Tag Archive: Finnish Fiction


My sincere apology for a very late wrap up of June. Here are five awesome things that took place last month:

1. Favorite Cultural Event: Chris Kraus at the Culture House´s International Writers Scene.

On June 2th Chris Kraus, the author of cult-classic mosaic-like novel ”I love Dick”, visited Stockholm´s international writers scene. She talked about failure, writing, and art. Kraus explained that while failure is a painful thing, it is also at times necessary: ”When you fail, you hit a brick wall. That means that it is truly over, and you must start again, on something new, and when you start trying something new you will discover new things”, Kraus also spoke about how her debut novel came about: ”Well, I started writing a letter to this man I was infatuated with, but as time went on, I started to view the Chris and the husband in the letters as characters instead. They seemed funny to me”. Kraus continued with adding: ”It was important that I imagined this Dick (this man I was writing to) as my audience. When you write, you need to think of an audience, to think of how someone will react and respond to your text, otherwise writing is nearly impossible”. (This seems to have truth to it. Writers that brag about only writing for themselves seem always unreliable in their talents). When asked if her most famous quote from ”I love Dick”, ”WHO GETS TO SPEAK AND WHY? IS THE ONLY QUESTION ”, is still an important question to regard, she replied: ”Yes, absolutely. Absolutely. While it is much more easy for women to get their voices heard nowadays, the question is still relevant when it comes to class. Because how often do we get to hear the voices and experiences from the lower classes? Almost never”.

2. Favorite Cartoon Moment: Steven Universe season 3 so far. (Spoilers!)

Last Month I binged watched the season 3 of ”Steven Universe”, which gave two exciting conclusions to season 2´s major story arch’s and had Alexandrite (the fusion of Garnet, Amethyst and Pearl) return. Steven also had a almost bottle-like episode with the newly reformed and befriended gem Peridot (while they were drilling into the earth’s center). We also got a sweet, tender episode with Steven and Lapis Lazuli bonding. Lapis and Steven have such a great dynamic together, and it will be super exciting to see what direction the show has in store for Lapis´ character. Hopefully we will see more screen time given to her and Stevens touching, and budding, friendship. Also, in this set of the series their was a baseball themed episode and it is as hilarious as it sounds.

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Steven and Lapis

3. Favorite Outdoor Event: Dancing around the May Pole

In Sweden, during the day of midsummer, it is traditional to dance around a decorated pole that is adorned with grass and flowers while singing classic children’s songs. This is done to celebrate the rebirth of nature during summer time and sunnier days that are ahead in summertime. It is believed to be a ritual that steams from pre- christian beliefs (maybe the phallic nature of the pole?). Where I live they have, nearby, a annual dance about the “Maypole” to celebrate the longest daylight of the year, and the beginning of summer. I´ve attended this festival for three years in a row now. At the same location they have a Four-H club/farm/stable with pigs, chickens, ducks and horses. The pigs are just the cutest!

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The dancing and the maypole look like this

4. Favorite Reading experience: ”The Lover” by Marguerite Duras.

Last month was a great reading month for me. Many of the books that I read I ended up loving, but my favorite was Duras´ adult novel ”The Lover”, which is often marketed as a sexy and steamy read, but to my surprise is also a book about class, race and features one assuredly maladjusted parent-child relationship with a frightening portrait of an older brother who´s a violent bully thrown into the narrative mix. The prose is so beautiful that the words leap from the pages, and many of the marvelous sentences feel as though one should re-read over and over again. The main character talks about a desire to become a writer, being super-aware of her white privilege (despite growing up in an economically unstable family), and the two major loves of her life: her younger brother Paolo and the elder Chinese man who was her lover in her teen years. The book also describes in stunning detail the complicated emotions that occur when ones parent is suffering of a bipolar disorder, which leads to the mother sometimes becoming so depressed that she´s unable to feed the young of the family. Despite being only 117 pages long, this petite novel covered so many topics in such a engaging way that it´s hard not to just fall in love with it. One of my new favorite books, definitely.

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5. Favorite Shopping moment: The Helsinki Academic Bookstore had a 70% sale.

