When asking for suggestions on Finnish Fiction literacy the International Students often get the same answer: “The Unknown Soldier”. Even though Väinö Linna’s classic novel is something considered especially Finnish, it might not be the best read for someone interested in contemporary authors and novels of various sorts, as the book was first published in 1954 and mainly focuses on men and war.
Last weekend’s Turku Book Fair gathered attendees from all walks of life. The weekend was full of interesting events, discussions and authors, which partly inspired this list. The list might also interest Finnish students who want to keep themselves up to date on Finnish literature – how many of the novels listed here have you read?
On this list you can find fiction books with themes that range from war to love, from history and trauma to future, and from motherhood to masculinity. There is something for each and everyone wanting to get (further) acquainted with contemporary Finnish literature. Why not brighten up the academic Autumn by reading more than just the mandatory course texts for a change! During October the City of Turku is challenging everyone to share their book tips on social media under #kokoturkulukee.
The following novels can be found in Vaski libraries. Some of them have been made into feature films, which can also be found in the Vaski libraries on DVD and Blu-ray. So, if reading is not your cup of tea, you might want to check out the movies instead.
A lot has been written in Finland since 2000, and this list is not but a scratch on the surface. If you are interested in Finnish fiction, you can always ask for suggestions from the library.
Laura Millasnoore, Chair, International Wing
1) Kari Hotakainen: The Human Part
An elderly woman agrees to sell her to a writer she meets at a book fair. Her husband has not spoken since a family tragedy occurred, but she needs to talk. The Human Part is a satire that takes on the absurdities of modern society and the downturn of Finnish economy. It is a story of buying and selling, and how these two actions have changed drastically.
Kari Hotakainen started his literacy career in the 1980’s with poetry. In 1990 he moved on to children’s books and after that he wrote novels for young adults. Since then Hotakainen has written several novels for adults and got a lot of national recognition. Most of his books are situated in the everyday life of ordinary Finnish people in both the countryside and the suburbs.
2) Katja Kettu: The Midwife
A young, orphaned and ostracised midwife falls in love with a German war photographer in the summer of 1944. She desperately wants to be near him, which leads to her volunteering to serve as a nurse at the prison camp where he has been assigned.
The Midwife was Kettu’s breakthrough as a writer, which won several literacy prizes. The story is inspired by the life of her grandparents. Kettu is an animation director and has also produced, animated, edited and manuscripted music videos for Finnish rock bands such as I Walk the Line and Confusa.
You can find an English extract of the story here
(The Midwife has been made into a feature film and is also available on Blu-ray and DVD in Vaski libraries.)
3) Tuomas Kyrö: The Beggar & the Hare
A Romanian construction worker Vatanescu arrives to Finland in hopes for a better future for himself but ends up begging in the streets of Helsinki. He finds a friend in an injured city rabbit, an outcast like himself and together they escape the police and mafia.
The novel includes fairy tale-like elements while also observing the Finnish society from a critical perspective. Tuomas Kyrö is an awarded author, who might be the best known for creating a fictional character ‘Mielensäpahoittaja’ (‘The Grump’), who has appeared in several books, radio drama series and even in two feature films. Kyrös style of writing is satirical and dry. He has also appeared in the TV show ‘Hyvät ja huonot uutiset’ as a panellist.
4) Rosa Liksom: Compartment no. 6
A sad young woman boards a train in Moscow. Bound for Mongolia, she's trying to leave a broken relationship as far behind her as she can. Wanting to be alone, she chooses an empty compartment - No 6. Her solitude is soon shattered by the arrival of a fellow passenger.
Compartment no. 6 is a beautiful story about loneliness, friendship and Russia. The novel won the Finlandia Prize in 2011 and it was also running for the French Prix Médicis étranger literary price in 2013. Liksom is also a visual artist and her style of writing has been described as postmodern. Her books often include topics like sexuality and gender, violence, anxiety and power.
5) Sofi Oksanen: Purge
Aliide Truu is a self-reliant elderly woman who has, on purpose, alienated herself from other people. One day she finds an unconscious young woman on her yard and is forced to relive her past.
The story of ‘Purge’ extends three generations of women, from 1930’s to 1990’s and it is set against the backdrop of the Soviet occupation of Estonia. Purge has been translated to 38 languages and it has won many national and international awards, among them Finlandia Prize in 2008 and the European Book Prize in 2010. Sofi Oksanen is one of the most well-known Finnish-Estonian authors. Her novels often concentrate on women, sexuality and trauma, and circulate around Soviet Estonia.
