According to Bertolt Brecht, Finns are the only people in the world who are silent in two languages. Which may be true, but that leaves some of them more time to write...
A Doghill History of Finland
by Mauri Kunnas
When my boys were young, I spent countless hours reading out loud to them from Mauri Kunnas books. They literally could not get enough of them, wanting to hear the same stories over and over again.
Luckily all books by Mauri Kunnas are fun for adults as well; both the stories and the illustrations, and they were also my favorite books to read out loud. So much so, that no matter how old I get, I still can’t resist buying them.
A Doghill History of Finland is a colorful and amusing romp through Finnish history, from the 16th to the 19th centuries with the typically delightful illustrations that make up all of Kunnas’ books. It seems that no matter how often you look at the pictures, you always discover something new, and in this one you will also learn something along the way. History does not have to be boring! It was published in 2017, when Finland celebrated 100 years of independence.
I would recommend any and all of the Mauri Kunnas books, they are the cutest children’s books you could possibly imagine.
Oh, and on the last page of A Doghill History of Finland there is a quote from Axel Oxenstierna, a Swedish statesman, taken from a letter he wrote to his son in 1648:
“Oh my son, if you only knew with how little wisdom this world is governed.”
Seems that some things don’t change much throughout the centuries…
Imagine the founder of a company walking naked through the fields while talking about their products. It wouldn’t be a German company, that’s for sure…
Click on the link and then on the video near the top of the page, the one titled
“Kyrö Distillery: Presented by a naked man”.
I’ve tasted their gin (“Finnish summer in a bottle”) and it’s good, and I’m looking forward to sipping the whisky (“rich and sophisticated, so you don’t have to be”).
They Know Not What They Do
A novel by Jussi Valtonen
(Original: He eivät tiedä mitä tekevät)
Joe Chayefski is an American professor of neuroscience, whose life gets turned upside down because he didn’t know what he was doing, did not realize the consequences of his actions or lack thereof—and nobody else really knew what they were doing either.
Twenty years ago he spent a few years in Finland and had a son with a Finnish woman, but he left them and didn’t keep in touch, only sending a card once a year. But his son Samuel did not forget him, and now Joe’s past is messing up his life in ways he never could have dreamed of.
And what is this new iAM device that his daughter comes home with one day? The one where you don’t need to tap or click any buttons, that doesn’t have a screen, that can literally read your thoughts and provide you with content as fast as you can think? What is the company behind the device really up to at the school? And what are these little neuro optimizer pills he finds in her purse? And who broke into his lab and is terrorizing his family and why?
Jussi Valtonen is an absolute master at describing characters, how people feel and how they justify their behavior. It was literally a joy to read, for the language alone, and I often found myself smiling at how he’d phrased something so eerily well. How Joe views Finns and what the Finnish characters think about Americans, made me laugh because I’ve heard them all too, from all sides, so the author definitely got that right. (Still, I do want to mention that in the novel, Joe is in Helsinki in the early 90’s and the city has changed a lot since then!)
Valtonen tackles seemingly everything on every level, big and small themes, all rolled up into an entertaining story that keeps you hooked.
Consequences of past actions. Misunderstandings that last for years. Personal relationships, moral dilemmas, cultural differences, technology, and social media. How things aren’t always what they seem to be. Are they ever, really? And how do you even define that?
It’s a work of fiction, but it’s deep, and it will make you think about a thing or two during and after reading it. Just the kind of story I like.
I can’t say anything about the translations, but I assure you that the Finnish original is fantastic. In fact, He eivät tiedä mitä tekevät won the Finlandia Prize in 2014, the most prestigious literary award in Finland.
The English title is They Know Not What They Do and in German it’s Zwei Kontinente. I assume it’s been translated into other languages as well.
He eivät tiedä mitä tekevät has been on my shelf for years, so long that I had no idea what it was even about. But, wanting to read something in Finnish, I plucked it from the shelf without a moment of hesitation, somehow sure that this was it. Maybe I liked the title. Or the fact that it looked nice and thick. Since I’ve been reading non-fiction books about the brain and have been listening to a neuroscience podcast, it felt like a very weird and wonderful coincidence to have pulled out just this book, in which the main character is a neuroscientist.
