This ‘n’ that

Moomins on the beach

23 April 2015 | This 'n' that

Moomins on the RivieraA new, Finnish-French, animated movie sees the Moomin family caught up in a typhoon that lands them among the fleshpots of the French Riviera.

Based not on Tove Jansson’s children’s books, but on a cartoon strip drawn by Tove and her brother, Lars, that ran in the London Evening Standard newspaper between 1954 and 1970, Moomins on the Riviera offers the Moomins a whole host of new experiences.

The plot draws the experiences of Tove and her mother on holiday in the south of France. The bedraggled family takes up residence in the royal suite of the Grand Hotel, where they are initially quite unaware that they will have to pay for the privilege. Moominpappa makes friends with the aristocratic Marquis de Mongaga and affects the surname ‘de Moomin’; the Snorkmaiden, meanwhile, is dazzled by the charms of a playboy by the name of Clark Tresco. Overwhelmed – and worried about how the family can stick together in the face of all these new experiences – Moomintroll and Moominmamma decide to move to the beach, and seek shelter under their shipwrecked boat.

The trailer for the film, which is a co-production between Handle Productions of Finland Pictak of France, shows a hand-drawn animation style which stays very close to Tove Jansson’s original drawings – something which will delight the many Moomin fans who were horrified by the cute, balloon-like characters in the popular Japanese TV animation.

The film’s director is Xavier Picard, and its producer and co-director Hanna Hemilä. It opens in London on 22 May.

You thought Finnish was weird?

9 April 2015 | This 'n' that

You thought Finnish was weird?

Just listen to it get a whole lot weirder…

Ever since she burst on to our computer screens a year ago, we’ve been fans of Smokahontas, also known as Sara Forsberg.

Then aged 19, Forsberg shot to fame with her YouTube video What Languages Sound Like to Foreigners, in which she demonstrated a mastery of fluent gibberish in 14 languages including Japanese, estuarine English, French, Italian, Arabic…. She followed this up with One Girl, 14 Genres, where she bent her considerable talents for mimicry to performances in fourteen musical genres, from R ‘n’ B to musical, from traditional Indian to hipster indie.

An appearance on the Ellen de Generes show, and much media attention, followed, and Forsberg moved to California to pursue her career… where, one rainy day, thinking of home, she turned her attention to the Finnish language.

The result is Learn Finnish with Sara, a hilarious exploration of some of the sillier aspects of Finnish. It’s one of the most difficult languages in the world to learn, says Forsberg, and she goes on to prove it with some wacky examples. Vihdoin vihdoin vihdoin means ‘I finally whipped myself with boughs of silver birch; for Kokko, kokoo koko kokko kokoon, you’ll just have to watch the video. Not to mention hurskastelevaisehkollaismaiselllisuuksissaankohan hän toimii…

We’re predicting a big career. In whatever language.


New from the archive

9 April 2015 | This 'n' that

Tove Jansson. Photo: Hans Gedda

Tove Jansson. Photo: Hans Gedda

After she stopped writing the Moomin stories in 1970, Tove Jansson (1914-2001) began an entirely new career as the author of fiction for adults. This story, ‘Summer child’, comes from her third volume of short stories for adults, Resa med lätt baggage (Travelling light, 1988), where travelling – even if only by motor boat, between the islands of the archipelago that lies off Finland’s south-west coast – is the central theme.

‘Summer child’ tells the story of what happens when Elis, a morbidly serious little boy, spends the summer with a family in the Finnish archipelago. His gloomy world-view disquiets the cheerful Fredriksons to such a degree that in the end their differences can only be settled by violence….


The same story is republished, in a different translation, by Sort Of Books of London, with an introduction by the Scottish writer Ali Smith. For Smith, this tale of a young lad, ‘well-informed about everything that’s dying and miserable’, amid the idyllic landscapes of the Finnish summer, is ‘a fable about innocence and knowledge’; the book itself is ‘one of [Jansson’s] funniest, most unputdownably airy works’.

Ali Smith is far from being the only fan of Jansson’s work for adults. Sort Of Books has now published a total of seven volumes of her short stories, memoirs and novels, and her fame has also spread to the United States, where her Moomin books are much less well-known. Her The True Deceiver won the Best Translated Book Award in 2011, and has appeared on Publisher’s Weekly’s list of ‘The 20 Best Books in Translation You’ve Never Read’. It’s in good company – other books include Thomas Bernhard’s Concrete, Knut Hamsun’s Mysterie, Dubravka Ugresic’s The Museum of Unconditional Surrender and George Perec’s Life, A User’s Manual.

