governor-general. A new novel by Anneli Kanto is in those times, with a wandering theatre troupe as its focus. Anna-Leena Ekroos talks to the author

Laurentius Petrus Bircalensis, a poor boy from a backwoods village, is accepted to study at the recently founded Åbo Academy, the first university in Finland, in the town of Åbo (known as Turku in Finnish). The young studiosus, greedy for money, is more interested in occult than in theological studies, and becomes charged with witchcraft. Desperate, Laurentius flees a death sentence to wander the countryside with the Comet theatre troupe.

Journalist, theatre critic and playwright Anneli Kanto’s mischievous and adventurous first novel Piru, kreivi, noita ja näyttelijä (‘The devil, the count, the witch and the actor’) takes us to 17th-century Finland, to the days of the Swedish Count Per (Petrus) Brahe, the Governor-General of Finland. At that time the eradication of the ignorance and superstition of the peasantry was beginning in earnest. More…

Classroom capers

30 December 2006 | Authors, Interviews

Timo Parvela

Timo Parvela

According to a celebrated 2003 report, Finnish schoolchildren emerged as world leaders in mathematics, science, literacy and problem-solving. In his books for children, the writer Timo Parvela, himself a former teacher, reveals a keen understanding of the mayhem that must lie behind such assessments. Interview by Anna-Leena Ekroos

Timo Parvela (born 1964) has received a particularly enthusiastic response to his Ella series for primary school-aged readers. Parvela has written picture books, CD-Rom scripts, books for young people and scripts for television and radio. His popular Ella series records the adventures of second-grader Ella and companions, including Pate, the headteacher’s son who’s fond of disguises, Tuukka, the young genius, Samppa, the copious weeper, and the pugnacious Buster. The gang of kids means well, but somehow, through misunderstandings, things always end in chaos. More…

Male parole

30 June 2006 | Authors, Interviews

Hannu Luntiala

Hannu Luntiala. Photo: Jukka Uotila

In his first collection of short stories Hannu Luntiala reinvents the form to examine the lives of 16 men. One story consists of just one long sentence; another is written in the made-up ‘Katalanian’ language; a third omits all the commas

A successful IT boss; a humble Greek Orthodox monk; an old man lying like a vegetable hooked up to a life-support machine. Hannu Luntiala’s collection of short stories presents us with sixteen men’s emotional landscapes. Entitled Hommes, the collection is the debut by Hannu Luntiala (born 1952).

Variety is to be found not only in the characters themselves, but in the language and style of each of Luntiala’s stories. For him language is an integral part of the story; it can open up new perspectives that a simple plot cannot. More…

A world of make-belief

Issue 1/2005 | Archives online, Authors, Interviews

Learning to be a grown-up, finding out what being happy can mean, working out what makes us different from each other: Monika Fagerholm (born 1961) talks to Pia Ingström about what lies behind her latest novel, Den amerikanska flickan (‘The American girl’)

A wood with muddy parts, a fen where someone drowned, an impossible house that broods on a dark secret, a gun – Monika Fagerholm’s new novel Den amerikanska flickan (‘The American girl’ Söderströms, 2004) is a thriller and a melodrama. It contains elements of humour, but it would be truer to call it creepy, tragic and irritating, all at the same time.

As in her previous novels, Underbara kvinnor vid vatten (1994, published in English as Wonderful Women by the Sea in 1997), and in Diva (‘The Diva’, 1998), Monika Fagerholm (born 1961) looks for unusual aspects of her characters’ emotions and relationships, with a focus on forces other than the cohesion that holds nuclear families together. The sense of place is also strong; in Underbara kvinnor vid vatten it was the archipelago, in Diva the suburb and the school – here it is the country, woods and fen, and local residents in an encounter with newcomers and summer visitors. More…

Lipstick memories

Issue 2/2004 | Archives online, Authors, Interviews

Hannu Väisänen has always used images from his childhood in his work as an artist, but now he has also recorded the life of his family in an autobiographical novel entitled Vanikan palat (‘Pieces of crispbread’), in which colours, smells and sounds paint a word-picture of 1950s Finland. Interview by Soila Lehtonen

Hannu Väisänen (born 1951) is a graphic artist and painter. His major projects have included illustrations for the Finnish national epic, the Kalevala, for an edition published in celebration of its 150th anniversary in 1999. He now lives in France, and his work has been shown in numerous European countries.