“Finnish is sooo hard to learn!”
I couldn’t even count the number of times I’ve heard that phrase (strangely enough, mostly from people who’ve never even made an effort to find out if that is true or not.)
Well, maybe it is, but learning English has its difficulties as well, especially when it comes to colloquialisms. Here’s a link to a YouTube video of the Finnish comedian Ismo Leikola on the Conan O’Brien show in January, explaining why the word “ass” is the most difficult word in the English language. (Apparently the video has spread like wildfire!)
Some books hook you right from the first page.
Mies joka kuoli by Antti Tuomainen hooked me before I even opened the book, just because the premise is so unusual.
Here is a translation of the back cover of the Finnish original, so you can see what I mean:
A murderously fun thriller about love, death, betrayal, and, of course, mushrooms.
Jaakko Kaunismaa is a successful 37-year old mushroom entrepreneur who receives surprising and shocking news from his doctor: he is dying. Further tests reveal that he is the victim of long-term poisoning – in other words, somebody is murdering him, slowly but surely.
"If you want the American dream, go to Finland."
The Nordic Theory of Everything
In Search of a Better Life
HarperCollins 2016, 333 pages
Every now and then I run across a book so excellent that it should be required reading for everybody. After a few chapters, I thought I must recommend this to all the teachers I know. And those who work in health care. Some pages later, I realized that I wanted to recommend this book to every single person I know who lives in the United States, regardless of their age, occupation, or income. Every single person is somehow affected by issues such as healthcare, child care, education, taxes, and aging. Or, more accurately, by the lack of equality in health care and education. (Nobody is actually naïve enough to believe that everybody has an equal chance at succeeding the way things are set up now, are they?)
I just noticed that The Almost Nearly Perfect People by Michael Booth has been translated into Finnish! :-)
The title is Pohjolan Onnelat and it has been published by Docendo.
The Almost Nearly Perfect People. Behind the Myth of the Scandinavian Utopia.
Vintage 2015, 393 pages
I’d say this would be the perfect gift for your favorite Scandinavian, but you’ll probably end up keeping this for yourself.
Michael Booth is a British gentleman (read the book and you'll understand why I use this particular word!) who lives in Denmark and has traveled throughout the Nordic countries in order to take a deeper look at the societies and peoples of Denmark, Iceland, Norway, Finland, and Sweden. He has interviewed politicians, historians, philosophers, scientists, artists, and Santa Claus.
This book made me laugh every few pages and I’ve spent the last couple of days reading passages out loud to the rest of my family.
And I’m not raving about this just because he writes: „I think the Finns are fantastic. I can’t get enough of them. I would be perfectly happy for the Finns to rule the world. They get my vote, they’ve won my heart.“ (Well, maybe a little...we’re all suckers for this kind of flattery, aren’t we?) It’s his unpretentious style and dry British humor combined with loads of cultural, historical, and economical information that makes this worth reading.
He tries to find out why Denmark is considered to be the happiest place in the world, gives a short description of the economic crash in Iceland and there’s a bit about elves too (they had nothing to do with the crash), and delves into how the discovery of oil has changed Norway (and explains why the country ran out of butter in 2011).
His sauna experience in Helsinki will make you (or any Finns reading this anyway) laugh out loud, as will his description of the day he decides to go about Stockholm "behaving as un-Swedishly as possible, the theory being that, by acting in diametric opposition to Swedish social norms, I would be better able to identify and observe said norms.” (So read the book and find out what happens when he crunches through a bag of chips and slurps his coke next to a ‚no eating or drinking‘ sign at the Nobel Museum, crosses the street while the light is still red, and so forth.)
After you’re done reading, you can take a couple of minutes to watch the youtube video he recommends, titled simply ‚Danish Language‘ before booking a flight to the Nordic country of your choice.
Also, I’m almost nearly sure that it’s the Scandinavians who will be most amused by this book!
Kann mir bitte jemand das Wasser reichen? Eine kurze Geschichte der Arroganz.