Read the short story

Fifteen strange things about Finland

26 March 2015 | This 'n' that

Nokia rubber boots

The famous Nokia rubber boots. CC BY-SA 3.0

What are your favourite weird facts about Finland?

Personally, at Books from Finland, we like the ones about language – no is a verb, the personal pronoun is ungendered (there is no ‘he’, ‘she’ or ‘it’, just hän), there are fourteen or fifteen (depending how you count them) cases for nouns.

But, in a country that’s keen on the national this and the national that (composer, writer, epic), it’s also cool that we have a de facto national app (Angry Birds).

Now, FinnFacts, in collaboration with the bookings website, has come up with an image of Finland, entitled ‘The surprising truth about Finland’, with a whole lot more.

We’ve all read the press coverage of the fact that speeding fines are linked to what you earn. The largest fine so far is €116,000.

But how about this? One that has, amazingly, passed us by. Any Finnish noun can have over 2000 different forms.

And this: Finland is the first country to make a broadband connection a legal right.

Or this: Finns are the world’s biggest coffee drinkers, drinking a staggering four times more than Brits. And that’s despite the fact that Starbucks etc. are far from ubiquitous in Finland.

Or – did you know that the (national!) mobile phone company, Nokia, started life as a manufacturer of rubber boots and tyres?

You can check out this and much more here.

New from the archive

26 March 2015 | This 'n' that

This week, a cluster of pieces from and about left-leaning Tampere, the ‘Red City’ of Finland

The Tampella and Finlayson factories, 1954, Tampere. Photo: Veikko Kanninen, Vapriikki Photo Archives /  CC BY-SA 2.0.

The Tampella and Finlayson factories, 1954, Tampere. Photo: Veikko Kanninen, Vapriikki Photo Archives / CC BY-SA 2.0.

Also known as the ‘Manchester of Finland’ for its 19th-century manufacturing tradition, Tampere – or rather the suburb of Pispala – produced two important, and strongly contrasting, writers, Lauri Viita (1916-1965) and Hannu Salama (born 1936). Both formed part of a group of working-class writers who emerged after the Second World War, many of whom had not completed their school careers and whose confidence arose from independent, auto-didactic, reading and study.

To understand the place from which these writers emerged, it has to be remembered that there is more to Tampere than a proud radical tradition. As Pekka Tarkka remembers in his essay, the Reds were the losing side in the Finnish civil war of 1918, and for years afterwards they formed ‘a sort of embattled camp in Finnish society’. History is always written by the winners, and authors like Viita and Salama played an important role in giving the Red side back its voice.

Lauri Viita.

Lauri Viita.

Lauri Viita celebrated Tampere by offering an image of it that is, as Tarkka remarks, ‘poetic, deterministic and materialist’. His poetry differed sharply from the modernist verse of contemporaries such as Paavo Haavikko and Eeva-Liisa Manner, both of whom we have featured recently in our Archive pieces, which abandoned both fixed metres and end-rhymes. His work was an often heroic celebration of the ordinary life of proletarian Tampere, and the more traditional form into which it breathed new life made it accessible. My own mother, for example, who had grown up the child of a Red working-class family far away to the north, in Kajaani, steeped in the rolling cadences of poets such as Aaro Hellaakoski and Uuno Kailas, never really got the hang of Haavikko, or Manner; but she loved Viita.

Here we publish a selection of Viita’s poems, translated by Herbert Lomas, who does an excellent job of capturing his easy-going, unselfconscious rhythms. The introduction is by Kai Laitinen.

Hannu Salama. Photo: Ptoukkar  / CC BY-SA 3.0

Hannu Salama.
Photo: Ptoukkar / CC BY-SA 3.0

Salama is a far more politicised writer than Viita, and he is writing about a Tampere that is already in decline. In his major work, Siinä näkijä missä tekijä (‘No crime without a witness’, 1972), he writes about the travails of the communist minority, doomed to slow extinction – the same band of fellow-travellers to which my grandfather in Kajaani belonged. My mother wasn’t a Salama fan, though – I think his Tampere wasn’t beautiful, or heroic, enough. As someone who had moved far away, to England, she wanted to celebrate, not to mourn.

