Back in the USSR

3 October 2011 | Fiction, Prose

Extracts from Rosa Liksom’s novel Hytti nro 6 (‘Compartment no 6’, WSOY, 2011). Review by Mervi Kantokorpi

Moscow hunched itself in the dry, frosty March night, protecting itself from the touch of the icy red sun as it set. The girl entered the train’s last sleeping carriage, found her compartment, compartment number six, and breathed deeply. There were four beds in the compartment, the upper ones folded agains the wall, while between the beds was a small table, on the table a white table cloth and a plastic flower vase containing a bunch of pink paper carnations, faded by time; the shelf above the end of the bed was full of large, untidily secured parcels. The girl shoved her modest old suitcase, the one she had got from Zahar, into the metal luggage space under the hard, narrow bed; her small backpack she threw on the bed. When the station bell sounded for the first time, the girl went to stand by the corridor window. She breathed in the scent of the train, iron, coal-dust, the smells left behind by dozens of cities and thousands of people. Travellers and those who had come to see them off pushed past her, shoving her with their cases and parcels. The girl touched the cold window with her hand and looked at the platform. This train would take her through villages inhabited by deportees, through the open and closed towns of Siberia to the capital of Mongolia, Ulan Bator. More…

Notes for an unwritten autobiography

15 September 2011 | Fiction, Prose

Extracts from the novel William N. Päiväkirja (‘William N. Diary’, Otava, 2011). Interview by Soila Lehtonen

Paris, 15 November 1897

Constance probably bought this notebook for housekeeping purposes, but forgot it when she left, so I shall take it for my use, and I am not going to tear a single page, because the paper is of good quality and the covers are made of calico. When I write in a small hand there is plenty of room for the text, and when I write in Swedish Constance will not understand, if she chances to see the notebook. She has promised to visit once or twice a week and continue to bring food and do the cleaning (we cleared up the differences of opinion that were related to her departure), even though she has now moved and married a retired officer, having been my housekeeper for nearly 30 years. The laundry she has delegated to Madame L., who lives in this house, although that lady is intolerably nosy and talkative, and she has six smutty children. I have decided to write my autobiography, so that posterity shall receive a full and proper impression of my work. (Let Prof. Schwendener from Berlin and Dr Louis Pasteur be content with minor roles!) I shall not begin until tomorrow, for today I intend to study the specimens of South American lichens Prof. D. has sent if there is enough daylight. More…

L’Amour à la Moulin Rouge

30 June 2011 | Fiction, Prose

Extracts from the novella Yksin (‘Alone’, 1890). Introduction by Jyrki Nummi

After dining at the Duval on the Left Bank I take the same route back and drop in at the Café Régence to flick through the Finnish papers they have there.

I find my familiar café almost empty. The waiters are hanging about idly, and the billiard tables are quiet under their covers. The habitués are of course at home with their families. Anyone who has a friend or acquaintance is sharing their company this Christmas Eve. Only a few elderly gentlemen are seated there, reading papers and smoking pipes. Perhaps they’re foreigners, perhaps people for whom the café is their only home, as for me.

A little way off at the other end of the same table is a somewhat younger man. He was there when I came in. He’s finished his coffee and appears to be waiting. He’s restless and keeps consulting his watch. An agreed time has obviously passed. He calms himself and lights a cigarette. A moment later I can see a woman through the glass door. She’s hurrying across the street in front of a moving bus and running straight here. Now the man notices her too, and he cheers up and signals to the waiter for the bill. The woman slips through the door and goes straight across to him. They altercate for a moment, come to an understanding and depart hand in hand. More…

The storm

1 June 2011 | Fiction, Prose

From the collection of short stories Tvåsamhet (‘Two alone’, Söderströms, 2005). Introduction by Tiia Strandén