Übersetzung aus dem Finnischen von Gabriele Schrey-Vasara
Nagel & Kimche 2015, 200 Seiten
(Original: Ettekö te tiedä, kuka minä olen. Ylimielisyyden historiaa. 2010)
Äußerst unterhaltsame kurze Anekdoten und kleine Häppchen aus der Geschichte, über Länder, Firmen, Machthaber, Stars und mehr, von Enron bis Dschingis Khan (der übrigens im letzten Kapitel „Die Kunst der Demut“ erscheint.)
Die folgenden Zusammenfassungen habe ich direkt aus dem Buch entnommen, weil sie neugierig aufs Lesen machen…
Mauri Kunnas Ausstellung in der Stadtbücherei Buchholz
Wer einmal ein Buch von Mauri Kunnas durchgeblättert hat, versteht wieso er der beliebteste Kinderbuchautor in Finnland ist. Die liebevolle und lustige Illustrationen kombiniert mit humorvollen Texten machen Lust aufs Lesen und Vorlesen – und (wichtig!) - seine Bücher machen auch den Erwachsenen Spaß…
Eine Ausstellung in der Stadtbücherei Buchholz zeigt jetzt eine kleine Auswahl an Illustrationen von Mauri Kunnas.
Ausstellung: Stadtbücherei Buchholz, Kirchenstr. 6, 21244 Buchholz
Bis 01. Februar 2016
Like 2015, 304 pages
Norma is an unusual young woman who is suddenly left completely alone when her mother dies. Was it suicide or was she murdered?
Norma’s thick hair grows up to a meter a day and it can actually sense things. If anybody found out about this, she would be in great danger. Without her mother to protect her, she does not know who she can trust.
Norma has the key to something the Lambert family wants, of that they are sure, and they will stop at nothing to get it.
is about organized crime, trafficking of surrogate mothers and human hair, about our obsession for beauty,
all set mostly in Helsinki in a not so distant future and spiced with a splash of
I just noticed that Synkkä niin kuin sydämeni by Antti Tuomainen is now available in English.
It is titled Dark as my Heart and translated from the Finnish by Lola Rogers.
Published by Harvill Secker in October 2015.
Back when I wrote about this (October 2014), it was only available in German.
And for some reason I am unable to link this to that post, which is unusual. :-(
Kirjastonhoitaja Topi Mullo
Reuna, 2015 269 pages
Janne Nevala’s Kirjastonhoitaja Topi Mullo is an entertaining story about a young man who takes a summer job at a small library on an island. He has been left with precise instructions as to what his duties are, and these he takes very seriously (to the dismay of some of the visitors). But summer is when things happen on the island, and a veritable invasion of tourists and artists shake up Topi’s routines. A theatre ensemble ends up moving into the building, and the flamboyant actress Nika takes an interest in him. There is the beautiful red-haired cleaner, a gang of unruly boys, and a rich widow who lives in an enormous storybook mansion, to name just a few of the other characters. The tone of the book is humorous, especially Topi’s inner monologues, which often made me laugh out loud.
Fredrika Wilhelmina Carstens
Der Efeu. Ein Briefroman
Übersetzt a.d. Finnlandschwedischen von Nadine Erler
Verlag 28 Eichen, 277 Seiten
Nachdem Nadine Erler die wichtigsten Werke von Minna Canth ins Deutsche übersetzt hatte, fing sie an, sich für den ersten Roman der in Finnland erschien, zu interessieren. Dieser war Murgrönanvon Fredrika Wilhelmina Carstens und wurde 1840 publiziert.
(F. Carstens hat das Buch auf Schwedisch geschrieben aber es wurde erst 2007 ins Finnische (Muratti) übersetzt!)
Wsoy 2013, 236 pages
Pietari Kutila leaves a shelf of old pipes to his daughter, and to each pipe there is a story about its owner. In his letter he says that up to this point (1945), he has told stories about war and the fear, the pain and the distress suffered by people torn from their homes. But, he writes, there are other tales as well…
And so we are swept away to African slave ships, the favelas in Rio, the Volga, St. Petersburgand Berlin. Each story is separate, yet they are all tied together like pearls on a string. Exotic, erotic, colourful tales encompassing the whole range of human emotion and behaviour from the most despicable to the altruistic and loving, Ín turns, bold, magical and horrifying.
