Finland is this year’s guest of honour at the Frankfurt Book Fair. This opens up Finnish literature to a German-speaking and global audience, with lots of great authors and over 60 translators in attendance. Finnland: Cool. I have to say, I DON’T like the slogan. Especially the extra ‘n’ in the German spelling of Finland with the euro/global English Cool tacked on.
Quite frankly, yes, of course it’s a cool place to live, and yes, it is cool here in October, we had our first snow a fortnight ago, but I couldn’t agree more with Timo Parvela. He’s a very funny children’s writer, particularly his “Ella” series for school children, who’s also very insightful: he wrote a great column wishing that the picture of Finland in Frankfurt was more nuanced. (The column is in Finnish, and bizarrely, his work has been translated into German, Polish, Chinese and all sorts of languages, but not English, yet…)
Timo is right: there’s more than reindeer, saunas, and salmiakki to talk about. Even the Moomins and Tove Jansson’s centenary are not enough, though it’s great to see her biographer at Frankfurt. Rebranding Finnish literature as Nordic noir/crime is also a bit lazy, though they do it really well: Salla Simukka is just one case in point.
To be fair to Frankfurt, they have noticed Finnish Weird. If you want a cocktail of thriller, fantasy and mythology, shaped natural forces which are too close for comfort, this is the genre for you. And Johanna Sinisalo is its mistress. She edited The Dedalus Book of Finnish Fantasy, in English translation by David Hackston, which gives you a good taste of what’s out there. One of my favourite stories in it is about a village with wooden bears outside every door (Sari Peltoniemi’s The Golden Apple). All the village children sleepwalk out to the forest every night. A single mother works out what’s happening – just before her abusive ex arrives on the scene…
Sinisalo’s award-winning first novel, Not Before Sundown, tells the story of a young man who finds a troll in the dustbin, with dramatic consequences. It’s published in American as Troll. Her latest work in English, The Blood of Angels, translated by Lola Rogers, is an environmental and personal tragedy about a world where the bees have disappeared. Here’s a taster from her latest book, The Core of the Sun, which is still in the translation process. Finnish weird wins hands down over Finnland: Cool as far as I’m concerned. Maybe I’ve already been living here too long, but the forest really is closer than you think, and you really don’t know what might come out of it…
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