A storm blows up during the night. As he lies in bed, not yet asleep, just lingering on the brink of falling, in that soft yet sensitive state where sounds seem to grow and get bigger, he can hear the clattering, hissing sound of the wind coming up out there and sweeping up everything not fastened down, capable of being put in motion. It scrapes against the roof and window, loosens leaves and pine needles which scud across the ground, and it whistles and whines round the chimney and the windows, and it even beats against the shed door, which Dad must have forgotten to shut properly before he came in. Before he stamped the mud off his boots in the front hall. Before he had a chance to pull the front door shut firmly as well, because Joakim can hear how he brings the storm into the hall with him, and it sweeps through the kitchen faster than he ever could have imagined. Joakim shuts his eyes tighter, even though he is no longer really awake, and he hears the powerful gust flap past Dad, who is still standing with his hand on the door handle, and then Mum starts shouting because the wind is slamming into the furniture and making dishes crash to the floor and making pots and pans do the same. When Dad starts shouting as well, Joakim lets go of the last little bit of wakefulness and lets himself sink down into the cradle of dreams to be carried along until the morning. It is the sun that wakes him, or maybe the sound of the telephone, because he wakes up just as it rings, but in any case it has stopped blowing, and the branches of the big lilac bush outside the window are completely still. More…

We are the champions

25 March 2011 | Prose

Heroes are still in demand, in sports at least. In his new book author Tuomas Kyrö examines the glorious past and the slightly less glorious present of Finnish sports – as well as the meaning of sports in the contemporary world where it is ‘indispensable for the preservation of nation states’. And he poses a knotty question: what is the difference, in the end, between sports and arts? Are they merely two forms of entertainment?

Extracts from Urheilukirja (‘The book about sports’, WSOY, 2011; see also Mielensäpahoittaja [‘Taking offence’])

The whole idea of Finland has been sold to us based on Hannes Kolehmainen ‘running Finland onto the world map’. [c. 1912–1922; four Olympic gold medals]. Our existence has been defined by how we are known abroad. Sport, [the Nobel Prize -winning author] F. E. Sillanpää, forestry, [Ms Universe] Armi Kuusela, [another runner] Lasse Viren, Nokia, [rock bands] HIM and Lordi, Martti Ahtisaari.

The purpose of sport at the grass-roots level has been to tend to the health of the nation and at a higher level to take our boys out into the world to beat all the other countries’ boys. We may not know how to talk, but our running endurance is all the better for it. However, the most important message was directed inwards, at our self image: we are the best even though we’re poor; we can endure more than the rest. Finnish success during the interwar period projected an image of a healthy, tenacious and competitive nation; political division meant division into good and bad, the right-minded and traitors to the fatherland. More…

Do you remember the yellow house?

14 February 2011 | Fiction, Prose

Extracts from the novel Enkelten kirja (‘The book of angels’, Tammi, 2010)

[Tallinn, summer] The past will not go away

and the present is insurmountable. Summer vacation has begun, the newspaper hasn’t come; it doesn’t get delivered here anyway. Can you remember the Isabelline yellow house? Remember the alley with the name that means hurry? Surely you remember the home with all the maps on the shelves, the important papers and the brass objects bought from nearby antique dealers? Also the rugs from North Africa and the obligatory cedar camel figurines on the windowsill. And so many glasses and plates and empty lighters in a cardboard box on the shelf on the left hand side of the kitchen.

Tallinn, June 7th. The floors creak. One step has split in half; some of the lights have burned out. This is a lovely home. A small window upstairs is ajar to the courtyard. Tuomas had latched it behind the Virginia creepers. The fountain in the courtyard is dry. On cold nights the smoke from the fireplace grows like a statue for the crows until it wraps around over the layered rooftops like a snake eating its tail. Russian men are repairing the attic of the house across the street for wealthy people to live in; they laugh in front of the window and smoke. Tuomas waves at them, and they wave back. The courtyard is creepy when it’s empty. Soon the neighbours would go about their day and quietly close their doors behind them, and two nearby churches would divide the hours into quarters, Russians and their gossip would make their way to the Alexander Nevski Cathedral, and the Estonians and their gossip would go to their own churches where a wise and peculiar, almost human scent would rise from between the headstones. Tuomas wouldn’t smell it, Aino would and would move to stand beneath the the center tower. More…

A spot of transmigration

13 January 2011 | Fiction, Prose

A short story, ‘Sielunvaellusta’, from the collection Rasvamaksa (‘Fatty liver’, WSOY, 1973)

‘Where will you be spending Eternity?’ a roadside poster demanded as Leevi Sytky sped by in his car.

‘Hadn’t really thought about it,’ Leevi muttered , as if in reply, and lit a cigarette.