Perfect. This book easily became a favourite and now I am looking forward to reading Katja Kettu’s novel The Midwife, which was published in 2011.
For more Finnish books click here.
Gummerus 2007, 399 pages
English: The Limit (translated by Lola Rogers)
German: Die Ruhelose (translated by Elina Kritzokat)
Anja, a 53-year old professor of literature, has promised her husband that she will help him die when Alzheimer has destroyed his memory. Feeling unable to keep her promise when this does happen, she obtains enough sleeping pills for her own suicide.
At the same time, Anja’s 16-year
old niece, Mari, who spends a lot of time thinking about her own death and how people would react to it, has fallen in love with her Finnish teacher and they begin an affair - an all-encompassing
obsession for Mari and an erotic diversion for Julian. Julian’s six-year old daughter Anni observes the sometimes odd behaviour of the adults around her while knowing when to keep silent about
what she sees.
Johnny Kniga 2014, 301 pages
Normally I wouldn’t pick up a book with the words ‚romantic tragicomedy’ on the cover, but since this one takes place in Muonio in Finnish Lapland, I
figured it wouldn’t be your average fare.
Katja is from Helsinki and her husband Asla is a Sami clothing designer in Muonio. Katja has lived in Muonio (200 km north of the Arctic Circle in Lapland) for only nine
months and as the newly appointed municipal manager in Muonio, has been given the task of uniting the municipalities of Muonio and Enontekiö into one. Reindeer herders in Enontekiö, chiefly her
father-in-law Piera, despise both her heritage and her plans.
Synkkä niin kuin sydämeni
Like 2013, 302 pages
Sonja Merivaara disappeared mysteriously twenty years ago. Her son Aleksi Kivi is certain that the wealthy businessman, Henrik Saarinen, had something to do with it and because the police never solved the case, he is now determined to take matters into his own hands. Finding a way to get close to Henrik Saarinen wasn’t overly difficult, but he hadn’t reckoned with Henrik’s beautiful and spoiled daughter… A gripping story about obsessions, revenge, and loneliness set in Helsinki and a mansion by the sea.
This novel made the train ride from Hamburg to Frankfurt seem very short!
Synkkä niin kuin sydämeni seems to be available only in German translation so far. (Todesschlaf)
Antti Tuomainen is the author of The Healer (Parantaja), an immensely popular dystopian novel which has already been translated into over twenty languages.
Bookwell Oy 2011, 205 pages
Anna’s memories are like random pieces disconnected from both time and space.
She remembers bits and pieces of her summer cottage and rowboat on an island, her husband Antti, his tragic death and that amazing day when a whale was spotted swimming in the River Thames.
She also remembers mornings when she woke up alone, made coffee, listened to the news, looked at the clock and thought only fourteen more hours and then I can go back to sleep.
Not only do her thoughts wander and hide, but her body as well. When she feels disconnected from herself, she leaves, walks for hours, unable to stop. Or tries to find a place where she can be alone, whether it be a closet or a cold forest.
How much of one’s sense of self is composed of memories? And does it matter in the end if these memories are distorted – or even real for that matter? For the mind cannot tell the difference.
“Have you gone to a doctor?”
“That was of no help.”
“Help for what?”
This novel is so readable, it hooked me immediately. I love the clear language and how it is funny at times and even borders on the surreal now and then, despite the wistfulness of it all.
Bookwell Oy, 361 pages
Short stories based on or inspired by actual long-distance hikes the author has been on - literally all over the world- from the Dolomites to the Alps, from England to New Zealand to the Appalachian Trail. Anecdotes from her trips accompany each story, most of which delve into the darker regions of the human mind – as to be expected!*
In the last section she includes practical advice and tips ranging from what to pack and detailed information on how to go about planning a long-distance hike yourself.
Makes one want to run to the nearest outdoor equipment store to buy tents, flashlights and maps of pretty much the entire world.