(The Purge has been made into a feature film and is also available on Blu-ray and DVD in Vaski libraries.)
6 & 7) Riikka Pulkkinen: True & The Limit
True: As Elsa is dying of cancer, her husband Martti and daughter Eleonoora try to get used to the idea of losing her, but it is not easy. While Eleonoora is consumed by sorrow, her daughter Anna comes across a family secret and starts to unravel a story that dates back to 1960’s.
The Limit: The story consists of 4 main characters lives: Anja, who is a literature professor in University and whose husband has Alzheimer’s, Mari, Anjas 16-year-old niece who has trouble fitting in in high school, Maris literature teacher Julian and Julians 6-year-old daughter Anni. They all struggle with their own personal limits as well as the boundaries and expectations set to them by others. Their stories intervene, and they are bound to question their own actions and motifs.
Riikka Pulkkinen writes compelling stories that immerse the reader into the world she depicts. Her novels often take place in a domestic setting and have great emotional detail.
8) Johanna Sinisalo: Troll: A Love Story
Mikael finds a small troll in the dumpster of his housing cooperative and takes it back to his apartment, thinking he will release it once it gets better. The troll starts to impact Mikaels life more than he had expected, as well as the lives of people around him, and soon nothing will ever be the same.The novel progresses through the voice of multiple narrators. One narrator at a time is depicting the story for a few pages before the point of view changes to someone else’s – each chapter is titled after whoever is telling the story at the moment.
Johanna Sinisalo is one of the most distinguished Finnish science fiction and fantasy writer. ‘The Troll’ won the Finlandia prize, and she has been awarded with multiple science fiction and fantasy literacy awards. Sinisalo has cowritten for several Finnish TV shows, and the Finnish science fiction film ‘Iron Sky’ (2012) was based on her original text.
9) Anja Snellman: Pet Shop Girls
14-year-old Jasmin Martin and her friend Linda Rossi disappear. Jasmin has last been sighted at a snack stand, wearing a camel hair coat, holding a chinchilla rabbit. Jasmin’s mother Sara is having a hard time digesting the situation, especially after Linda is found dead, a few months after their disappearance.
Anja Snellman’s literacy career expands over three decades. Her first book ‘Sonja O. kävi täällä’ was published in 1981 and has received a reputation as a ‘cult book’, which a new generation founds time after time. Snellman has worked as a journalist and hosted numerous TV and radio shows. Her books often circulate around the themes of coming of age, adolescence and family relations.
10) Pajtim Statovci: My Cat Yugoslavia
A girl grows up in the country side of Yugoslavia, where a woman’s worth is measured by her ability to work and please a man. After the state crumbles around her and her family they fled to a new country where their lives are shadowed by shame and fear. Her son is brought up in this cold country where he is scorn at. He ends up buying a pet snake and following a moody cat to a trip to the past.
My Cat Yugoslavia is Pajtim Statovci’s debut novel and it won the Helsingin Sanomat Literature Prize for debut novel in Finnish. Statovci was born in Kosovo but he moved to Finland with his family when he was 2-years-old, after the outbreak of war in Yugoslavia in 1992. Statovci is the first Finnish person chosen to the international Wylie Agency and has recently published his second novel.
English reviews on My Cat Yugoslavia:
11) Petri Tamminen: Hiding Places
Everyone has at least once left the downstairs to avoid all the fuss and climbed the stairs up to the silence of the attic. One should always be seeking for hideouts, just to be safe when the urge for solitude occurs.
Petri Tamminen is known for his laconic and humorous style of writing, which has also been described as minimalistic. He studied journalism and since 1998 he has been a free writer, giving courses and lectures on creative writing in different Finnish universities. Tamminen has also taught Creative Writing in University of Turku. His novels usually focus on masculinity as well as to loneliness and solitude.
12) Jussi Valtonen: They Know Not What They Do
Joe Chayefski has everything he ever wanted: a reputation as one of America’s top neuroscientists, a beautiful wife and two perfect daughters. The idyll of his life starts to crumble when his neuroscience lab is attacked by animal rights activists. Joe gets a call from his ex-wife, whom he abandoned 20 years earlier, and is forced to face his past and reconsider his priorities, in order to save the people he loves.
Jussi Valtonen has his Master’s in psychology and has studied neuropsychology in Johns Hopkins University (USA). He is an awarded and distinguished author, and They Know Not What They Do won the Finlandia Prize in 2014. Valtonen has written both fiction as well as non-fiction novels and articles, among them a co-written guide book with Ben Furman for those suffering from depression.
English review on They Know Not What They Do here