30 August 2013 | Fiction, Prose

An extract from the novel För många länder sedan (‘Many lands ago’ Schildts & Söderströms, 2013; Finnish edition: Monta maata sitten; Otava, 2013). Introduction by Pia Ingström

‘I assume your father wanted you to become a doctor?’ asked Igor at the beginning of our life together. My parents did indeed want me to become a doctor. Not a pathologist, but a general practitioner. I became an art historian instead. There was a time when my area of research aroused curiosity in Igor.

‘Why Piranesi?’ he wondered.

‘As a child I devoured classic novels about pale, emaciated families living in a cellar,’ I explained jokingly. ‘I became interested in catacombs and vaults. That’s why I wanted to study the history of drawing.’

I’ve always had a fascination for underground spaces. I’m drawn to them like a homing missile. This interest of mine must have genetic roots. My mother was born in a bomb shelter during the first German air raid over Leningrad. More…

Picture this

2 May 2013 | Fiction, Prose

MarjorieAccompanied by one or two sentences of the most gnomic kind, architect Mikko Metsähonkala’s illustrations speak volumes. The picture-stories in his book Toisaalta / (P)å andra sidan / In Other Wor(l)ds blend the real and the surreal using fairy tales, references to historical or fictional characters and episodes from everyday life.
(The Finnish composer Lauri Supponen was inspired by Metsähonkala’s ‘humaphone’ – see below –, and his composition The Dordrecht Humaphone was first performed at the Cheltenham Festival, England, in 2012, to favourable reviews.) More…

Can’t say it’s not spring

18 April 2013 | Fiction, Prose

Short prose from Mahdottomuuksien rajoissa. Matkakirja (‘In the realm of impossibility. A travel book’, Teos, 2013). Texts by Katri Tapola, illustrations by Virpi Talvitie. Interview by Anna-Leena Ekroos

The first try

Illustration: Virpi Talvitie

A reader doesn’t have to understand anything on the first try. You can always put a book aside and see if the second read will help. If the second, third, fourth, or even fifth read doesn’t help, that’s still all right. What is this constant compulsion to understand everything? There’s nothing wrong with not understanding – on the contrary, it is precisely the state of baffled befuddlement that hides the hope of light within it. I can’t understand any of this! I’m having fun! the reader happily exclaims, and goes on with his life, eyes overflowing with light. More…

The three-minute redemption

28 March 2013 | Fiction, Prose

Artist and writer Hannu Väisänen’s alter ego, Antero – who has appeared in Väisänen’s earlier autobiographical novels – is a young artist in his new novel Taivaanvartijat (‘The guardians of heaven’, Otava, 2013). Antero is invited to create the altarpiece for a new church. He rejects conventional, ecclesiastical ‘Sunday art’ and uses  simple and versatile everyday symbols; his design contains an ordinary Finnish door key, familiar to everybody. The clergymen and laywomen are appalled: is this art, is it appropriate? In this extract the frustrated Antero takes a therapeutic break – on a roller-coaster

Now I need to get another beat into my head. What can help me forget those morose, curled up creatures, their strange commands and scents? I remember the roller-coaster. And I remember the ancient lore that it’s good to ride the roller-coaster with a lover before you attempt anything else. I go home quickly, throw down my sketch-book and my unnecessarily businesslike briefcase, exchange my suit, which was supposed to indicate devotion, for a windcheater, arrange my hair more carelessly, get on my bike and cycle to the funfair where I know the roller-coaster, the genuine, real, old-fashioned, clanking roller-coaster, to be.

Who could have been the first person to imagine the delights of the roller-coaster? Into whose happy capacity for daydreaming did it fall? Who saw those massive iron tentacles in their figure-eight shapes, those stretched and knotted rings of eternal joy? Who understood that on such a ride shame and anxiety would fall out of one’s pockets? It’s claimed that the first roller-coaster was invented by Catherine the Great. The monarch, with her multifarious patronage of culture, commissioned in Oranienbaum, St Petersburg, the first Montagne Russe amid the amusements of the wise: a Russian mountain with its ice-paths, raised into the air, which melted with the coming of spring. Who else could understand this organ-stirring amusement as deeply as the Great Wife with her hundreds of lovers. In the grip of mortal fear, I too always pray: before I am laid in earth, before the crematorium’s oven, take me once more to the roller-coaster. More…

Me and my shadow

7 March 2013 | Fiction, Prose

Hotel Sapiens is a place where people are made to take refuge from the world that no longer is habitable to them; the world economy has fallen – like the House of Usher, in Edgar Allan Poe’s story – and with it, most of what is called a civilised society. A rapid synthetic evolution has taken humankind by surprise, and the world is now governed by inhuman entities called the Guardians. ‘Kuin astuisitte aurinkoon’ (‘As if stepping into the sun’) is a chapter from the novel Hotel Sapiens ja muita irrationaalisia kertomuksia (‘Hotel Sapiens and other irrational tales’, Teos, 2012), where several narrators tell their stories