(*The Finnish title translates to: Hidden Powers. A Guide to Light and Dark Paths)
Siltala, 141 pages
After reading Nälkävuosi (A Year of Famine) by Aki Ollikainen, it seemed almost surreal to go grocery shopping and see the abundance of food available to us today.
In the freezing winter of 1867, Marja leaves her poor home with her two children, Mataleena and Juho, abandoning her husband who is too sick and weak to move anymore, thinking that she will walk to St. Petersburg where she imagines the tsar does not let the people starve and where people eat soft warm bread. Having literally nothing but the clothes on their backs, they are forced to beg for a few scraps along the way – mainly consisting of thin grey gruel and a few pieces of “pettu” (bread made with the ground up inner bark of pine in lieu of flour) given begrudgingly, for there are throngs of people on the roads to Helsinki and diseases are rampant.
Meanwhile in Helsinki, Theo and Lars, well-to-do brothers ponder and discuss the situation from their privileged positions, and even though they are not suffering from hunger, they do have their own problems, albeit much different from those of the poor.
Hunger so dire it is hard to imagine, people too weak to move anymore, freezing to death along the way, forced to leave somebody behind, watching a daughter die, people who are better off but are still powerless to change the situation; all of this is described vividly in this short novel. I actually had tears in my eyes at one point.
But it is so well-written and despite the grimness of it all, there are moments of light in the novel and the two worlds in it do meet.
Transit, 128 Seiten
Übersetzer: Stefan Moster
Malin Kivelä & Linda Bondestam
Pixonin pojat ja TV:n kotoisa kajo
The four Pixon brothers love to watch television and eat sugary cereal and sweets. They are pale and weak and their muscles the size of peas (whereas at this age they should be the size of chicken eggs)
But one day the television stops working and the boys venture outside the apartment…
The illustrations and the text in this picture book are fantastically dark humored!
Tove Jansson. Tee työtä ja rakasta
Tammi 2013, 290 pages
Tee työtä ja rakasta.
Work and love (read as second person imperative rather than as nouns) – were most important in this multi-talented artist’s life. All my life the name Tove Jansson has been synonymous with the Moomins, and the fact that she had a life outside of them seldom occurred to me.
Tuula Karjalainen portrays the times Tove lived in, the society, currents in the art world in Finland and abroad, and her relationships with family, friends and lovers, weaving them into a fascinating and satisfying biography complete with loads of pictures of Tove's work and some photographs of her as well.
I admire Tove Jansson not only for her focus on her work, but for defying the conventions of her time. She decided against marriage and children, knowing that her art would suffer from having to constantly be there for others. She had lovers of both sexes, and at times more than one relationship at once.
This is the kind of biography I could easily have read in one (long) sitting, but since I didn’t have the time, I had to keep ‘allowing’ myself to read a certain number of pages, which I almost always overstepped, so the weeds are slowly taking over the driveway and papers are piling up to name just a couple of things. But hey, we’re talking about art here, one of the most fabulous Finnish creators, so I tell myself the weeds will wither away anyway when the first frost comes. Yes, I know it’s only July now…
(I am drinking my coffee out of a Moomin mug as I write this.)
This book will be available in English in November 2014 (Penguin)
and in German in July 2014 (Urachhaus)
Pasi Ilmari Jääskeläinen
Sielut kulkevat sateessa
Atena 2013, 550 pages
Overworked and underpaid Judit leaves her uneventful life and husband for a nursing job with an international organization in Helsinki. Her boss and best friend Martta, mother of her beloved eight year old godson Mauri, has been with the company for many years and explains that the pay and perks are so good because employees are expected to go the extra mile. Nurses are expected to not only take care of the patients’ physical needs, but also that of their souls, something that agnostic Judit has trouble with. She used to believe wholeheartedly as a small child, but hasn’t for years, for reasons which slowly come to light.
Mysterious warnings are sent to her phone in this summer of never-ending rain (the rain never stops in this book, it is even more overwhelming than the snow in The Rabbit Back Literature Society) and for some odd reason she is called upon to treat the so-called ‘king of atheists’, internationally known and controversial, but oh-so-charming Leo Moreau.
