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31 December 2002 | Archives online, Fiction, Prose

Extracts from the novel Granaattiomena (‘Pomegranate’, WSOY, 2002). Introduction by Kristina Carlson

The journey

Mother had sent her son to the island of Rome.

She’d sent him for pleasure and recreation, and also to have a little time by herself. Even though their life together was on an even keel, it was sensible to have some time away from each other. She herself was sixty-eight, and her son an unmarried hermit in his thirties, on sickness allowance for the last couple of years. He was afflicted with chronic depression. The doctors had been unable to identify the cause. The origin of a disorder of that sort was often looked for in some infant trauma; but the boy’s childhood, from all appearances, had been harmonious. One doctor suspected the time of his father’s terminal illness, when the boy had had to nurse his father for a long while. More…

The lake

30 June 1988 | Archives online, Fiction, Prose

Järvi (‘The lake’), a short story, 1915. Introductions by Kai Laitinen and Pekka Tarkka

I travel the world, not out of any desire for adventure, but because that is the way things have happened. The best of my wanderings are in obscure, tucked-away regions, where life is humdrum and pitched in a low key. There I have no need to stave off nostalgia for the past by leading a hectic life: my days go by in stolid succession from season to season, I am an ordinary unimportant individual among all the rest. For long stretches of time my life does not strike me as being either dull or bright; I derive a certain satisfaction from its very emptiness. It is as though I were, by degrees and to the best of my ability, paying off a kind of debt. More…


31 March 1989 | Archives online, Drama, Fiction

An extract from the tragedy Kullervo (1864). Introduction by David Barrett
The plot of the Kullervo story as told in the Kalevala: Untamo defeats his brother Kalervo’s army, and Kalervo’s son Kullervo is born a slave. Untamo sells him as a young child to llmarinen whose wife, the Daughter of Pohjola, makes the boy a shepherd and bakes him a loaf with a stone inside it. Kullervo takes his revenge by sending home a flock of wild animals, instead of cattle, who tear her to pieces. He flees, and discovers that his parents and two sisters are alive on the borders of Lapland. He finds them, but one of his sisters is lost. Life in the family home is unhappy: Kullervo fails in all the tasks his father sets him. On his way home one day he finds a girl in the forest whom he abducts in his sledge and seduces. It turns out the girl is his lost sister, who drowns herself when she learns that Kullervo is her brother. Kullervo sets out to revenge himself on Untamo; he kills and destroys. When he returns home, he finds the house empty and deserted, goes into the forest and falls on his sword.

ACT II, Scene 3

Kalervo’s cottage by Kalalampi Lake. It is night-time. Kimmo, seated by a fire of woodchips, is mending nets. More…

Man and boy

31 December 2006 | Archives online, Fiction, Prose

Extracts from the novel Kansallismaisema (‘National landscape’ Tammi, 2006). Introduction by Tuomas Juntunen

Plans were afoot to establish boys’ camps across the country. This was an experiment, a chance to test the water, to be a pioneer. Here was the opportunity to be the first in line to conquer the Wild West, just as many a brave cowboy had done in years gone by. The Ministry of General Affairs planned to put all 15-year-olds to work for the duration of the summer holidays. Casual labourers were often even younger. Our task was to ascertain a suitable minimum age. In addition, special camps were planned for those not suited to normal work camps. In the summers to come the youth of Finland would be fully employed. Weren’t we in fact driven by the same desire, Tikka had wondered. We both cared about the next generation. We wanted to root out their deficiencies so that they would be able to face life’s challenges to the full. More…

Digging for gold

30 June 1989 | Archives online, Fiction, Prose

Antti Tuuri has found his theme in the life of Finnish émigré communities and their experience in what used to be called ‘the New World’. Uusi Jerusalem (‘The New Jerusalem’, 1988), is about the Finns who migrated to Canada during the Depression, only to find that their utopian dreams had no basis in reality. In the following extract the narrator finds himself and his fellow mineworkers in the middle of the forest at night, on the way by foot to the Kirkland Lake gold mines, where they are going to be strikebreakers. The novel, an ironical tale of life in a new land, follows on from Pohjanmaa (‘Ostrobothnia’, 1982), Talvisota (‘The Winter War’, 1984), Ameriikan raitti (‘The American road’, 1986).

The train pulled up at Swastika station, many a mile from Kirkland Lake, and Hamina said we’d have to press on by foot from the station to the town.

Swastika, he said, meant the crooked cross, but he didn’t know whether there were any of those German Adolf-fanciers around, who were so keen on the sign. He was certain, in fact, the town had got its name long before anyone in Germany had heard of Adolf or his swastika.

