Shards from the empire

5 February 2010 | Fiction, Prose

‘Imperiets skärvor’, ‘Shards from the empire’, is from the collection of short stories, Lindanserskan (‘The tightrope-walker’, Söderströms, 2009; Finnish translation Nuorallatanssija, Gummerus, 2009)

Gustav’s greatest passion is for genealogy. He dedicates his free time to sketching coats of arms; masses of colourful, noble crests.

Gustav asked me to do a translation. I sat for ten days trying to decipher a couple of pages from a Russian archive dating from the 1830s. Sentences like, With this letter, we hereby give notice of our gracious decision.‘

The intricate handwriting belonged to some collegiate registrar or other. Perhaps Gogol’s Khlestakov. More…

Noah’s progeny

30 October 2009 | Fiction, Prose

Graphic design: M-L Muukka

Graphic design: M-L Muukka

Extracts from the novel Puupää (‘Blockhead’, Teos, 2009)

In these ‘shavings’ hewn from the block in constructing the storyline of his new novel, Juha Hurme offers us four unique glimpses into the Finnish psyche

The rune singer of Nokia

Three years ago I purchased a used mobile phone when its predecessor took an overdose of sea water and went mute on a rowing trip in a broken-down loaner of a fibreglass boat in a gale-force nor’wester. This three-year-old phone has been a thoroughly satisfactory implement and indispensable contact link. The power button got stuck a year ago, but the gadget is still fully operational with the aid of a match stick or something similar. It is my belief and hope that it will continue to fulfil the role of telephone for seven more years, because I prefer not to own, let alone purchase, anything that withstands fewer than ten years of use. More…

A long dream

9 October 2009 | Fiction, Prose

A short story from Jälkikasvu (‘Offspring’, Otava, 2009)

‘I was eating a late breakfast, without a care in the world, when it happened.’

He snaps off the recorder. He has said the same thing three times now, but he always loses his train of thought right there. Why is it so difficult to continue? In his mind, the next part feels quite clear, but the words simply won’t come out of his mouth. He ought to say that his wife left him yesterday, on the twelfth of February, at 10:48 AM, following a three-minute fifteen-second briefing. More…

What God said

3 September 2009 | Fiction, Prose

Extracts from the novel Herra Darwinin puutarhuri (Otava, 2009; Mr Darwin’s Gardener, Peirene Press, 2013). Interview by Soila Lehtonen

The congregation sits in the church pews and the jackdaws caw in the belfry.
We smell of wet dog, the rain made us wet and it is cold but the singing warms us, the hymn rises to the roof and above the roof dwells God, Amen.
We saw Thomas Davies on the hill, he is working in Mr Darwin’s garden,
the atheist and lunatic, he stood in the field alone and the water lashed his face
an irreligious pit pony wandering in the darkness he is from Wales
does the godless man think he can stand in the rain without getting wet did he get an umbrella or bat wings from the devil
perhaps Thomas imagines that he can hold back the rain and the rain not hold him back, he thinks he is more exalted than God with his head in the clouds
The church’s hard pews press into posteriors, the poor man will not grow fatter, for there are no fat and lean years but only lean ones, and thin are the poor man’s sheep and cows and children too, but the rich man cultivates weeds for his amusement as Mr Darwin did and earns money and fame! More…

A roof with a view

27 August 2009 | Fiction, Prose

Extracts from the novel Mistä on mustat tytöt tehty? (‘What are black girls made of?’, Tammi, 2009) Introduction by Tuomas Juntunen

I’m a chimney sweep’s daughter, born October 1962 as a gift, a light to a darkened world. I’ve had lots of mothers, but none of them ever stuck around for good. One of them gave birth to me, so she’s Mother, not mother. Her name is Dewdrop, because water has spilled over the only photograph of My Mother and now her face has dissolved into a single translucent droplet; her nose, cheeks and chin are now a fat, shiny blob that looks like it’s about to fall out of the bottom of the picture. More…

The Canada goose

Issue 4/2008 | Archives online, Fiction, Prose

A short story from Tapaus Sidoroff (‘The Sidoroff case’, WSOY, 2008). Introduction by Kristina Carlson

It was no use even trying the old cart track branching from the main road. I turned off the engine and glanced into the back seat. My aunt lifted the brim of her hat, her bright eyes peering at me questioningly.