Now it would be easy to write more about the plot, but that would not even begin to explain this novel. Pasi Ilmari Jääskeläinen skillfully melts reality and fantasy (reality being, of course, the fiction we are reading) and the story flows between dream and wakefulness, and asks us at some point whether facts and truths really exist or are there only convincing illusions and theories. Distance and time lose their meaning as we know them and the author manages to both entertain and horrify in a philosophical manner. Religious fundamentalism, atheism, life, death, memory and literature are all running themes and I often had the feeling I should put the book down for awhile to think about some idea more deeply, but I was unable to do so, having to keep on reading yet not wanting it to end.
In the end there is much left to chew on. Personally, I am not wondering whether there might be some higher being after all, but rather “how did the author just pull all of that off?” But of course the author is the omnipotent one here, wielding his power not only over his characters but also over his readers.
I hope this novel gets translated soon!
WSOY 2013, 328 pages
Säde is a pretty petite blonde Finn, slightly chaotic and egoistic, who worries about the future sometimes, but mostly seems to live in the present, sleeping with whom she pleases and working odd jobs here and there. Vic is an English archaeologist she met on a digging site in Greece, some fifteen years older than she is, and who is mainly concerned with drinking and women. Now Vic has a job for her at a site in Finland which has been commissioned by Voula, a flaming Greek-Finnish leader of a kind of commune that worships old gods.
Säde has been raised in an atheist family and is suspicious of anything remotely religious and her boyfriend Antti who she lives with has Asperger’s and is not especially bothered by the fact that Säde works and sleeps with Vic. Despite the potential for serious drama here, it is a fairly subdued story, told matter-of-factly with slightly eccentric characters and just a whiff of something which goes deeper and which one maybe cannot explain in full.
The only real distraction from the story was the huge number of typos in the book, but this has nothing to do with the author’s writing style.
Like 2013, 239 pages
Kai Malmirinne spends most of his time on the road and sleeping in hotels, selling his company’s products during the day and seducing women at night, both of which he does very well.
One day he comes home from a trip to find that his wife Raisa has left with no explanation and he cannot figure out why. The police cannot help him and Raisa’s sister Raili is just as clueless. Soon Kai receives mysterious letters from Raisa which only make the situation stranger.
Colorful character descriptions which are a joy to read and possibly the most eye-poppingly funny description of sex, the likes of which I’m not sure I have read before.
The end wasn’t quite as ingenious as I expected it to be, but by that time, my expectations were rather high. I suppose it could also be due to the fact that I have read more than one novel in which this type of ‘explanation’ was used and I do read a lot… I liked the very last paragraph very much though, which made up for it a little.
Tammi 2013, 237 pages
Jonglööri means ‘the juggler’ and the protagonist of this book is a fire artist who has been invited to perform at a circus festival in southern France. As soon as he gets there, he begins falling for the organizer of the event, who is referred to only as ‘you’, but while he is trying to flirt with her, a pack of cigarettes on the neighboring table suddenly confuses him because it is a Finnish cigarette brand which has not been manufactured in twenty years. It reminds him of his old school friend Gabriel and the circumstances of his tragic death right before he turned eighteen. He begins to see Gabriel everywhere and memories of his childhood and youth are interspersed between scenes from his life as a circus and fire artist. What happened and why all those years ago and what is really happening now? Both the mystical and the destructive elements of fire are vividly told.
It’s a wonderful story which left me feeling divided at the end. Either it was pretty clear as to what is and has been happening all along or it only seems that way and is not clear at all…
Definitely should be translated into English and German!
This novel is about the last years of Grigori Rasputin's life, as told by Vasili, a young orphan boy taken in and raised by Rasputin. Vasili is privy to all facets of Rasputin's life, including frequent visits to the Imperial Family at their palace, where Rasputin is highly esteemed by Alexandra who believes he is the only one who can heal Alexej who suffers from hemophilia. In Rasputin's home there is a constant stream of visitors, as people are always coming for blessings, advice and so on. Some revered him, others loathed him, and he survived one murder attempt. The author mixes fact and fiction, which I imagine to be a tricky thing to do.