Mixing his colours himself, Väisänen aims for a state in which ‘even black would be a colour’. Characteristic of his art are two-dimensionality, the absence of perspective, ‘the sanctity of surface’, and a subject recurrent in his image, a seriality associated with numbers. He has also used literary subjects, including a serigraphy sequence on Rainer Maria Rilke’s Duino Elegies and a sequence of paintings about the Kaspar Hauser story. Väisänen has made art for churches, a television series about art classics, opera sets, and has written articles about art as well as a collection of poetry. More…

From Haifa to Helsinki

Issue 1/2004 | Archives online, Authors, Interviews, Reviews

Born into a Palestinian Christian family in Israel, the journalist Umayya Abu-Hanna has just published a prize-winning autobiographical novel – in Finnish. Here, she tells Anna-Leena Nissilä about life on the outside

In Haifa, Israel, in the 1960s and 1970s, a little girl whose wild, curly hair will not obey a comb is growing up. She is the oldest of three children in a Christian Palestinian family; her father is a rector and poet, her mother a pharmacist and a convinced feminist. Both are solidly leftwing. At home Arabic and English are spoken interchangeably; the children pick up Hebrew on the street. When their education at a Catholic convent begins, Italian and French are added to their languages. More…

Keeping the day job

30 September 2003 | Authors, Interviews

Matti Yrjänä Joensuu

Photo: Irmeli Jung

Finland’s most famous cop, Chief Superintendent Timo Harjunpää, is the fictional creation of another policeman, Matti Yrjänä Joensuu. The long-awaited eleventh novel in the Harjunpää series, Harjunpää ja pahan pappi (‘Harjunpää and the priest of evil’) appeared this autumn after a gap of a decade. Joensuu talks to Jarmo Papinniemi about crime, the creative process and the powers of darkness

Matti Yrjänä Joensuu (born 1948) is one of the best-known Finnish crime writers and is certainly one of the most respected. He writes novels about ordinary policemen and ordinary crimes; bleak tales of murder which do not pander to the reader with complicated plots, non-stop action or glamorous settings. Like the Swedish writers Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö or Henning Mankell, Joensuu’s narratives focus on social reality and expose the darker sides of society and the day-to-day misery and suffering which gives rise to crime. More…

Displaced persons

Issue 2/2002 | Archives online, Authors, Interviews

The novels of Asko Sahlberg (born 1964) have introduced a new kind of existential narrative cum thriller to Finnish literature. Interview (2002) by Markus Määttänen

Asko Sahlberg survived a real test of his skills as a writer in the year 2000 in the shape of his novel Eksyneet (‘The lost’). It almost killed him.

‘When I finally finished it, I went on a binge for about a month. A terrible depression, almost as if a child had died. Such a deep low that my private life, too, went to hell, and I split up with the Swedish woman I’d been living with. It was perhaps the most difficult process I’ve been through in my entire life. But it made a damn good book.’

Asko Sahlberg was the literary phenomenon of autumn 2000. A Finn who had lived the life of an outsider in Gothenburg, Sweden, for four years and had deliberately set out to be a writer gave voice to the Scandinavian darkness. More…

Landscapes of the minds

31 March 2001 | Authors, Interviews

Kristina Carlson

Kristina Carlson’s novel Maan ääreen (‘To the end of the earth’, 1999) tells the story of a young man who seeks to escape himself by travelling to the most distant corner of 19th-century Russia. Interview by Hildi Hawkins and Soila Lehtonen

BfF We’d like to begin by asking you about the setting of your novel. Most people think of 19th-century Siberia as the place to which the undesirables of the Russian empire were deported – one imagines it full of petty criminals, violent brigands and political dissidents. It comes as quite a surprise to find your Nahodka peopled by civilised Europeans busily engaged in building their futures, with impressive houses, women in pretty lace dresses, social occasions with champagne, orchestras and whist drives. Could you say something about what led you to choose this setting for your novel, and the real historical circumstances on which it’s based?

KC From my own point of view, Maan ääreen is not so much a historical novel as a novel set in a historical context. The difference, I believe, lies in the fact that the latter attempts – in a sense like scholarship – to cast light on the past from a new perspective. In my book, Siberia is above all the mental landscape of the main character, although it is also of course a real and existing place. More…

Into the animal kingdom

Issue 4/2000 | Archives online, Authors, Interviews, Reviews

In her first novel, Ennen päivänlaskua ei voi (‘Not before sundown’, Tammi, 2000), Johanna Sinisalo has developed a new science, that of trollology, discovering in the northern forests a new mammal species, the troll. The novel takes its readers into a world beyond taboo. where human beings may fall in love with non-human creatures – and mortal danger may ensue. Introduction and interview by Soila Lehtonen

There are still wild beasts in the forests of northern Europe. It is still not far from the cities to the forest -and the forest is no manicured parkland. where the mark of man is everywhere visible. A berry-picker may encounter a bear, a schoolchild see wolf-tracks in the snow. But the territory of wild creatures in shrinking, and it is becoming more difficult for them to find food; and so they are making inroads into the human landscape. There are a thousand bears in Finland, one for every five thousand people; more than one hundred licences to shoot bear were granted this autumn. More…

Epic labours

Issue 3/2000 | Archives online, Authors, Interviews

Kai Nieminen has translated the Finnish national epic, the Kalevala, from its ancient poetic Finnish into modern language. Anselm Hollo has in turn translated an extract of Nieminen’s version into English for Books from Finland; here the two poets and translators discuss the process by e-mail between Pemaja, on the south coast of Finland, and Colorado

Anselm Hollo: Why translate Finnish into Finnish?

