On our fourth journey around the world and in our mission to discover authors from various countries, we land in Finland to meet some of its most notable writers. Finnish books can be quiet experimental, philosophical, and critically engaged with social issues. Another characteristic of Finnish literature that makes it unique, at the moment, is the current reign of powerful female writers.
Fagerholm is an award-winning Swedish-speaking Finnish author. Her third novel, The American Girl, tells the story of a girl from Coney Island who disappears when she arrives in Helsinki in the 1970s. The crime mystery, which is also a sensitive meditation on female friendship, won Sweden’s August Prize in 2005. It’s the first in a two-part series, followed by The Glitter Scene.
Fagerholm made her debut in 1987 with Sham but her real breakthrough in the literary scene was in 1994 with Underbara kvinnor vid vatten. The book was nominated for the Finlandia Prize, which is the biggest literary prize in Finland. It was also nominated for the August prize in 1995, in Sweden and also the International Dublin Literary Award in 1998. In 1994, she received the Runeberg Award in Finland.
Itäranta finished her first novel, Memory of Water, while she was studying for an MA in creative writing at the University of Kent, England. Itäranta started writing the novel in English, translating it into Finnish along the way. She finished writing the book in Finnish and English simultaneously. Memory of Water is a story set in a future world that is running out of fresh water. Reviewers have compared Itäranta to Margaret Atwood, and Memory of Water won her the Kalevi Jäntti Literary Prize for young authors in 2013 and the Young Aleksis Kivi Prize in 2012.
Itäranta holds a MA in Drama from the University of Tampere, and worked as a columnist, theatre critic, script writer and press officer after graduation. In 2007 she enrolled in the postgraduate program of University of Kent, where she began writing her debut novel as a part of her Creative Writing course work.
The English version of the book, Memory of Water, was published by HarperCollins in 2014 in the United States, United Kingdom and Australia. It has been nominated for the 2014 Philip K. Dick Award, as well as the Golden Tentacle Award and the Arthur C. Clarke Award.
Itäranta’s second novel was published in October 2015 in Finnish, as Kudottujen kujien kaupunki. It too was nominated for the 2016 Tähtivaeltaja Award, and was one of the novels to receive the City of Tampere Literary Award. The English language version was published in 2016, under the name The City of Woven Streets in the UK, and as The Weaver in the US and Canada.
Born in Heikkinen, April, 1978 Kettu is a contemporary writer and film producer. She debuted in 2005 with the novel Surujenkerääjä. The book was nominated for the Helsingin-Sanomat literature prize as best debut novel. Her breakthrough as writer succeeded with The Midwife (Kätilö).
In the book Kettu describes the love between a Finnish midwife and a German officer during the Second World War. The story is inspired by the life of Kettu’s grandparents.
Lindstedt’s second novel Oneiron won the 2015 Finlandia Prize. In the book, Lindstedt experiments with combining different genres of writing, including poetry and essays, to explore the concept of life after death. She tells the story of seven women who meet as strangers in a space where time does not exist. Together, they piece together their lives in an attempt to ascertain the events that led to their deaths. The complicated story took Lindstedt eight years to finish and has received praise from reviewers all over the world.
Oksanen is a cultural commentator who has written extensively about women’s rights, freedom of speech and immigration. With translations into more than 40 languages, Oksanen is Finland’s best-selling living author. Her best-known novel, Purge, chronicles the lives of women from one Estonian family between the 1930s and the 1990s. Norma tells the story of a mother fighting to preserve her daughter’s supernatural secret. Oksanen has published five novels, of which Purge has gained the widest recognition. She has received several international and domestic awards for her literary work.
Pulkkinen is a former athlete with novels translated into around 20 languages. Her second novel, True, tells the story of three generations of women, the oldest of whom has been diagnosed with terminal cancer. An elegantly written story, it’s filled with sharp observations about families, gender and death. author, who has published six novels. She gained wide international attention with her second novel, True, which was shortlisted for the Finlandia Fiction Prize of 2010 and it received significant national and international attention.
Snellman was born on the 23th of May, 1954 in Helsinki, she is a novelist, poet, journalist and television commentator, whose career as an author spans three decades and 24 novels. Her work has been translated into 20 languages. Pet Shop Girls is the first of Snellman’s books to be translated into English. The story of a missing teenager, the suspense novel is especially perceptive on the topic of mother-daughter relationships. She was awarded the Pro Finlandia Medal in 2007.