There's a nice video of the author explaining a little bit about this novel on his homepage. Take a look at the video from 7.9.2013 (it's only in Finnish though). He says that we are often conditioned to believe that only the official version of history is the 'truth', i.e. that what we see (what has been written down) when in fact, the truth is also made up of the parts which we do not see, an element he wanted to bring to the story. He also wanted to show Rasputin as a person of flesh and blood, as he is often portrayed as either a mystic or a fraud, depending on one's viewpoint.
In my opinion he has succeeded perfectly. I am not going to digging around looking for facts regarding certain elements of the book to see whether there is any written record about them or not (all right, I admit I did begin to do so, but then decided to put a stop to it) I especially liked the structure of the book, the end, the atmosphere conveyed throughout, the language...
There is only one problem with the book and the author and it's a rather serious one. I'm experiencing a severe need to read something else by him, but I can't really just jet off to Finland for the sole purpose of buying a book (or twelve). I'd need some other excuse as a cover, no matter how lame. Or I'll have to choose the next one just by the cover picture and blurb.
Here is the link to the videos on his webpage:
Just finished reading Kai Ekholm’s Niiden Kirjojen Mukaan Teidät on Tuomittava (Atena Kustannus 2013) and I hope this one gets translated. It involves crimes and mystery, but I wouldn’t categorize it as a thriller as the word is commonly used. More of a classic crime novel but with a definite literary bent.
A young girl is found dead atop a labyrinth made up of books in the rotunda of the National Library of Finland in Helsinki. Soon it is determined that she has been dead for fifty years and that the books she was arrayed upon provide the clues to her identity. But how to go about finding clues from over a thousand seemingly random books? Kalju and his Chilean partner Kihara own a detective agency and they are recruited to help the police solve the mystery. More bodies are found before the novel is over, and atrocities from the past come to light.
Black humor riddles the pages and the characters and descriptions are delightful – I hope we get to meet them again!
Author Kai Ekholm is Director of the National Library of Finland and he adds an interesting anecdote at the end of the book about a certain (fictive) Mr. Corpwieth, Gentleman Detective who solved cases in this very library in 1914. Two Corpwieth stories were written by Henning Söderhjelm who worked at the library at the time, but they made Head Librarian Schaumann nervous and he wanted to forbid them!This in turn, makes me want to read them and as luck would have it, they have been translated into Finnish in 2003…
Kerjäläinen ja Jänis
Received this book from my friend Paula while in Lapland in March, but didn’t begin reading it until late April. Just a few days later, on April 24th, there was a long book review in the Hamburger Abendblatt and a note that Tuomas Kyrö would be reading that evening in Hamburg! Such coincidences must not be ignored and so I made a spontaneous trip into the city that evening, to the very cool theatre bar Nachtasyl where Tuomas Kyrö kept a large audience – the bar was completely full - entertained with both his reading and his comments and answers to questions. The German translator of the novel, Stefan Moster, hosted the evening and interpreted fluently throughout.
Here is the English language description from the WSOY site, where you can also read a short sample from the text itself. In English it is called The Beggar and the Hare (translated by David McDuff) and in German Bettler und Hase.
Vatanescu, a Romanian, wants a future for himself and pair of cleats for his son. So off he goes to a cold, dark country to beg. Vatanescu knows a little about Finland from the novels of Arto Paasilinna, but the place looks pretty different when you’re kneeling on the asphalt.
Continuous cold and endless hunger momentarily give way when Vatanescu and his fellow beggars throw a sumptuous feast from the contents of a dumpster. However, their employer, the Russian human trafficker Jegor Kugar, profoundly disapproves of this bacchanal. A conflict ensues, as a result of which Vatanescu must evade both international criminal organizations and the Finnish police. Our hero strikes up with a fellow fugitive, a hare that has been sentenced to death for the crime of living within Helsinki city limits. Their shared journey takes the beggar and the hare first to Lapland as berry-pickers, then to the National Idea Park construction site – and eventually to the upper echelons of Finnish politics.
The Beggar and the Hare is a fast-paced and warm-spirited satire about Finland and Europe, the rich and the poor, alms, ideologies, and mercy. Kyrö’s bite is as keen as ever. Folks we meet along the way include the Chinese cook Ming, the old Finnish codger Harri Pykström, and the Estonian construction worker Öunap. As a special treat, the country’s leading populist politician, Simo Pahvi, makes a guest appearance.