When visiting Finland for a week, I always drop by my second favorite book store in the world (first one being Strand in Manhattan). In June I was lucky to discover that they had a 70% (!) sale on various books, and to seize the opportunity I bought 5 novels and two graphic novels. 6 of these were written in Finnish by a Finnish writer and one was from an American author. One of the purchased Finnish Novels was a middle grade book dealing with immigration and depression. This Novel is quite well known in the Finnish context as it was the winner of the Finlandia Junior prize in 2015. I also bought Elina Hirvonens third novel, Emmi Nieminens ”Damage limit”, Joel Haahtolas novel ”Lumipäiväkirja” (”Snow diary”) and Ronald De Feos second novel. Pictures down below.

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That´s it. How was everybody else’s month?

Best Regards , Maaretta

(Trigger warning for discussions of Child physical abuse and Mental Illness)

Elina Hirvonen is a Finnish writer and documentary filmmaker residing in Helsinki who has written three novels to date with her first foray into the literary world being nominated for the2003 Finlandia Literary Prize. Her latest novel, “Kun aika loppuu” (“When Time Ends”) was published in 2014, and has been getting prominent praise for her insightful grappling with a slew of difficult political and existential questions highlighted with frank considerations and bare depictions of often grim subject matters,  such as mass suicides. Her cultural work as a writer also includes numerous columns in major newspapers such as “Helsingin Sanomat” which have detailed and delved into such diverse subject matters as censorship, racism and even into the questions and struggles of writing itself. Notably, in an interview with the newspaper “Kodin kuvalehti”,  Hirvonen candidly discussed the myriad of normative social pressures applied to us all with her recounting of her teenage years under the constant stress of trying to be a straight A student and to be constantly perfect. This pressure also meant that she felt forced into being constantly polite and happy, which lead to self-harm; something that the adults circling around her and her anxiousness seemed oblivious to. Hirvonen has made a name for herself in her frankness in her opinions, telling her own story of mental health and last, but by no least, writing books that brutally show the dark side in everyday life. This brings us to the review of her debut novel, “When I Forgot”.

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When her debut was translated into English in 2009 the novel obtained a review in “The New York Times”, and was in 2014 translated into Swedish, where it saw an outpouring of favorable reviews from the Swedish literary press.  Both of these, along with being translated into Polish and other numerous languages, gave the book an international audience which is unusual for a Finnish Language novel and novelist. The story is a merger of narrative lines navigated between the course of a single day, and the exploration of memories triggered by its events. The plot is put into motion when Anna, a young woman, gets a phone call from her mother asking her to visit her brother in the psychiatric hospital in Helsinki. Anna is reluctant and expresses huge resentment towards her brother, stating her constant and adamant resolve to reject the company of her brother. This request for a visit to her brother unleashes memories of her first meeting of her soon to be American live-in boyfriend, and begins a mental wandering tracing the memory landscape of her childhood traumas.

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Exploring the terrain of her childhood Anna recalls the vicious and abusive actions her father lashed out onto her older brother, beating him savagely. It is not only physical abuse Anna remembers her father committing; he was also frequently cruel and dismissive, unreservedly malicious regarding the deadly spiral of Joona´s growing mental health problems, which in turn seem to be inexorably linked to the violence Joona suffered at the hands of his father. Even in the midst of this obvious abuse to her brother, the deadly dynamics of this abuse casts Anna in a web of insecurity mentally making her see herself as secondary to Joona. This lethal doubt of Anna is fueled as the fathers own violence towards Joona being spontaneous and unpredictable, which are followed by a discordant favoring of Joona. The father also insisted that the family just simply ignore his violent behavior, and its effects on Joona´s mental health. Anna´s pathway through her memories fills her with guilt, horror, and exhaustions in the web of violence and ignorance – they bring her to many times struggle with taking care for her ill brother.

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Original Finnish cover

Along with the strong narrative trail of weaving Anna’s past and present to explore her mental and moral struggles, the novel interestingly breaks this rotation of past and present in featured letters and papers Joona writes throughout his life, giving glimpses into his feelings of happiness, sadness and paranoia. And we find a added sphere of examination to Anna’s enclosure in the horrors of memory in Ian, her American boyfriend, who’s intersection with events entice another angle and question to the story .

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I´ll try not to spoil too much, so this review is going to focus more on the themes in this novel. A major themed explored is family dynamics and domestic abuse. Anna is haunted by the violence her father played out on the body and mind of her brother, which leads her to feel uncertain and axious about herself as a individual. This violent past also haunts Joona insistently, as explored in the narrative device of the biographical papers he writes as a child detailing his growing unstable mind. The descriptions of the assaults are graphic, which makes them all the more unsettling. Even more disturbingly, one assault occurs after Joona lights a small fire; Anna´s narration makes it clear that he starts the fire because of his mental health problems. Despite this behavior being motivated by the growing mental problems in Joona, the father still fails to recognize this action as a current in Joona’s declining mental condition and viciously beats Joona.