‘We can’t get any farther by car. The road’s nothing but rough brush. What do you think, Aunt Alli, can you walk the rest of the way?’

My aunt shook her head and didn’t even bother to answer. She opened the car door and clambered out. A swarm of black flies wafted into the air from the brush at the bottom of the ditch.

‘For heaven’s sakes, there’s sure enough of these flies.’

She fanned at the air with her hat, straightened the hem of her dress and trudged across the ditch, without looking back, through the thicket of willows. In spite of her hip trouble, the old woman made her way in such a hurry that I had my work cut out keeping up with her. More…

I, Vega Maria Eleonora Dreary

Issue 4/2008 | Archives online, Fiction, Prose

Extracts from the novel Chitambo (Schildts, 1933)

I was born in 1893, of course. That, as everyone knows, is the proudest year in the history of Nordic polar research. It was the year in which Fridtjof Nansen began his world-famous voyage to the North Pole aboard the Fram. Mr Dreary viewed this as a personal distinction and a sign that fate had fixed its gaze on him. He at once took it for granted that I was destined for great things, and he showed much skill in fostering the same foolish idea in me…. More…

The love of the Berber lion

30 December 2008 | Fiction, Prose

A short story from the novel Berberileijonan rakkaus ja muita tarinoita (‘The love of the Berber lion and other stories’, WSOY, 2008). Introduction by Janna Kantola

The lion’s name was Muthul. He was an old Berber lion from the Atlas Mountains. He had a black mane, a black tail with a bushy tip and the scars of many battles on his hide.

He had grown up as a lion cub in the royal palace at Carthage at the time when the Romans, led by Scipio the younger, destroyed the city with fire and sword. The palace was set ablaze, a bloody battle ensued in the gardens, Romans impaled on arrows lay strewn in the rose bushes, Carthaginian blood dyed the water in the fountains. Someone had let all the palace animals, wild and tame alike, out of their cages; they were running around wildly, killing each other in the grip of panic, then disappeared inexplicably. More…

The mistake

Issue 3/2008 | Archives online, Fiction, Prose

A short story (‘Erehdys’, 1956, last published in the collection Lukittu laatikko ja muita kertomuksia, ‘A locked box and other stories’, WSOY, 2003). Introduction by Markéta Hejkalová

My feet are smarter than my head. On an April night in Naples they carried me along the Via Roma past the royal palace and the giant illuminated dome of the church. The people of Naples walked up and down the immortal street like the cool of evening, looking at each other and at the brightly lit display windows. I had nothing against that, but at the comer of Via San Brigida my feet turned to the right. The snow-cold breath of my homeland radiated toward me from Saint Bridget Street.

When I had turned the corner I could see a restaurant window still lit, with its fruit baskets, dead fish and red lobsters. The most hurried diners had already finished their meals. I stepped into the long dining room of the restaurant, the sawdust on the floor stuck to my shoes, a frighteningly icy stare pierced me from behind the counter, but I gathered my courage and whispered bravely, ‘Buona sera, signora.’ More…

Portraits and bagatelles

30 September 2008 | Fiction, Prose

Kaarina Valoaalto

Kaarina Valoaalto. Photo: Tammi.

Soila Lehtonen on Kaarina Valoaalto’s new collection of short prose

In Kaarina Valoaalto’s prose ‘the river, made wild by a storm, gallops, foaming at the mouth, down between the stays of the street banks and into the sea’ and ‘the fly is a classic’: ‘its buzz sounds the cycle of the year and all of the scales of feeling. A fly brings together agrarian and urban culture…. When I hear it, I believe I’m alone in the cabin of a sailboat, anchored to the bottom of a bay where terns and seagulls call out on the gleaming blue of the open sea and no there is no coffee because no one has bothered to make it’. More…

Dog days

30 September 2008 | Fiction, Prose

A story from Avantgarderob ja muuta irtaimistoa (‘Avantgarderobe and other moveables’, Tammi, 2008). Introduction by Soila Lehtonen

The air between the old dog’s teeth cuts like a crosscut saw.

There is a furious rhythm in her bark.

She’s been left out of the moose-hunting pack.

The more decrepit her body is, the stiffer her joints, the more her bark is filled with passion for the hunt. But she shows no sign of nostalgia, she’s not hankering after some long-ago days of glory, when she was the leader of the pack. This is clearly a bark of command. Even from kilometres away, she tells the other dogs where to go — not that way — a little more to the left — behind that stump, you blockheads! More…

What about me?