Here we publish a short story, Hautajaiset (‘The funeral’), which was written at the same time as Siinä näkijä missä tekijä. It’s an unvarnished account of a Tampere funeral which is, at the same time, the funeral of the old, radical way of life – which, sure enough, has vanished almost as if it never existed. As Pekka Tarkka writes of Salama’s short story and the revolutionary songs which run through it: ‘There will be no more singing of communist psalms, or fantasies of the family and of the revolutionary spirit.’

As Marx didn’t say, all that seemed so solid has melted, irretrievably, into air.


The digitisation of Books from Finland continues, with a total of 380 articles and book extracts made available online so far. Each week, we bring a newly digitised text to your attention.


New from the archive

26 March 2015 | This 'n' that

Kullervo's curse

Kullervo’s curse. Painting by Akseli Gallen-Kallela (1899)

Finland’s national epic adapted for the stage by Finland’s national writer: best known as the author of the first significant novel in Finnish, Seitsemän veljestä (Seven Brothers, 1870), Aleksis Kivi (1834-1972) also turned one of the Kalevala’s grimmest stories, that of Kullervo – a tale of incest, revenge and death– into a five-act tragedy.

The translation is by one of Books from Finland’s most long-standing collaborators, David Barrett (1914-1998), a true linguistic genius with a speciality in Georgian as well as Finnish in addition to classical Greek; as well as his work with texts in Finnish and Georgian, he made extensive translations of Aristophanes for Penguin Classics. Barrett felt, as he argues here in his introduction, ‘that Kullervo, if suitably translated, might succeed where Seven Brothers had failed, in bringing Kivi’s genius to the notice of the English-speaking world’.

Was he right? It is up to you, dear readers, to judge.

For a very different, demythologized, view of the Kullervo story, we also publish a manuscript by the modernist poet Paavo Haavikko (1931-2008) from his television adaptation Rauta-aika (‘Age of iron’, 1982).

The Kalevala is in development as a film by the Finnish entertainment company Rovio, of Angry Birds game, and the Finnish-born video game company Supercell. It remains to be seen how the Kalevala take to the big screen.


The digitisation of Books from Finland continues, with a total of 372 articles and book extracts made available online so far. Each week, we bring a newly digitised text to your attention.

New from the archive

26 March 2015 | This 'n' that

This week’s pick is a comic short story by Martti Joenpolvi about the gender divide

Martti Joenpolvi

Martti Joenpolvi.
Photo: Janne Aaltonen.

We first published this short story by Martti Joenpolvi, an acknowledged master of the genre, in 1989; it comes from the collection Pronssikausi (‘The bronze age’, 1988), which was nominated for the Finlandia Prize.

The subject – the story is about a man taking his mistress on a secret visit to his summer-house – provides plenty of opportunity for sly humour. But it’s a more unsettling read in 2015 than we’re guessing it was twenty-five years ago – not so much for the plot itself, which makes ironic fun of the idea of woman-as-chattel, as for the characterisation, which subtly places the woman exactly where the story does.



The digitisation of Books from Finland continues, with a total of 375 articles and book extracts made available online so far. Each week, we bring a newly digitised text to your attention.

The day peace came…

18 March 2015 | This 'n' that


Flags fly at half-mast in Helsinki. Photo: SA-Kuva

Seventy-five years ago, in the period known as the Phony War, while the rest of the world was preparing to fight, it looked as if hostilities were over for one country.

In the preamble to the Second World War, Soviet Union had attacked Finland on 30 November 1939, demanding substantial border territories for the protection of Leningrad. Germany had invaded Poland, and France and Great Britain had declared war; but the Nazi invasions of Norway and Denmark, Italy’s entry into the war, the Battle of Britain, Pearl Harbor, D-Day, Hiroshima, Nagasaki and all the other horrors of the Second World War were yet to come.

As the world watched, ‘plucky little Finland’, massively outnumbered in terms of both men and equipment but superior in morale, organisation and knowledge of the terrain, managed to keep the Red Army at bay for months – far longer than anyone had expected. Eventually, however, the Russians overcame Finnish border defences and the war ended on 13 March 1940. Now generally regarded by Finns as a defensive victory – Finland was not occupied by the Soviet Union – the peace treaty nevertheless imposed a heavy burden on Finland, which lost extensive territories in Karelia to the south and Salla to the north.

