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August 2014

A New North: Contemporary Writing from Finland

This month we present writing from Finland. Due to historic and linguistic circumstances, Finnish literature has received less attention in the English-speaking world than it merits. Our guest editor, the prominent Finnish translator Lola Rogers, has selected an exciting group of contemporary writers, many of whom appear in English for the first time. Leena Krohn's depressed writer presents the reading from hell. In stories of parents and children, Mikko Rimminen finds unexpected obstacles on a train, and Shimo Suntila looks in on a single parent wrangling two rambunctious girls. Two pieces here bring history to life, as Sofi Oksanen pens a vivid recreation of the bombing of Talinn in 1940 and Antti Tuuri observes an expat Finnish construction crew working in Russia under the local Communist Party in 1930. Pasi Ilmari Jääskeläinen's dementia patient loses his memory but develops second sight.  Daniel Katz calculates the literal weight of words, while Maritta Lintunen's librarian receives a package from the past. Tiina Laitila Kälvemark's fragile woman struggles to recover her sanity. Kari Hotakainen's multiple narrators struggle with anger and ennui. Joonas Konstig's fretful young man seeks an appropriate setting for an important question. And Petri Tamminen acknowledges a lifelong trait. We thank the Finnish Literature Exchange for their generous support of this issue. Elsewhere, in three pieces from Ukraine selected by Oleksandr Mykhed, Sashko Ushkalov finds a job applicant with unusual experience, Taras Antypovych's gravediggers confront the end of their profession, and Tanya Malyarchuk shares secrets of pest control.

An Introduction to Finnish Literature
By Lola Rogers
Finland is an enlightened modern Nordic welfare state, wired, highly literate and technologically advanced. Finland is also the most sparsely inhabited country in the European Union, mostly covered in…
Letter to Lethe
By Pasi Ilmari Jääskeläinen
Just so you know, my beloved daughter, they tell me I was a charming man, the kind of witty rascal whose arms women had the bad habit of throwing themselves into. “You would have liked yourself,”…
Translated from Finnish by Lola Rogers
The Message Bearer
By Maritta Lintunen
In the entrance hall of the library the children’s coats let off the damp smell of an autumn day.The patter of feet, the giggling of girls, the scrapping of boys: the sounds filled the quiet space…
Translated from Finnish by Emily Jeremiah
The Weight of Words
By Daniel Katz
The finger of fate pushed Miss Götha Traub into Belgian Wallonia at the end of the 1930s, leaving her stranded there when, with lightning speed, the Wehrmacht occupied the country. She had come to…
Translated from Finnish by Lola Rogers
Final Appearance
By Leena Krohn
That winter afternoon, just before the flyover and exit for the city of S—, E. suddenly saw a broad, dark shadow cross the beam of his headlights. The back-end of a truck! Such was his perception.…
Translated from Finnish by Eva Buchwald
The White Room
By Tiina Laitila Kälvemark
Daylight and color are to be avoided, says Padima. No troubling pictures and patterns, no colorful details that your gaze gravitates toward. The room is to be clear and peaceful, and as bare as possible.Because…
Translated from Finnish by Eric Dickens
Easy as Flushing
By Mikko Rimminen
Perttu needed to poop. That’s how it had been, the situation, all weekend. But nothing would come out. He stared out the train window, vaguely expressing his discomfort.The crushingly somber pinewood…
Translated from Finnish by Eva Buchwald
from “When the Doves Disappeared”
By Sofi Oksanen
1941TallinnThe grain warehouses were burning, the sky grew columns of smoke. Buses, trucks and cars filled the roads, their worn tires screaming like the people were, screaming to get away. And then an…
Translated from Finnish by Lola Rogers
from “Finnhits”
By Kari Hotakainen
Are you completely sure I feel like listening? Have you thought it through carefully and concluded that on Friday at 4:54 PM I'm going to feel like taking in one more life story that starts deep in…
Translated from Finnish by Owen F. Witesman
The Rat
By Tanya Malyarchuk
1This is impossible, Tamara Pavlivna convinces herself, it’s impossible. I live on the seventh floor of a brick building, and the seventh floor—it’s gotta be too high for him. He couldn’t…
Translated from Ukrainian by Michael M. Naydan
By Sashko Ushkalov
“Oh well,” I said, “Then it’s probably gonna be a panda.”“We can’t really settle on ‘probably,’” said the guy. “We need a firm commitment.”“A…
Translated from Ukrainian by Iryna Shuvalova
Metamorphoses of Reality: An Introduction to New Ukrainian Writing
By Oleksandr Mykhed
Whenever I get into a conversation regarding Ukraine’s place on the global map, I am always reminded of a cartoon I once saw in an American history textbook. In it, a confused-looking student is…
Translated from Ukrainian by Iryna Shuvalova
By Peter Sandström
My father usually slept in the greenhouse, in the storage room where the season’s fruit was stored. He had a bunk in there and a light on the wall. I think it was his protective shelter—he…
Translated from Finland-Swedish by Ruth Urbom
By Shimo Suntila
“We needed some liquid gold,” Milla says very seriously.
Translated from Finnish by Liisa Rantalaiho
The Right Place
By Joonas Konstig
They had the Kaukokiito stage up in the marketplace and some of the market crowd stood over by it looking in. Karhu and Ella circled around in front of it and saw potters sitting around wheels. Some were…
Translated from Finnish by Douglas Robinson
from “The Eternal Road”
By Antti Tuuri
Abducted from his home in Finland in 1930 by the radical Finnish right-wing Lapua Movement, the narrator escapes his captors and finds himself alone on the Russian side of the border. Russians discover…
Translated from Finnish by Jill Timbers
One of Those Difficult Feelings We Have
By Petri Tamminen
I couldn’t sleep. I went outside and sat in a garden chair. It was September, a mild night with no wind. A few minutes passed and I began to wonder how I must look sitting there at 12:30 at night.…
Translated from Finnish by Jill Timbers
April 2045: The Hole
By Taras Antypovych
Bazyl the gravedigger sat on a pile of earth that he himself had created and, as usual, smoked his cheap cigarettes. His short-cropped hair was completely gray. His arms, bony and covered in thick veins,…
Translated from Ukrainian by Uilleam Blacker