But at the next level crossing, a kilometre or so further on, he was run down by a train, whose approach he had failed to notice. His attention had been distracted by the sight of a young woman who was picking black currants by the side of the track, and who happened to be bending forward in his direction. Intent on obtaining a better view of her ample bosom by peering over the top of her blouse, Leevi neglected to look both ways, and death ensued. Damned annoying, to say the least.

In due course he secured an interview with God, who turned out to be a biggish chap, about a hundred metres tall, wearing thigh-boots and sitting behind a large desk.

‘Well, and how’s Leevi Sytky getting along?’ God asked, lighting his pipe.

‘Mustn’t grumble,’ said Leevi politely.

‘And how are you thinking of spending Eternity?’ God inquired, sucking at his pipe and puffing out his cheeks. More…

‘Joy and peace prevail…’

25 December 2010 | Fiction, Prose

Dear readers,

to celebrate the change of the year we publish an extract from Aleksis Kivi’s 1870 classic novel, Seitsemän veljestä (Seven Brothers), translated by David Barrett, and a bit of a classic of our own too: it’s a nostalgic glimpse of a Finnish Christmas spent in a humble cottage inhabited, in addition to the eponymous seven brothers, a horse, cat, cockerel and two dogs (at least). Enjoy!

Soila Lehtonen & Hildi Hawkins & Leena Lahti

On a festive night

It is Christmas Eve. The weather has been mild, grey clouds fill the sky, hills and valleys are covered with the snow that has only recently begun to fall. The forest gives out a gentle murmur, the grouse goes to roost in the catkined birch, a flock of waxwings descends on the reddening rowan, while the magpie, daughter of the pine-wood, carries twigs for her future nest. More…

The guest event

12 November 2010 | Fiction, Prose

A short story from Vattnen (‘Waters’, Söderströms, 2010)

It was a lagoon. The water was not like out at sea, not a turquoise dream with white vacation trimming on the crests of the waves. This water was completely still and strange, brown yet clear, sepia and umber, perhaps cinnamon, possibly cigar with the finest flakes of finest wrapper. Clean. This water of meetings was clear and clean in a non-platonic, remarkably earthbound way.

Sediment and humus, humus floating about in the morning sun.

It felt comforting, as if the water didn’t repel the foreign bodies as a matter of course, didn’t immediately suppress the other particles and sanctimoniously hasten to force anything that wasn’t water, anything that could be interpreted as pollution and encroachment, down to the bottom and let it dissolve and die all by itself. This water sang its earth-brown song of unity without thereby becoming any less water than water-water was.

Helena felt cold. More…

I am me

30 September 2010 | Fiction, Prose

Extracts from the novel Poikakirja (‘The boy’s own book’, Otava, 2010). Introduction by Mervi Kantokorpi

It’s a small day in spring. Another name for the lark is the skylark. You can only see them sometimes, and even then they’re so high up in the sky that they swoop like fast-moving dots.

The kitchen windowpane is rippling with stripes. The window has a bottom, and at the bottom there is some cotton wool and two opened matchboxes, a blue Sampo and a picture of an army chaplain in his uniform and insignia. As spring has progressed the cotton wool at the bottom has turned into wet blobs and the matches will never light again, as they’ve sucked up the winter frost from the glass.

Most children are made at home but not us, says Eini during walking practice. Outi shoves her, tells her to be quiet and walk in rhythm. I’m behind the table reading the Children’s Encyclopaedia, but I watch them. With every second step, their bottoms swing to the right and then to the left.

Mum comes into th the kitchen and asks what they’re doing; Anna-Liisa responds on the twins’ behalf, says they’re practising walking like in the movies and that’s why they’re wiggling their hips. More…

A happy day

12 August 2010 | Fiction, Prose

‘Muttisen onni eli laulu Lyygialle’ (‘Muttinen’s happiness, or a song for Lygia’‚) a short story from Kuolleet omenapuut (‘Dead apple trees’, Otava, 1918)

‘Quite the country gentleman, eh, what, hey?’ says Aapeli Muttinen the bookseller. ‘Like the poet Horace – if I may humbly make the comparison, eh, dash it? With his villa at Tusculum, or whatever the place was called, given to him by Maecenas, in the Sabine hills, wasn’t it? – dashed if I remember. Anyway, he served Maecenas, and I serve  – the public, don’t I? Selling them books at fifty pence a copy.’