The fog banks have dissipated; the sky is empty. I cannot see the sails or swells in its heights, nor the golden cathedrals or teetering towers. I would not have believed I could miss a fog bank, but that’s exactly what it’s like: its disappearance is making me uneasy. For all its flimsiness and perforations it was our protection, our shield against the sun’s fire and the stars’ stings. Now the relentlessly blazing sun has awakened colours and extracted shadows from their hiding places. The moist warmth has dried into heat and the Flower Seller’s herb spirals have dried up into skeletons. The leaves on the trees are full of bronze, sickly red and black spots. Though there is no wind and autumn is not yet here, they come loose as if of their own volition, as if they wanted to die.

This morning, as I was strolling up and down the park path as usual, I saw another shadow alongside my own.

– Ah, you’re back! I said. – I wondered what had happened to you after you lost your shadow; how did you manage to change into your own shadow yourself? More…

Genuine beauty

14 February 2013 | Fiction, Prose

Erään ihailijan päiväkirjasta (‘From the diary of an admirer’), a story published in the collection of short prose Taskunovellit (‘Pocket stories’, edited by Vilja-Tuulia Huotarinen; Karisto, 2013)

Dear Diary, I have met a wonderful man. He is tender, handsome and clever. It is a real piece of luck that fate didn’t throw us together until now: I’m embarrassed at the very thought that he might have seen me a couple of years ago, as an immature and childish sixth-former. His name is Petri Tamminen and he’s a writer. Writers are gorgeous. Not all of them, of course, some of them think too much of themselves and appear e.g. on television, but Petri is gorgeous.

Dear Diary, he has shown me the road to a new world: we went to the Åland islands. Petri doesn’t like Helsinki, he wants to get away from the beaten track of everyday life. The sun sank into the horizon at Eckerö, and my soul floated up into the summer night. This is love. In the morning, in the hotel bed, he recited a poem for me. I have read all his novels and I know that one day they will receive the recognition they deserve, but in his deepest self he is a poet.

Dear Diary, we went fishing. Petri caught a sea-trout. It was enormous. He gathered herbs from a shoreline meadow, seasoned the fish and baked it over the embers. We ate with our fingers, fed each other. Delicious. Certain much weaker chefs try to make their names by preparing food e.g. on television. Losers. More…

Crème de la crème

31 January 2013 | Fiction, Prose

Such straining and pasteurising is going on in the city that Arabs and other Muslims, the unemployed, drunkards, poor people and lunatics have been eliminated. By chance I became a cultural figure, and I was invited to a cultural evening whose invitation had been personally written by the Anarchist. At the restaurant table sat the Anarchist, the Psychoanalyst and the Psychologist’s boyfriend, 20 years younger, the Journalist, the Gift-Shop Owner, a Librarian and the Deputy Rector of a community college. Accompanying me to the restaurant, too, were the Wolf and the Deer, who hadn’t been invited. Sparse white fur grew on the Wolf’s narrow muzzle and there were teeth missing from his mouth. The Deer was beautiful, with huge eyes. And of course both of them were drunk. I asked them to come along because I believed that intellectuals are warm-hearted and open-minded. A really dumb idea. More…

The mighty word

15 November 2012 | Fiction, Prose

 ‘Mahtisana’, a short story from the collection Lapsia (‘Children’, 1895). Introduction by Mervi Kantokorpi

Mother and Dad hadn’t said a single word to each other since lunchtime. The children, Maija and Iikka, were quiet, too. They sat apart, Iikka on the chair at the end of the sofa, where he could see the moon through the window, and Maija next to the window looking out on the street, where children moved about on skis and sleds. They didn’t dare make a sound, not even a whisper to ask for permission to go outside. It had been so quiet all that Sunday evening that when Mother spoke, encouraging them to go out and play, both of them nearly jumped.

They left without saying a word, Maija creeping quite silently. Even out in the courtyard she and Iikka still spoke in whispers as they decided which hill to go to. They didn’t really want to go anywhere, but when they came out to the street and could hear the happy shouts of children from every direction, it refreshed their spirits. Maija sat Iikka down on the sled and set off at a run, pulling him behind her. She felt as if her gloomy mood was falling away in pieces to be trampled underfoot.

A few streets down there was a large crowd of boys on the corner. They decided to go and see what was happening. More…

Money makes the world go round

31 August 2012 | Fiction, Prose

Extracts from the novel Mr. Smith (WSOY, 2012). Introduction by Tuomas Juntunen

I have a confession to make.