We asked why we had to walk from here to the town. Hamina said we’d got to walk because even in Canada vehicles didn’t drive through the backwoods; moreover, it wasn’t a good idea to walk along the Kirkland Lake road: we might meet up with the kind of guys who’d make our arrival at Kirkland Lake seem very unwelcome. More…


14 June 2009 | Reviews


Zzzzzzz! In the grey seal kindergarten babies take a nap after dinner. – Photo: Seppo Keränen

Taskinen, Juha
Paluu Saimaalle

[Return to Lake Saimaa]
Helsinki: WSOY, 2009. 204 p., ill.
ISBN 978-951-0-33745-5
€ 38.90, hardback
Keränen, Seppo & Lappalainen, Markku
[The seals]
Helsinki: Maahenki, 2009. 151 p., ill.
ISBN 978-952-56-5266-6
€ 45, hardback

Helsingfors: Söderströms, 2009.
151 p., ill.
Swedish translation: Annika Luther
ISBN 978-951-52-2603-7
€ 45, hardback

The private life of the species of seal that lives only in Lake Saimaa has been carefully investigated lately. Almost everything about this highly endangered species has been revealed, thanks to technological devices such as transmitters that can be glued to their backs…

STOP! WARNING:  as I realise that not everybody wants to know what pinnipeds do in their spare time, I suggest you quit reading now, if you aren’t interested in the lives and fates of an obscure group of about 260 mammals that live in a lake in the remote west of Finland.


The engineer’s story

30 June 1981 | Archives online, Fiction, Prose

A short story from Maailman kivisin paikka (‘The stoniest place in the world’, 1980). Introduction by Pekka Tarkka

Coffee was going to be served down by the river. The engineer took my elbow and led me across his paved courtyard and over his lawn; we settled ourselves down in cane chairs under the trees. Mirja came out of the house with a tray of coffee and coffee-cups, a loaf of sweet bread, already cut, some marble cake and some biscuits. The engineer said nothing. My eye wandered over the ample weeping birches by the river, the mist creeping up in the cool of the evening and shifting in the cross-pull of the breeze and the current, and I watched Mirja moving under the trees back to the house and then down again to the riverbank.

As we sipped our coffee we spoke about chance, and the part it plays in life, about my husband – for I was able to speak about him now: enough time had gone by. The engineer eased himself into a comfortable position, gave me a quick look and then launched off into an account of his own, about his trip abroad:

I spotted the news item as I was going through the morning paper on the plane. I sat more or less speechless all of the first leg, listening to Kirsti and her husband confabulating. I didn’t say anything during the stop-over in Copenhagen, either, where they wanted to get some schnapps and, of course, some chocolate ‘if Kirsti would really like some’. We came rushing back into the plane just as the last English, German and Danish announcements were coming over, and then we sat waiting for the take-off. That was delayed too because of a check-up (not announced), and then we were off again for Zurich, me without a word and they whispering together. Then it was the bus as far as the terminal, and after that a taxi to the hotel. Quite clearly Kirsti hadn’t heard a thing about it yet, and probably hadn’t had much contact with Erkki for quite some time, her new husband even less. More…

One and twenty

30 September 2007 | Archives online, Fiction, poetry

(Extracts from the epic poem Kaksikymmentä ja yksi, Otava, 1974)

[Canto I]

Twenty-one and a sail, days and nights.
              Nights, they sleep. Days, they row, days and days up the Nevá,
they row, stop at night, pull the vessel with ten pairs of oars
              across the bare water,
from the Nevá to the Roiling Waves, from the Roiling Waves
              up to Novgorod, from Novgorod to the headwaters,
                        and from there across the isthmus,
over round logs, running the last log up to the prow, they pull,
they row, they descend, they pull, they sail toward Pohja,
               the Southland.
Twenty-one and a sail, days and nights,
              nights, they sleep, they row, day and night, up the Nevá.
The rower turns into arms, the arms turn into palms,
              the palms turn into oars, the oars turn into the river, the river runs.
Night changes to day, day changes to autumn, autumn to wind,
              the wind turns into a sail,
as one single bird ten pairs of oars pairs of wings fly upriver,
              across the isthmus, all night without stopping
they pull, they float the vessel, they keep going
              toward the Southland.
And South is the name of a slave.
They stand in the Southland's yard.
              Bent, Bent, Nightbird, Big Toe, Crow's Son, Cuckoo's Son,
Väinö's Son, Dead Man’s Son, Whitefish, Black Dick
              Man’s Wood, Broom, Lover Boy, Pumpkin,
Water Cloak, Fishless, Stocking Foot, Fist, Mast and Fishery.
              Bent and Bent are twins, their father is also a Bent,
                      Bent the Guardian of the Spears.


Writing Sinuhe

31 December 1995 | Archives online, Authors, Fiction

Extracts from the novel Neljä päivänlaskua (‘Four sunsets’, 1949): in this novel about a novel, Mika Waltari gives a fictionalised, humorous and melancholy account of the birth of his most famous novel, the international bestseller, Sinuhe, egyptiläinen (The Egyptian, 1945). His ‘Egyptians’ do not leave him in peace, so he retreats to his summer cabin with his typewriter and faithful dog to write

Critical notes

In offering this work to the public, furnished with the requisite comments, we do so with considerable hesitation, for even the superficial reader will very soon realise that this disguised and sentimental love-story has no educational or morally uplifting intent whatsoever. On the contrary, the thoughts contained within it are often so amoral and perplexing that they are repellent to the enlightened reader. For this reason, the spontaneity of the narrative does not of itself legitimise publication of the work.