Muttinen’s Tusculum is his little plot of land in the country. A delightful place, comforting to contemplate when the first signs of summer are beginning to appear, after a winter spent in town in the busy pursuit of Mammon, under skies so grey that the wrinkles on Muttinen’s forehead must have doubled in number. A summer paradise of idleness… More…

My friend Erik Hansen

5 August 2010 | Essays, Prose

Short prose from Muita hyviä ominaisuuksia (‘Other good characteristics’, Otava, 2010)

On the first day we played getting-to-know-you games. On the second day we played real Finnish baseball out behind the university. On the third day we travelled to the countryside. Classes started sometime at the end of the second week. We watched the movie One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. The professor slurped Coke, chain smoked, and rewound the video back and forth: Nurse Ratched’s plump face filled the screen and then in the next image where her face had been there was a basketball Jack Nicholson was squeezing.

It was the autumn of 1992, and I was studying film and communications theory in Copenhagen.

The excursion to the country frightened me, a shy bacteriophobic neurotic. The Danes thought the camping centre’s shared mattresses and group cooking were hygge – cozy. There is no way a dictionary translation could ever cover all the forms of cosiness the Danes achieve together. I fled the camping centre on the first morning. On the train to Copenhagen I recognised all the usual post-escape feelings: shame, fear, guilt, loneliness and overwhelming euphoria. More…

Misery me

30 June 2010 | Fiction, Prose

Extracts from the collection of short prose, Mielensäpahoittaja (‘Taking offense’, WSOY, 2010)

Past pushing up daisies

Well, yeah, so I took offense when the doctor said that considering my age I’m in tip-top shape. His theory was that my 25-kilometre ski circuits would keep an old coot like me in shape, if they didn’t kill me first. He said if I were to start just sitting on the couch and waiting, then the Reaper would be on my back in no time.

I don’t ski for my health. I ski because it’s pretty in the forest, and when a body is sweating he doesn’t think a whole lot. More…

My creator, my creation

28 May 2010 | Fiction, Prose

A short story from En tunne sinua vierelläni (‘I don’t feel you beside me’, Teos, 2010)

Sticks his finger into me and adjusts something, tok-tok, fiddles with some tiny part inside me and gets me moving better – last evening I had apparently been shaking. Chuckles, gazes with water in his eyes. His own hands shake, because he can’t control his extremities. Discipline essential, both in oneself and in others.

What was it that was so strange about my shaking? He himself quivers over me, strokes my case and finally locks me, until the morning comes and I am on again, I make myself follow all day and filter everything into myself, in the evening I make myself close down and in the morning I’m found in bed again. Between evening and morning is a black space, unconsciousness, whamm – dark comes and clicks into light, light is good, keeps my black moment short. He has forbidden me it: for you there’s no night. Simply orders me to be in a continuum from morning to evening, evening to morning, again and again. But in the mornings I know I have been switched off. I won’t tell about it. Besides, why does exclude me from the night? I don’t ask, but I still call the darkness night. There is night and day, evening and morning will come. More…

Green thoughts

1 April 2010 | Fiction, Prose

Extracts from the novel Kuperat ja koverat (‘Convex and concave’, Otava, 2010)

Hannu Väisänen: ‘Green and yellow in March’ (work in progress, oil on canvas, 130x193cm, 2010)

I decided to go to the Museum of Fine Arts.

After paying for my entrance ticket, I climbed the wide staircase to the first floor. There all I saw were dull paintings, the same heroic seed-sowers and floor-sanders as everywhere else. Why were so many art museums nothing more than collections of frames? Always national heroes making their horses dance, mud-coloured grumblers and overblown historical scenes. There was not a single museum in which a grandfather would not be sitting on a wobbly stool peering over his broken spectacles, interrogating a young man about to set off on his travels, cheeks burning with enthusiasm, behind them the entire village, complete with ear trumpets and balls of wool. The painting’s eternal title would be ‘Interrogation’ and it would be covered with shiny varnish, so that in the end all you would be able to see would be your own face.

I climbed up to the next floor. All I really felt was a pressing need to run away. No Flemish conversation piece acquired in the Habsburg era was able to erase a growing anxiety related to love. More…