Turtschaninoff writes fantasy novels such as the series called The Red Abbey Chronicles, which includes Maresi and Naondel. Set in an isolated abbey populated only by women, the books combine feminism with mythology. Turtschaninoff won the Finlandia Junior Prize for young-adult and children’s literature with Maresi in 2014. She was awarded with the Swedish YLE Literature Prize in 2014 and the Finland-Swedish cultural prize in 2017.
Born on the 18th of October 1869 and died on the 10th of August 1913, Linnankoski was an author and playwright, which mainly influenced writing in the Golden Age of Finnish Art. His most famous work is the romance novel, The Song of the Blood-Red Flower (1905). His primary themes were guilt, punishment, and redemption as moral questions.
His finest novel, Pakolaiset (1908; “The Fugitives”), is about peasant life. More popular in his day was Laulu tulipunaisesta kukasta (1905; The Song of the Blood-Red Flower, 1920), a lyrical fantasy relating the amorous adventures of a young lumberjack.
Paasilinna was born in April 1942 and died in October 2018, he was a Finnish writer, being a former journalist turned comic novelist. One of Finland’s most successful novelists, he won a broad readership outside of Finland in a way few other Finnish authors have before. Translated into 27 languages, over seven million copies of his books have been sold worldwide, and he has been claimed as “instrumental in generating the current level of interest in books from Finland”.
Paasilinna is mostly known for his 1975 novel The Year of the Hare (Jäniksen vuosi), a bestseller in France and Finland, translated into 18 languages, awarded three international prizes.
As of 2009, Paasilinna had published about 12 non-fiction books and 35 novels, with almost one novel each year from 1972 to 2009.
Born on the 11th of November 1919 and died on the 20th of November 2000 Päätalo was a Finnish novelist, the most popular Finnish writer in the 20th century. His Iijoki series, comprising 26 novels, is one of the longest autobiographical works ever written.
Päätalo debuted as a novelist in 1958 with a novel set at a building site in Tampere. In his second novel Our Daily Bread, the first book in the five-volume Koillismaa series, and from 1962 until his death he published one book each year. In 1971 he published what was to be the first volume in the 26-volume series Juuret Iijoen törmässä (‘Roots in the Bank of River Ii’), probably the longest autobiographical narrative in the world (some 17 000 pages in total). The series charts Päätalo’s life from his early childhood to the publication of his first novel, at the same time offering an interesting view of Finnish history over some four decades as seen from an individual’s viewpoint.
As a recognition for his career, Päätalo received the Pro Finlandia medal and Professor’s title in 1978 and an honorary doctorate at the University of Oulu in 1994.
Frans Eemil Sillanpää
Sillanpää was one of the most famous Finnish writers and in 1939 became the first one to be awarded the Nobel Prize for literature “for his deep understanding of his country’s peasantry and the exquisite art with which he has portrayed their way of life and their relationship with Nature”.
The novel Hurskas kurjuus (Meek Heritage) (1919) depicted the reasons for Finnish Civil War, and despite its objectivity, was controversial at the time. Sillanpää won international fame for his novel Nuorena nukkunut (translated to English as The Maid Silja) in 1931. Sillanpää died on 3 June 1964 in Helsinki aged 75.
Waltari, was a Finnish author whose historical novels were international best-sellers. Waltari studied theology and philosophy at the University of Helsinki. He gained international recognition with the appearance of Sinuhe, egyptiläinen (1945; The Egyptian, 1949), a story of life in Egypt 1,000 years before the birth of Christ. Other works include Mikael Hakim (1949; The Wanderer, 1951), Johannes Angelos (1952; The Dark Angel, 1953), and Turms, kuolematon (1955; The Etruscan, 1957); Valtakunnan salaisus (1959; The Secret of the Kingdom, 1961); and Ihmiskunnan viholliset (1964; The Roman, 1966).
Väinö Linna gained literary fame with his third novel, Tuntematon sotilas (The Unknown Soldier, published in 1954), and consolidated his position with the trilogy Täällä Pohjantähden alla (Under the North Star, published in 1959–1963 and translated into English by Richard Impola).
Linna’s first two novels Päämäärä and Musta rakkaus sold poorly; he also wrote poetry but did not enjoy success with that either. Not until the release of The Unknown Soldier (1954) did he rise to fame and it soon became something of a best-seller, as it sold 175,000 copies in only six months.
He was given the honorary title of Academician in 1980, despite the fact that he had no higher education. In 1984, Väinö Linna had a stroke, which caused him to lose the ability to speak. After some time he contracted cancer, which tired him out, leading to his death on 21 April 1992.