Kai Nieminen: It may seem like an odd idea to translate from a language into the very same language, but as you, Anselm, may recall: a few years ago, I taught a workshop at a summer session of the department where you teach, the Writing and Poetics Program of Naropa University in Boulder, with the theme ‘Poetry as Translation of One’s Thoughts’. I started out with the notion that writing poetry – perhaps writing literary works in general really consists of translating personal recognitions into more generally recognizable utterance, recognizable even to oneself. Writing poetry, one translates one’s thoughts for oneself. In that workshop I had the students translate English into English, and they thought it was a good idea, an enlightening exercise, a way to learn to read texts in a new way. As a poet-cum-translator I have probably always done something like this when writing my own poems – and also while reading poems by others. Translation is a two-way process. Secondly: As a translator from Japa­nese, I have grown accustomed to the Japanese practice of equipping modern editions of classical literature with a translation into modern Japanese. The modern version is not meant to replace the original, it is a way of helping the reader to appreciate the original all the more – which is what I, too, aim at doing. More…

Compelled to write

30 June 2000 | Authors, Interviews

Kjell Westö

Photo: Marica Rosengård

Kjell Westö (born 1961) is one of a generation of younger, urban Swedish-language writers who are at home in both Swedish and Finnish. An extract from his novel Vådan av att vara Skrake (‘The perils of being Skrake’, Söderströms, 2000), which traces the fortunes of the Helsinki family of Skrake from the 1910s to the present day. Here, Westö is interviewed by his alter ego, the discontented poet Anders Hed, editor of the cultural journal Bokassa (now sadly extinct)

Anders Hed: So, to get us going: do you write any poetry at all nowadays?

Kjell Westö: No. The last poem I wrote comes at the end of the title story in Fallet Bruus (‘The Bruus case’). And that book came out in 1992.

It’s a poem about human face and the search for ‘the Thou’, isn’t it?

Exactly. More…

Short cuts

Issue 1/2000 | Archives online, Authors, Interviews, Reviews

‘For me, writing is an irrational and intuitive process’, says the young writer Tuuve Aro (born 1973). ‘I do not decide or plan in advance what I want to say; the text carries me onward as I go’.

Tuuve Aro strikes one as cheerful and intelligent, a self-assured and resolute young woman. She relates to her new role as an author just as naturally as she describes the genesis of her short-story collection Harmia lämpöpatterista (‘Trouble from the radiator’, Gummerus, 1999). For Aro, writing has long been a tool to figure herself and the world, but she has never felt the compulsion to gather her writings into a book. But when a certain sort of text had accumulated sufficiently, it was time to send the manuscript to a publisher. More…

Still lives

Issue 4/1999 | Archives online, Authors, Interviews, Reviews

The composition of Raija Siekkinen’s short stories is almost always the same: a woman, a man, slowly developing understanding or alienation, a resolution. In her new, book-length story, Se tapahtui täällä (‘It happened here’), the motivating events take place before the narrative begins, and the journey is toward emergence from grief.

‘One must listen to one’s own voice, and cultivate it. I am no moralist, except in the relation to myself. The persona and voice of the writer must be on the same lines, otherwise one cannot be honest, and writes only for entertainment. One has to live with what one writes,’ says Raija Siekkinen, rolling a cigarette at home in the small coastal town of Kotka, a 120 kilometres from Helsinki, near the church, in her picturesque wooden house. She says she was sensitive and shy as a child, but somehow realised that she had to defend her own words and manner. ‘And in literature honesty is one of the most essential things.’ More…


30 September 1999 | Authors, Interviews

Leena Krohn

Photo: Liisa Takala

In Leena Krohn’s novel, Pereat mundus (1998) the central role is played by a number of characters called Håkan. All of them are different, living in different times and different places, but they are still Everymans: you and me. In the following e-mail interview, Maria Säntti asks Krohn about her relationship with language, imagination, the world – and virtual reality

Date: Fri Jul 23 18:04:24 1999 To: Leena Krohn <> From: Maria Santti <> Subject: Let the interview begin!

Dear Leena,
I have just read Pereat mundus, which I like very much. I have many questions to ask you about it; I shall try to gather my thoughts, but I think I am troubled by the problem of the first sentence. I am alarmed even to contemplate the maze of questions and answers the first question will lead us to.

Over the past thirty years you have published a couple of dozen collections of poetry, short stories and essays, and, since Tainaron (1985), ‘novels, sort of’. This is how  Pereat mundus defines its own genre on its title page. Sometimes your works incline toward novels, as in Umbra, 1990, sometimes toward collections of short stories – Matemaattisia olioita ja jaettuja unia (‘Mathematical creatures and shared dreams’, 1992) and sometimes collections of essays – Rapina ja muita papereita (‘Rustle and other papers’, 1989). How did you find this open ‘epistolary novel’ form for your work? More…