I couldn’t have lived on my salary. Most people would solve this by taking out a loan, living on credit. I’ve never lived in debt. Instead I’ve had to make my modest capital grow by investing it – through the company, of course, because irrespective of their colour governments generally understand companies better than small investors. You have to make money somewhere other than the Social Security Office.

Work doesn’t make money; money makes money.

You have to let money do the work.

This is nothing short of a profound human tragedy: most people are forced to waste the majority of their lives, to use it in the service of complete strangers, for unknown purposes, doing something for money that they would never do if they didn’t have to. The most shocking thing is that people actively seek out this state of affairs, strive towards it; it is a goal towards which society lends us its full support, no less.

Such wage slavery is called ‘work’. More…

The Hunter King

9 August 2012 | Fiction, Prose

A story from the collection of fiction and non-fiction, Salattuja voimia (‘Hidden powers’, Teos, 2012)

And just as Gran Paradiso is the highest peak in unified Italy, the only mountain whose rugged, perpetually snow-capped summit reaches a height of over thirteen thousand feet (there are rumours that, on a clear day, you can see the peaks of both Mont Blanc and the Matterhorn from the top), so we know that the largest and most splendid mountain creature throughout Europe is the ibex, which grazes on the slopes of Gran Paradiso – the ibex, the alpine goat, the distant ancestor and modern-day cousin of our own homely goat, the French bouquetin and the German Steinbock.

The male ibex can be the size of a foal, about three feet tall, and its curved horns, like Oriental daggers decorated with rippling patterns, can grow to reach the same length as the creature’s own height. Local folklore tells us that, in the olden days when the mists of the distant Ice Age still hung heavy in the gullies of Valle d’Aosta and Valle d’Orso, herds of ibexes could still be seen further down the mountain slopes, but because the ibex loves the cooling mountain winds and values the cold, which keeps predators from the valleys at bay, they moved up to the most inhospitable terrain and made it their home.

But there was one beast that followed the ibex up these paths, sowing fear and causing death and destruction – and that beast was man. More…

Pop song lyrics

14 June 2012 | Fiction, Prose

A ‘short special’: a previously unpublished text (written in the 1960s) from Luonnonkierto (‘Nature’s circle’, Siltala, 2012). Introduction by Jarmo Papinniemi

The pop song is a wide, mysterious world. It is like an ocean. Like a snow-covered desert. Like a rose garden. Like a perfume factory. The pop song is as mysterious as spring. The pop song is as whimsical as the restroom of the city hotel in Samarkand. The pop song is as coarse as your father’s eldest brother. Pop songs snag everyone, especially the young and the old. The best pop songs are foreign, because the words make no sense. Pop stars rise into the sky. Lovely young women step into the arena smelling of perfume and sing about love or tell playful stories about animals or nursery rooms. And then on the other end of life the stars go out and start to look for a place to be buried. But before dying they drone on in their gruff voices about the temptations of the big city, and love, which in a certain sense tortured and wore out those concerned…

Up here in Finland, we write and set pop songs to music as well. But I have to say that they aren’t any good. We also translate and water down a lot of foreign hits as well. Well, of course they’re all popular and people hum them in parishes in the city and in the country, but from a critical perspective they stink. Usually the weak point of a pop song is its execrable lyrics. More…

Temporarily out of order

10 May 2012 | Fiction, Prose

Extracts from the novel Hullu (‘The lunatic’, Teos, 2012). Introduction by Soila Lehtonen

I found myself standing in front of the noticeboard. The rules were on a sheet of paper:

Ward 15 5-C

Breakfast 8:00 AM
Lunch 11:45 AM
Dinner 4:30 PM
Evening Snack 7:30 PM
After lunch
We recommend leaving money, valuables, and bankbooks for storage in the ward valuables locker. We take no responsibility for items not left in the locker! Money may be retrieved 1–3 times per day. Use of mobile phones on the ward by arrangement.
M–F 2–7 PM
Sa–Su 12–7 PM
Use of one’s own clothing by individual arrangement. Clothing care individual. Washer and dryer available for use in the evenings after 6 PM.
Arranged individually according to health condition. Outdoor pass does not include the right to leave the area.
Vacations arranged during morning report, according to health condition.
Smoking is only allowed on the smoking balcony! Smoking prohibited from 11 PM to 6 AM.
Pastor Karvonen available by appointment.

These were impossibly difficult rules. I read them through three times and simply did not understand. ‘Clothing care individual.’ ‘Outdoor pass does not include the right to leave the area.’

What did these sentences mean? With whom did you schedule the pastor and how? And why? More…

Fight Club

16 April 2012 | Fiction, Prose

A short story from Himokone (‘Lust machine’, WSOY, 2012). Interview by Anna-Leena Ekroos

Karoliina wondered whether her name was suitable for a famous poet.

