FILI just announced the finalists for this year’s Finlandia Prize—a 30,000 euro award given every year to the best Finnish works of fiction, nonfiction, and children’s literature.
Personally, I’m most interested in the fiction, so here’s the complete list with descriptions of each title from FILI:
Turkka Hautala: Salo (Gummerus)
The theme of Turkka Hautala’s debut novel is one of human destiny. One by one the residents of Salo take their turns speaking, in a chain-like structure. The spectrum of viewpoints extends from the anguish of a factory manager to the everyday compassion of the seller at a sausage kiosk, but the personalities merge into a cohesive whole. Hautala takes ordinary people as his characters and he knows how to see the humorous side of their actions. The novel is written in supple language using different registers and dialects. Salo builds a mosaic portrait of the declining Finland of today, and the author’s gaze is sharp and fresh.
Kari Hotakainen: Ihmisen osa (The Human Lot, Siltala)
At a bookfair, a writer meets a button seller who sells him her life story for 7,000 euros. Along with the sale, the reader receives a large slice of Finnish life and the history of entrepreneurship. The small business owner’s grind is replaced nowadays by endless meetings and imagination for sale. Like its characters, broken under the blows of an unrestricted market economy, Kari Hotakainen’s novel is customer-oriented but strongly resistant to change, critical of society, warm and intelligent.
Antti Hyry: Uuni (The Oven, Otava)
In Hyry’s novel, the reader’s interest is not directed to a plot or character portraits. There are no dramatic turning points in this description of the construction of a baking oven. On the surface, Hyry’s writing is reminiscent of the kinds of modernists who build their texts on simple perceptions of the world of objects in order to emphasize incompleteness in their sketches of the world. Instead, the person in Hyry’s book is taking concrete steps to establish a home in the world. His tasks gain their significance from the meaningful places of life in its entirety. This portrait of everyday life thus opens out into a cosmos where the central character is living the life he was meant to live.
Marko Kilpi: Kadotetut (The Lost Ones, Gummerus)
Kilpi’s work explodes the conventions of the detective genre, because attention is focused not on the intellectual puzzle of solving a crime or understanding a criminal’s motivation. Instead, crime is taken seriously as a psychological, humanistic moral and societal phenomenon. The violent criminal is seen as psychologically abnormal, while at the same time his activities provide the impetus for the popular media’s pursuit of simple labeling of our society. The police are shown as psychologically stressed due to their experiences of the human suffering and cruelty inherent in violent crime, and the victims of crime are examined not only in the narrow terms of rescue or death – rather, the possibility that those “rescued” are so psychologically wounded that they may never be able to live a normal life is seriously considered. Kilpi’s book reveals how deeply traumatic violent crime is for everyone it touches.
Merete Mazzarella: Ingen saknad, ingen sorg (No regret, no sorrow, Söderströms / Atlantis)
Merete Mazzarella’s novel is a nuanced and empathetic description of a day in the life of 79-year-old Zacharias Topelius, at the same time viewing Topelius as tied to his own time, giving the portrayal a delicate irony. On the one hand, the novel is a study of old age with all that it entails: memory, renunciation, loss, emotion, the reevaluation of perceptions, even doubts about one’s past deeds and thoughts. On the other hand, the book is a study of the Finnish mentality of the 1800s through the contemplation one who would in future be a central cultural figure. In a Topelius family circle made up for the most part of women, women’s issues in various historical eras gain particular significance.
Tommi Melender: Ranskalainen ystävä (The French Friend, WSOY)
Tommi Melender’s novel is about friendship in a world where friendship is a diminishing resource. At the beginning of the novel, a well-known academic, identifying with Gustave Flaubert’s disgust with modern life, leaves his job and escapes to a small town in France, where he encounters certain darker aspects of contemporary European reality. The novel’s skillful composition combines a contemporary portrait of the European literary heritage with the bleak and pessimistic tones of a reluctance to believe in solidarity between people, or the possibility of friendship, or love itself.
Looking these over, I’m surprised (somewhat) by how literary, how experimental these books sound. (“There are no dramatic turning points in this description of the construction of a baking oven.” Being one Nouveau Romanish sounding example.) A “chain narrative,” a book that toys with conventions of the detective genre . . . All sound pretty promising. I might (hopefully) be going on an editor’s trip to Helsinki next August, so I’ll be able to find out a lot more about what’s going on in Finnish literature . . .
In terms of the other categories, here are the titles and very brief descriptions of the children’s book finalists:
Siiri Enoranta: Omenmean vallanhaltija (The Ruler of Omenmea, Robustos)
In Siiri Enoranta’s novel, two girls, Ninir and Nezsandra, have a trouble-free friendship, until Ninir falls into quicksand in the Death Wilderness and is paralysed.