Since, however, with the aforementioned reservations, we are offering the work to the public, we do it for entirely other reasons. For this work is, by type, a terrible apotheosis of human selfishness. One must remember that it was written only a couple of months after the first use of the atom bomb for practical purposes, when the world had hardly achieved the so-called ‘cold peace’ after the so-called Second World War. If we remember this background, the author grows, in his unremitting selfishness, into a cautionary example in the reader’s eyes. For he does not, in his book, spare a thought for the sufferings of humanity, but speaks incessantly about his own heart. 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…

Notes related to pharmacist Pemberton’s holy nectar

30 June 2000 | Fiction, Prose

Extracts from the novel Vådan av att vara Skrake (‘The perils of being Skrake’, Söderström & Co.; Isän nimeen, Otava, 2000)

At the time of Werner’s stay in Cleveland Bruno and Maggie had already been divorced for some years, and in an irreconcilable manner. But they were still interested in their grown-up son, each in their own way; Maggie wrote often, and Werner replied, he wrote at length, and truthfully, for he knew that Bruno and Maggie no longer communicated; to Maggie he could admit that he hated corporate law and bookkeeping, and to her he dared to talk about the raw music he had found on the radio station WJW, he wrote to her that the music of the blacks had body and that he had found a great record store, it was called Rendezvous and was situated on Prospect Avenue and there he had also bought a ticket for a blues concert, wrote Werner, he thought that Maggie would understand. More…

‘ware bears!

30 September 1988 | Archives online, Children's books, Fiction

Urpo and Turpo

Illustration: Jukka Lemmetty

Urpo and Turpo are a pair of teddy bears. Their family – mother, father and three children – cannot imagine who it is that makes such a mess; the bears live their own absorbing lives in house. Hannele Huovi’s text and Jukka Lemmetty’s illustrations describe the bears’ antics in a way that appeals to the sense of humour of readers of all ages.

In the green house an ordinary family are living a perfectly ordinary life. There’s father, mother, The Big Daughter, The Son, and also The Baby as well. Mother keeps running back and forth all day long shouting, ‘Goodness gracious! Who’s responsible for this?’ For very funny things keep going on in the house. Who on earth is it – always getting up to some sort of hanky-panky?

Father harrumphs and says to The Big Daughter:

‘It was you, wasn’t it?’ But The Big Daughter shakes her head. Father turns to The Son:

‘So it must have been you, then?’ But the son shakes his head. No use asking The Baby. He shakes his head anyway, because he’s always imitating the others. Father and mother are completely stumped. More…

Dead calm

31 December 2007 | Fiction, Prose

Extracts from the novel En lycklig liten ö (‘A happy little island’, Söderströms, 2007)

In the beginning the computer screen was without form, and void, and the scribe’s fingers rested on the keyboard.

The scribe bit his lower lip. His gaze travelled like a fly from the workroom’s crowded bookshelves to the rocking chair in front of the window and the coloured prints of birds on the walls. He went out into the kitchen and drank some water. Then he sat down in front of the computer again.

To create from nothing a fictitious world assisted only by the tools language places at our disposal, surely that must be a great and exacting undertaking!

The scribe hesitated and racked his brains for a long time before finally typing the first word: ‘sky’. Then after long thought he typed another word: ‘sea’. More…

And he left the road

30 June 1983 | Archives online, Fiction, Prose

Three short stories from Maantieltä hän lähti (‘And he left the road’). Introduction by Eila Pennanen

And he left the road

And he left the road, walking straight ahead across fields and ditches, past barns and through bushes growing in the ditch. From the fields he went on to the forest, climbed a fence, walked past spruce and pine, juniper bushes and rocks, and came to the edge of a forest and to the swamp. He crossed the swamp, going through small groves of trees if they happened to be in his way. He went on walking rapidly across rivers, through forests, over seas and lakes, and through villages, and finally he came back to the very spot from which he had started walking straight ahead.

In the same way he walked at a right angle to the direction he had first taken and after that, a few times between those two directions. Every time he would start from the road and in the end would always come back to the road in the same direction as when he’d started off. On his rounds, after walking a bit, he would stop and look up every now and then, and each time he looked he would see the sky and sun or the moon and stars. More…

The house in Silesia

31 December 1989 | Archives online, Fiction, Prose

A short story from Talo Šleesiassa (‘ The house in Silesia’, 1983). Read the interview

We set off, my brother-in-law and I, at the beginning of September. The tourist season was already over, and on the Gdansk ferry there was stacks of room for my brother-in law’s Volvo and the two of us.

We’d driven from his home on the shore of Lake Mälar to the ferry port at Nynäshamn, about fifty miles south of Stockholm. We’d driven in an atmosphere of cheerful resolution, accelerator down, but going steadily. The resoluteness was due to my brother-in-law’s decision after forty years’ absence to visit his childhood home. If it was still standing, that is – or whatever of it was.

‘Oh the house is definitely still in place there all right,’ he said: ‘I’ve got that sort of tickly feeling in my arse.’ It was a direct translation from the German – German humour of the vulgar variety centring round the bottom. More…