In the event, the war was far from over for Finland, which still had the Continuation War (1941-44) and the Lapland War (1944-45) to fight. But for the moment, the country was once more at peace.

To mark the 75th anniversary of the end of the war, the Helsingin Sanomat newspaper has published a selection of photographs of the day peace came.


Soldiers of the 69th infantry regiment are able to eat in peace at last. Photo: SA-Kuva

A tree

A tree felled across a road provides a makeshift border point. Photo: SA-Kuva


Soldiers in their white winter camouflage rest in Viipuri after peace is declared. Photo: SA-Kuva

Soldiers in Kuhmo

Soldiers in Kuhmo, north-eastern Finland, inspect the new border line. Photo: SA-Kuva

The last wounded soldiers

The last wounded soldiers are brought back by horse and cart from Saunajärvi. Photo: SA-Kuva

New from the archive

17 March 2015 | This 'n' that

Gösta Ågren

Gösta Ågren. Photo: Studio Paschinsky

Back in the day, in one of our periodic excursions into merchandising – the main criteria were that our goods should be flat (to fit into an envelope) and, of course, literary – we printed Books from Finland t-shirts. They were wildly popular – we must have sold, oh, dozens of them – and top of the list was a shirt with a laconic couplet by Gösta Ågren: ‘Don’t worry / it will never work out.’

Writing in Swedish and hailing from a small village in Ostrobothnia, in the far north-west of Finland, Ågren (born 1936) is the author of poems, essays and biographies. He may often choose to adopt the persona of a country curmudgeon, but the laconic tone of his poems belies a tenderness, a universalism, and an underlying political commitment, that speaks of a love of the world, a desire to make it into a better place.

The volume from which these poems are taken, Jär (‘Here’, 1989), won the Finlandia Prize for Literature in 1989.


The digitisation of Books from Finland continues, with a total of 372 articles and book extracts made available online so far. Each week, we bring a newly digitised text to your attention.


Reasons to be cheerful

14 March 2015 | This 'n' that


Photo: Vipul Mathur / CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Translation, as the German philosopher and critic Walter Benjamin argued, is an art form. Amid all the conventional doom ‘n’ gloom about literary translation, then – and even though we at Books from Finland are among its biggest supporters, we have to put up our hands and admit that we do our fair share of hand-wringing – it’s refreshing to see this over at Better than Sliced Bread, a blog edited by English students at Helsinki University: a love-letter by Seattle student Elizabeth Oakes to the ‘vast and beautiful’ vistas that the process of translation can open up.

New from the archives

13 March 2015 | This 'n' that

Eeva-Liisa Manner

Eeva-Liisa Manner. Photo: Tammi.

Today we have a real treat – a selection of the sumptuously minimalist poetry of Eeva-Liisa Manner (1921–1995) by her near-contemporary, the British poet Herbert Lomas (1924–2011).

Born in Helsinki, Manner spent her youth in Viipuri, in what was then part of Finland; her life was, like Eeva Kilpi’s, marked by evacuation from her home and the subsequent loss of Karelia to the Soviet Union in the Second World War. Her breakthrough collection, Tämä matka (‘This journey’, 1956) marked a major arrival on the modernist poetry scene and her work has been widely translated. Always lyrically minimalist, Manner’s poetry sometimes seemed to approach the limits of language – silence:

The words come and go.
I need words less and less.
Tomorrow maybe
I’ll not need a single one,

she wrote in Niin vaihtuvat vuoden ajat (‘So change the seasons’), as early as 1964.

Lomas brought to the delicate, beautiful textures of Manner’s poetry with its themes of grief, suffering and loneliness a bluff Yorkshire, and entirely masculine, sensibility. For him, Manner had a ‘splendid sanity’ and sense of humour; hers was an oeuvre ‘that heals by listening and recovery’.

Manner’s work has more recently been translated by another English writer, Fleur Jeremiah, in a volume entitled Bright, dusky, bright (Waterloo Press, 2009). A sample of the approach taken by a woman of a different generation can be found here.


The digitisation of Books from Finland continues apace, with a total of 360 articles and book extracts made available online so far. Each week, we bring a newly digitised text to your attention.

New from the archives

19 February 2015 | This 'n' that

Jarkko Laine

Jarkko Laine. Photo: Kai Nordberg

Our archive find this week is ‘The 101 year anniversary celebration’, a short story by Jarkko Laine.