30 September 2008 | Fiction, Prose

Extracts from the novel Mitä onni on (‘What happiness is’, Otava, 2008)

I was lying on the sofa watching Sports Roundup. The ski jumpers were flying at Zakopane. When I go one day, I want the cantor to play the Sports Roundup theme on the harmonium and the pallbearers to look on like skiing judges down into the pit.

‘I have an idea,’ Liisa said, sitting down at the other end of the sofa. I muted the television and adopted a focused expression. I focused on thinking about my expression.

‘Finnish happiness,’ Liisa pronounced solemnly. ‘I’ll illustrate, and you write.’

‘A book again,’ I said and turned the sound back on. They were reading off the women’s basketball scores now. Liisa waited patiently. I was disarmed enough by this that I turned the television off. More…

Elmo’s fire

Issue 2/2008 | Archives online, Fiction, Prose

Extracts from the novel Elmo (WSOY, 1978)

After returning to Finland and Kainalniemi, Elmo got to feel like a celebrity. The various sport clubs were insufferably keen on getting Elmo into their training rings, but Elmo rebuffed them. He had belonged to Kainalniemi Sweat since he was a little boy, and that was enough for him. His mind was occupied by other matters. In the end, even his mother and father began to wonder at his attitude.

‘Why don’t you just go, since they keep asking, and since you do seem to have some talent in that direction,’ his mother urged as she made Sunday coffee from the can Elmo had brought as a gift.

‘Right. Somewhere down the road you could snatch a few gold medals out from under the noses of the others, just for the hell of it,’ his father said. More…

Dinner with Marie

Issue 2/2008 | Archives online, Fiction, Prose

Extracts from the novel Marie (WSOY, 2008). Introduction by Tuomas Juntunen

For once, Marie decided to plan a dinner without the same old roast beef, boiled potatoes, peas, red wine and berry kissel. And particularly no game. The thought of rabbit reminded her of the hunting trip to Porpakka, the hounds puking up rabbit skins onto the parquet floor, the smell of singed birds, the feathers that turned up even weeks later in a corner of the kitchen, the buckshot in the goose that broke her tooth. Mind you, she had to admit that brown sauce was quite good, especially as an aspic. She had tasted a spoonful once the morning after it was made, when Martta had gone out to buy milk and Marja was cleaning the drawing room, and then Martta had come back quite suddenly, and Marie had panicked and swallowed it the wrong way and had a fit of coughing. ‘Good heavens,’ Martta had said, ‘what’s the matter? I just came back to get my purse. I forgot it on the sideboard.’

The true reason for the plan was that she wanted to show them what a real French formal dinner was like, how much better it was. She planned the menu secretly for months, first in her mind, then in writing, at her bedroom dressing table – the only place she had to herself, although the door wouldn’t lock – at first on wrapping paper, which she later burnt in the tiled stove in the dining room when no one was home. More…

Mothers and sons

Issue 1/2008 | Archives online, Fiction, Prose

Extracts from Helvi Hämäläinen’s novel Raakileet (‘Unripe’, 1950. WSOY, 2007)

In front of the house grew a large old elm and a maple. The crown of the elm had been destroyed in the bombing and there was a large split in the trunk, revealing the grey, rotting wood. But every spring strong, verdant foliage sprouted from the thick trunk and branches; the tree lived its own powerful life. Its roots penetrated under the cement of the grey pavement and found rich soil; they wound their way under the pavement like strong, dark brown forearms. Cars rumbled over them, people walked, children played. On the cement of the pavement the brightly coloured litter of sweet papers, cigarette stubs and apple cores played; in the gutter or even in the street a pale rubber prophylactic might flourish, thrown from some window or dropped by some careless passer-by.

The sky arched blue over the six-and seven-storey buildings; in the evenings a glimmer could be seen at its edges, the reflection of the lights of the city. A group of large stone buildings, streets filled with vehicles, a small area filled with four hundred thousand people, an area in which they were born, died, owned something, earned their daily bread: the city – it lived, breathed….

Six springs had passed since the war…. Ilmari’s eyes gleamed yellow as a snake’s back, he took a dance step or two and bent over Kauko, pretending to stab him with a knife. More…