Antti Halme: Metalliveljet (Metal Brothers, Otava)\
“What do you think about going to Norway for the summer, Harri-berry? Sounds pretty rad, eh?” Harri put his head in his hands. Dad’s street lingo was from the last millennium, way before rap – months before the invention of the folk dance, in fact.
Juba: Minerva, Jääkarhun sydän (Minerva: The Polar Bear’s Heart, Otava)
Juba’s Minerva has given Finnish children’s comics an active, energetic girl hero. In Minerva’s flying rocking chair we travel to the North Pole, where elephant seals are making their living as oil magnates. To win the love of an elephant seal girl, the hapless suitor Yrjänä must bring her the heart of the last polar bear.
Mari Kujanpää: Minä ja Muro (Muro and Me, Illustrated by Aino-Maija Metsola, Otava)
“There are two kinds of adults: dentist-adults and teacher-adults. Dentist-adults talk adult language among themselves as if there were no kids listening. Teacher-adults try to be funny and ask a lot of questions.”
Paula Noronen: Emilian päiväkirja. Supermarsu pelastaa silakat. (Emilia’s Diary: Superguinea Rescues the Herring, Illustrated by Pauliina Mäkelä, Gummerus)
What should you do when your school is infested with mould, the Baltic is polluted, and there are many other problems in society? Call Emilia, aka Superguinea, of course. You need super powers to get all the herring into a bathtub and all the lake water to Venus. Otherwise adults will never understand that saving the environment is really important. The only place super powers don’t help is in family life, when Emilia’s mother takes up with a boyfriend who has the worst table manners in East Helsinki.
Maria Turtschaninoff: Arra. Legender från Lavora (Arra: Legends of Lavora, Söderströms)
Maria Turtschaninoff’s book is the story of a girl named Arra, born and raised in hopelessness, rejected and despised by her family. Arra doesn’t learn to talk like other children, because no one takes any notice of her or speaks to her. Speech has no meaning for her.
And the nonfiction:
Hollmén, Roope: Juuret Karjalassa (Roots in Karelia, Facto)
Roope Hollmén presents a basic work on Karelia, Karelian history and Karelians that is multi-faceted and thorough. The book is a modern one, written with up-to-date information for today’s reader. It is an accessible work for those who do not have ties of their own to the province.
Laurell Seppo (primary author): Valo merellä. Suomen majakat 1753-1906 (Light on the Sea: Finnish Lighthouses 1753-1906, with photography by Petri Porkola, Swedish translation by Pär-Henrik Sjöström, John Nurmisen Säätiö)
Seppo Laurell and the other editors of Valo merellä have collected an authoritative and very handsome defining work on Finnish lighthouses. With its text, pictures, and previously unknown original blueprints, the book is a comprehensive compendium of the lighthouses themselves, as well as their history and architecture.
Maasola, Juha: Kirves (The Axe, Maahenki)
Juha Massola uses a particular, indispensable object to write about living cultural history. Through descriptions of the labour inextricably connected with the axe, the feelings associated with it, and the meanings arising from it, he sheds light on the entire way of life dictated by our geographical and environmental circumstances.
Parpola, Antti – Åberg, Veijo: Metsävaltio. Metsähallitus ja Suomi 1859-2009 (A Forest Nation: The Finnish Forest and Park Service, 1859-2009, Edita)
Antti Parpola and Veijo Åberg have written a work that belongs at the pinnacle of corporate and institutional histories. The forest is one of the central themes of Finnish life, both as a means of livelihood and as a source of recreation.
Tandefelt, Henrika: _Borgå 1809. Ceremoni och fest. SLS.
Porvoo 1809. Juhlamenoja ja tanssiaisia_ (Porvoo 1809: Festivals and Balls, SKS, Finnish translation by Jussi T. Lappalainen)
Henrika Tandefelt’s work deals with well-known historical events, but it succeeds in shedding new light on them. Events surrounding the birth of a nation in Porvoo 200 years ago are brought to life with close-up descriptions seen through the eyes of participants and observers of these events.
Ylikangas, Mikko: Unileipää, kuolonvettä, spiidiä. Huumeet Suomessa 1800-1950 (Sleepbread, Deathwater, Speed: Drugs in Finland, 1800-1950, Atena)
Mikko Ylikangas’ book offers a new and surprising compendium of a little-examined aspect of our history. Drugs are a global threat usually understood as a product of contemporary society and globalisation. Ylikangas brings a historic point of view of Finland’s history of recreational drugs and drug addiction that is unknown to many readers.
More information on all these books can be found here. And I’ll definitely post about the winners as soon as they are announced.
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Randall Jarrell once argued a point that I will now paraphrase and, in doing so, over-simplify: As a culture, we need book criticism, not book reviews. I sort of agree, but let’s not get into all of that. Having finished. . .