‘Child of Marx and Coca-Cola’, ‘Nordic beatnik’, Jarkko Laine (1947-2006) published his first work, a volume of poetry entitled Muovinen Buddha (‘Plastic Buddha’) in the 1960s and was immediately hailed as the mouthpiece of his generation. He went on to make his career as a literary all-rounder – poet, writer, playwright, translator, long-time editor of the literary magazine Parnasso and chair of the Finnish Writers’ Union. His wryly ironic story, ‘The 101 year anniversary celebration’ tells the story of what every writer must dread: a guest appearance in a local library where literature from the local town, let alone further afield, is regarded with suspicion.

We’ve also unearthed a 1989 interview, by our late, genial editor-in-chief Erkka Lehtola with a grey-suited Laine who looks more like a civil servant than a 1960s radical – but still doesn’t let a day go by without writing.


The digitisation of Books from Finland continues apace, with a total of 360 articles and book extracts made available online so far. Each week, we bring a newly digitised text to your attention.

New from the archives

19 February 2015 | This 'n' that

Rosa Liksom

Rosa Liksom. Kuva: Pekka Mustonen

When the pseudonymous Rosa Liksom (born 1958; real name Anni Ylävaara) burst on the Finnish literary scene in 1985 with her first book, Yhden yön pysäkki (‘One night stand’), excitement was intense. For a start, she managed to keep her real identity secret, even when she appeared at public events and book-signings; then, she wrote generally in her native northern Finnish dialect, which hadn’t previously been heard very much in literary circles. Her very short short prose charted landscapes also not much represented in literature – the far north, the uneducated, the dispossessed.

This group of seven stories, from her second book, Tyhjän tien paratiisit (‘Paradises of the open road’, 1989), cover territory which has become familiar in her work: a woman who marries a layabout, a bellicose butcher’s son, a cleanliness fanatic for whom hygiene is more important than human relationships….

Rosa Liksom won the Finlandia Prize in 2011 for Hytti nro 6, which was published by Serpent’s Tail, London, in a translation by Lola Rogers last year.

The digitisation of Books from Finland continues apace, with a total of 360 articles and book extracts made available online so far. Each week, we bring a newly digitised text to your attention.

New from the archives

19 February 2015 | This 'n' that

Tua Forsström

Tua Forsström. Photo: Mao Lindholm

Some weeks the digitisation project turns up material we’ve all but forgotten about; other times it’s like greeting an old friend. The poet Tua Forsström’s voice belongs in the second category: quintessentially feminine, wise, simultaneously vulnerable and strong, she is a quiet, watchful observer of everyday life, fixing the chimerical, the evanescent not with, it seems, but between, the words of her poems. This extensive selection of poems is introduced by her friend and fellow poet, Claes Andersson.

Born in Porvoo in 1947, Forsström publishes rarely. She won the Nordic Council Literary Prize in 1998 with Efter att ha tillbringat en natt bland häster (‘After having spent a night with horses’, 1997). Her breakthrough into the English-speaking world came in 1987 with her sixth collection, Snow Leopard (Snöleopard), which was translated into the English by David McDuff and published by Bloodaxe Books. We’ve featured her work regularly, including her most recent collection, En kväll i oktober rodde jag ut på sjön (‘One evening in October I rode out on the lake’, Söderströms, 2012), with an introduction by Michel Ekström.

The digitisation of Books from Finland continues apace, with a total of 358 articles and book extracts made available online so far. Each week, we bring a newly digitised text to your attention.


18 February 2015 | This 'n' that

Finnish baby box

Contents of the Finnish baby-box. Photo: Annika Söderblom © Kela

Shortly before my first baby was born – ah, all of thirteen years ago, and a bit more – I paid a visit to the baby department of a central London department store.

Surrounded by push-chairs, feeding pillows, milk-expressers, nappy bins, nappy sacks, pink baby-grows, blue baby-grows, and advice books of every persuasion, I felt bewildered. The choice seemed infinite. Surely it couldn’t be this complicated.

I picked up one of the books. ‘6:30 Get up with your baby.’ I don’t think so, I objected inwardly. I’ve never been an early bird. ‘7:30 Breakfast: toast and marmalade.’ Definitely not. No one was going to tell me what to eat, or when. Were they? What on earth was this brave new world of motherhood going to be like? More…