Her first name was alright – four syllables, and a bit old-fashioned. But Järvi didn’t inspire any passion. Should she change her name before her first collection came out? Was there still time? She had four months until September.

Even if The flower of my secret was the name of some old movie, Karoliina clung to the title she’d chosen. It described the book’s multifaceted, erotically-tinged sensory world and the essential place of nature in the poems. Karoliina loved to take long walks in the woods. Sometimes she talked to the trees.

She had been meeting new people. At the writer’s evening organised by her publisher, she’d been seated next to Märta Fagerlund, in the flesh. Karoliina had read Fagerlund’s poems since her teens, and seen her charisma light up the stage on cultural television shows.

At first Karoliina couldn’t get a word out of her mouth. She just blushed and dripped gravy on her lap. But the longer the evening went on, the more ordinary Märta seemed. She was even calling her Märta, and telling her about a new friend on Facebook who said how ‘awfully funny’ Märta was. In fact, the squeaky-voiced Märta, with her enthusiasm for Greece, was a bit dry, and, after three glasses of white wine, tedious. But Karoliina never mentioned it to anyone, because she wasn’t a spiteful person. More…

Autumn’s child

17 November 2011 | Fiction, Prose

Extracts from Bo Carpelan’s novel Blad ur höstens arkiv. Tomas Skarfelts anteckningar (‘Leaves from autumn’s archive. The notes of Tomas Skarfelt’). Introduction by Clas Zilliacus

When I took my first walk here in Udda, along the road down to the end of the bay, my legs wanted to go left up to the forest, while I strove to walk straight ahead. It was an unsteadiness reminiscent of being slightly drunk. A slight vertigo I have already noticed before. Trees soughed through me and the water of the bay tasted almost like salt on my lips. All sorts of things try to pass straight through me nowadays. I am becoming a general store. The few people I know go there and choose, and I try to sell. Most of it is old memories with attendant dust. They are in no chronological order at all, and make involuntary, rapid leaps, like kangaroos. Even when I went to school they hopped around. They forced me to learn my lessons by heart. They continued to skip over me at university and added an extra complexity to my studies in general history: concentrate of reign lengths.

And if I followed my legs and gave not a damn about my dead straight road? Digressions from what was planned provided me later on with my best experiences, and coincidences were grains of gold. Improvisations were lucky throws, or disasters. Afterwards came the restrictions, the constructions, the architecture. Now only that squared-paper notebook remains with its pitfalls. The uncertainty is sometimes imperceptible, but is there: Am I not superfluous? Are not my legs somewhat irrational? More…

The joy of work

24 October 2011 | Fiction, Prose

Short prose from Sivullisia (‘Outsiders’, Like, 2011). Introduction by Teppo Kulmala

Since I’ve been unemployed, I started a blog called Outsiders. It soon came to serve as work, and I became dependent on its benefits. Although describing being an outsider helped to anaesthetise me, and verbalising all of my afternoons didn’t even take up all my time, the feedback that came in was reward enough. I wouldn’t have taken any other reimbursement anyway because of the restrictions set on recipients of government benefits. Increasingly frequently I found myself longing for more. Even a short blog comment about being an outsider felt even truer than what I with my self-employed, jobless person’s competence was able to achieve in relation to being sidelined as an unemployed person, regardless of what kind of manager I had been in my previous life. When asking for more accounts of other people’s well-being, I wanted them to use their own names. I justified this because I did not want to read lies, which often come from and lead to chatter in cafés and on the web. Apart from the pure enjoyment of being present, using one’s own name – even in wrong-headed topics or notions – makes it easier to approach the harsh laws of the working world. When one knows that by using one’s own signature one is dragging one’s family into the mire, including those who have gone before and those yet to come, one is able to blaze trails along which one can outflank the passive to activate another, equally unemployed. I did not place any further requirements on the other commenters besides first name and surname, as the rules had been drawn up by professionals in their own field. The regulator’s work also requires skill, if not a tremendous craving, for damming up another flood of text so that one’s own advantages do not have a chance to dry up. To facilitate reading for myself and others, I introduced only a couple of restrictions, which I imagined that I, too, would be able to adhere to. Only one side of a sheet of A4 was to be used – that is, one page – and what people wrote had to be true. Truth, beauty and quality ensured that everyone would begin what they had to say by writing about their current work. More stories, anecdotes, even poems piled up than the law permits me to read – much less compile – during working hours. For this book I have selected only 157 stories from the Greater Helsinki area for the sake of efficiency. The faster you can read the work, the less time it will distract you from your main job. I chose to limit things to the capital area so that the stories about well-being from individuals linked to this place would seem to form a more integral work, or document at least, about what was happening in the Big H, the centre of the nation, at the start of the millennium. I will publish the tales of work from beyond the outer ring road at some later stage, if I manage to come to an agreement with the writers concerning intellectual property rights. More…