Unfortunately the proportion of Finnish literature that has been translated into English is substantially lower than for the other Scandinavian languages. It is hard to say why this is the case; one can perhaps speculate that it is due to the language been less accessible and the culture being more "alien" to English readers. Regardless, I think it is sad.
Here at ScandinavianBooks, we only have author pages for three writers for the moment, but we hope to expand this section in the near future. If you know of translated Finnish books, we would appreciate a tip!
Seven brothers, by Aleksis Kivi
Seven brothers is a book written by the Finnish author Aleksis Kivi (1834-1872). Aleksis Kivi was the first professional writer that published his works in Finnish. He died in poverty at the age of thirty-eight. The book is wonderful, and Kivi is an intersting author, but, surprisingly, there is very little information about him on the internet. You can read more (in English) about this interesting author at this Finnish net site.
Published in 1870, Seven Brothers ended an era dominated by Swedish-speaking authors in Finnish literature.
For many Finns, Seven Brothers remains "the greatest Finnish novel of all time", the classic among the classics in Finnish literature.
Seven brothers is a strange, humorous and wild tale about seven depicting orphan brothers, which to some extent reads like an adventure. To evade the Lutheran Church's requirement that they learn to read and write before confirmation, they flee to the wilderness to make a living there. As Juhani, the eldest of the brothers, says: "learning to read is impossible…I have such a thick skull."
So they flee to the wilderness, and new challenges. They start to clear land and settles down to live there. They fight nature, animals, cold, hunger, as well as their own convictions and beliefs. And there they stay, for 10 years. And then, after encountering all kinds of disasters small and large, the brothers return to society - matured and ready to take responsibilities.
Kivi's individualism and his unconventional approach won him many enemies among the Fennoman movement, which emphasized agrarian and conservative values. Kivi also challenged taboos concerning what was considered decent. Thus, The seven brothers were considered too wild, to down to earth, too crude, to be literature at the time of its publication. The seven brothers were not modelled on an idealized picture of the people, but instead revealed their deep ignorance, their laziness, their resistance to culture and values, and their impulse driven ways of life.
However, it is a wonderful book. It is a very realist account of life, full of the comedy of daily life, told with passion, warmth, and understanding. It is also an optimistic novel, full of belief in the future. A great tale, a wonderful book!
Praise for Seven Brothers:
Reader review at amazon.com: I haven't come across many books I felt were pure genius, but this is one. It compares favorably in many ways to The Lord of the Rings; although Seven Brothers is not pure fantasy, much else about it is similar. Instead of four hobbits who grow to maturity and achieve sanctification, there are seven brothers. Instead of being menaced by the ringwraiths and orcs, the brothers must contend with the mad bulls, and the fearsome Toukola boys.
When I Forgot, Elina Hirvonen
Hirvonen's first novel Että Hän Muistaisi Saman (When I Forgot) was first published in Finland in 2005. It was shortlisted for the Finlandia Prize. This lyrical, sensitive book has been beautifully translated by Douglas Robinson.
A young journalist, Anna, spends a long reading Virginia Woolf's Mrs. Dalloway, reflecting and drinking coffee. Woolf’s novel has been given to her, as a gift, from her lover. The strange and strong novel stimulates her emotions – brings back bad memories – and, as well, her thoughts, and somehow provides a basis for reinterpretation of her own life.
The reinterpretation is given to us almost as a stream of consciousness. It travels in time and space, and explores everything – memories, events, pain, abuse, the family, emotions. And she has much to reflect on – mental illness in the family, her lover’s troubled past and his father’s Vietnam-past, the bad things happening in the world, the madness of 9/11, the invasion in Iraq.
This beautiful – but also strange, sometimes remote in a sense - little book moves in the micro cosmos of daily life, at the same time as it traces the effects of larger events, however unfair and brutal.
When I Forgot by Elina Hirvonen is written from a European point of view, and interpretations of many events may seem anti-American. Be that as it may – the reflections are genuine, the reactions not uncommon, and the tale an important one. And to a large extent it is a sad story - with Joona probably as one of the saddest characters recently written. It is a dark, beautiful and sensitive book with a strong glimmer of hope in the midst of its misery. Its prose is austere and dense. It is a novel you should take the time to read.
“Potent, fragile and tender, When I Forgot is really the story of ‘When I Remembered,’ of a woman summoning the courage to unlock her memories and share them, and feeling the relief of exhaling breath held too long.”
—Liesl Schillinger, The New York Times Book Review (cover)
Recommended Reading: The story of two young people, one Finnish and one American, each with their own tragic pasts, and their journey together to understanding.
—San Francisco Chronicle
"An amazing, intense, lyrical account of two parallel lives and their wonderful love affair. The swift clarity of the prose, the beauty of the images, and the wise observations make this novella a fantastic pleasure."
—Josip Novakovich, author of April Fool's Day
The Human Part by Kari Hotakainen
The Human Part (Finnish original title Ihmisen osa) is a marvelous and fascinating tale by prize-winning Finnish author Kari Hotakainen. It starts, interestingly, with a scolding of authors. Authors are people who make a living by producing lies, says Salme Malmikunnas, the main protagonist in this wonderful novel.
But even so, Salme has a story to tell, and when she meets a living, breathing author at a book fair, she decides – after some persuasion – to sell her story for a few thousand Euro. She likes that he promises to tell her story exactly as she tells it, word by word.
But while Salme Malmikunnas is a lady of the past, where a word was a word, the author is an author. One of those who makes a living by telling tales and perhaps even spreading lies. He is willing to promise anything to get ahold of Salme’s story. He even tells her that he is willing to write the whole story in italics! But then – he tells lies when he writes, so why would he be truthful when he speaks to Salme and makes promises to her?
Finnish author Kari Hotakainen got his breakthrough as an author when he was nominated for the 1997 Finlandia Prize for Klassikko (The Classic). Later, in 2002, he was awarded this prize for Juoksuhaudantie (Battle Trench Avenue). And in 2004, Hotakainen received the Nordic Council's Literature Prize for the same book. He has also received several other prizes internationally. He has written 10 novels, several collections of poetry, as well as plays and a TV-series. In 2010 he won the Runeberg Prize for The Human Part.
Kari Hotakainen – here as the author writing about the old lady and the author – spins an outstanding tale. And who knows where the truth ends and the lies begin in Salme’s tale as at is being retold by the author? All we know is that it is a grand tale, one that grows and grows and gets fatter and fatter. The Human Part a is tale of the destinies of Salme’s three children, of the new times in Finland, of the emptiness and falsehood of the values that some people hold.
Kari Hotakainen is a story teller “extraordinaire”. Quite out of the ordinary. Reading him makes me partly think of Arto Paasilinna, who has the same ability to spin a tale and the same dry, wicked sense of humor. The serious social sarcasm in Hotakainen also reminds me of Henrik Ibsen, who had the same special talent or ability to present social criticism and raise huge and important questions in an enlightening as well as entertaining fashion. I loved this book – especially the monologue by the bus driver Biko at the end of the book. Overall, The Human Part balances seriousness and humor using multiple voices in a very intriguing and highly entertaining way.