Pasi Ilmari Jääskeläinen
Lumikko ja yhdeksän muuta
Lumikko ja yhdeksän muuta is one of my favorite books and I was overjoyed to see that it has finally been translated into English so that people outside of Finland can see what a great novel it is too! Apparently it will be translated into German as well by Aufbau Verlag.
The English title is The Rabbit Back Literature Society and has been published by Pushkin Press in London. If you visit their website, you will see that they have an interesting selection of books.
I’d love to read this one a second time, but unfortunately I don’t own it, having loaned it from either the Muonio or Kittilä library while living in Finland. Which only means that I shall have to make a book-buying trip to Helsinki (um, I mean, to visit relatives of course and visit bookstores in-between…). If I don’t pack any clothing, I can bring back 23 kg of books.
Here is the English text from the Pushkin Press website:
A highly contagious book virus, a literary society and a Snow Queen-like disappearing author.
“She came to realize that under one reality there’s always another. And another one under that.”
Only very special people are chosen by the children’s author Laura White to join ‘The Society’, an elite group of writers in the small town of Rabbit Back.
Now a tenth member has been selected: Ella, literature teacher and possessor of beautifully curving lips.
But soon Ella discovers that the Society is not what it seems. What is its mysterious ritual, ‘The Game’? What explains the strange disappearance that occurs at Laura’s winter party, in a whirlwind of snow? Why are the words inside books starting to rearrange themselves? Was there one a tenth member, before her?
Slowly, disturbing secrets that had been buried come to light…
In this chilling, darkly funny novel, the uncanny brushes up against the everyday in the most beguiling and unexpected of ways.
Pasi’s Blog, some of which is in English (which is great, despite his blog comment: “…English is for me like a bagpipe in the hands of a rabbit when I try to express my thoughts with accuracy and precision.” Paints an amusing picture, though! )
Author Reading: Rosa Liksom and Kjell Westö
It seems to have been an exciting week at the Literature House in Hamburg. Eleven authors from the Nordic countries have come to the 14. Nordic Literature Days, an event which takes place every two years. Per Olov Enquist and Jostein Gaarder are so popular, their readings were sold out before they even got here.
Crowds filled the room on Tuesday evening as well – at least 120 people came to listen to Rosa Liksom and Kjell Westö present their latest (translated) novels. Stefan Moster, a German who lives in Finland (and who translated Hytti nro. 6 into German) moderated the reading and the German text was read by actress Katja Danowski.
Rosa Liksoms novel Compartment number 6 (Hytti nro. 6) takes place in a compartment of the Trans-Siberian train from Moscow to Ulan Bator in 1986. A young Finnish woman has to share a compartment with a Russian man. He talks. She is silent. Rosa Liksom explained that her love for Russia began when she was a fifteen year old girl and took a so-called ‘vodka tourist’ bus from Rovaniemi to Murmansk. She said that when a girl from the country (she grew up in an eight-house village in Lapland) sees the lights of a big city for the first time, she is likely to fall in love with this city. And in her case, the big city was… well…Murmansk.
Katja Danowski read passages from the novel in German and the voice of the Russian man she did with a Russian accent so vivid that during the reading one was transported into compartment number 6 (had the Literature House had a few bottles of vodka to pass around at this time, the atmosphere would have been perfect).
Kjell Westö (who speaks fluent German) is an extremely popular Finnish-Swedish author and his novel Don’t Go out into the Night Alone is a sort of Jules & Jim story which begins in the 1960’s in Helsinki with an unlikely friendship between two very different boys. Music plays a major role in the story and Stefan Moster said that it was almost as though a soundtrack was playing throughout the novel (now there’s an idea – sell the book together with a CD of the music described in it…)
Stefan Moster, the moderator, is not only a translator, but an author himself. I leafed through his latest book Die Frau des Botschafters – I don’t think it has been translated into English – at the Book Fair and it seemed like an interesting story (and it’s set in Finland!)