Elina Hirvonen explores the toxic series of abuse and mental degradation in this scene detailing the horrific enclosure of abuse and its social/behavioral ramifications where it is ignored that the child´s disadvantages prove that their actions are out of their control, an aspect unhappily not often investigated in stories and media. “When I Forgot” explores societies silences around this aspect in child abuse and brings to light the ableism that sadly exist more than often in domestic abuse causes. Hirvonen stands on steady narrative grounds here as statistics actually have shown that a large percentage of children with disabilities and illnesses (whether physical or mental) are in fact more likely to face excessive violence in home environments.

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Painting by Bruno Amadio

As hinted from this direction of the novels  themes comes also a nuanced examination into  the despairing struggles  of being mentally ill, and the conflicting feelings tormenting the loved ones operating around the individual with these dreadful battles. Joona, through the letters he writes, illustrates the fear and suspicion people around him express towards him in the midst of his battles of the mind. These letters describe a fierce rejection for openly and honestly admitting his health issues, both in dating scenes and in contact with his landlords. Anna on the other hand despairs that her brother may never have a normal life or even his own family. When others recognize Joona´s struggles with his mental issues, his opinions are directly discounted, his thoughts dismissed, and his personhood ignored. He is branded only as a mad man outside of community and the social. This aspect was particularly interestingly discussed in the novel, since Joona has legitimate concerns and thoughts about the world, but whenever his ideas or desires are expressed they are considered irrational at best, and nonsense in the usual case. However the mode of the narrative, and the line of thinking detailed in the novel, shows the reader that similar expressions, when stated by the “normal” actor, are taken seriously and considered evidently rational.  Hirvonen plays here with double standards. Actions/thoughts, even if irrational, are taken more seriously if we view the person as sane, if we don´t we dismiss the very same actions and thoughts.

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Polish cover

Anna throughout the entire novel struggles with her role as caretaker for Joona. While usually these plotlines paint the ill loved one solely as a burden, Joona is explored in the novel in a much more subtle and complex fashion. His erratic behavior, while in most instances is a burden for Anna, have also occasionally bordered on the heroic in situations where she has needed him. Anna, also, honestly describes her own actions toward Joona as sibling rejection, and often as straight out betrayal. Anna has complex emotions in these situations; she loves Joona but is uncertain what to do about him most of the time. She wonders if her actions really help him or not, if she is a hand in stabilizing Joona or if she contributes to the shove downward adding to his misery. This despair is exposed on the surface of Anna’s ambivalence as reflected in the face of a Joona who may never be able to fit into society, to be seen as “normal”.

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German cover

In the midst of this morass of confusions, though, we still see a Joona who attempts to grasp and control his own life and actions.  His narration is often motivated in the attempt to defend himself from rejections and accusations, and depicts a person with a deep sense of what´s right and what´s wrong. He has a strong moral compass, which tragically is drowned out often by his severe problems. And the relationship of brother and sister, regardless of the disintegrations of abuse and mind shattering problems, strives and achieves a strong bond. Under the guise of this bond and struggle the true trajectory of novel, transcending the horrors of abuse, could be read as Anna and Joona´s unconditional love for each other being tested, and whether or not it can remain. Intense stuff.

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The final theme I want to discuss is the novels depiction of the growing Anti-Americanism that started to grow in the early 2000´s. At the onset of “When I Forgot” Ian, as an expat American,  struggles in Finland Post 9/11 and, with the Iraq war just emerging, he finds himself branded only as a political and social outlier. Ian has moved to Finland and speaks Finnish, yet can sense that his students and colleges at the University he works at are, quite unsubtly, being passive-aggressive towards him or aggressively dismissive. This escalates into full blown nasty remarks, which leads him mentally into a confused state and creates doubts about his identity to himself (since he doesn´t sit well with being “just another American”). Ian realizes that people will now look at him only through the distorting and singular prism of the nation/state.  As his own identity is quite tangential to the notion of a “nation”, and since he has few happy memories from back home, returning to the states seems an impossible option.  Hirvonen uses the cliqued reading of individuals as bounded by only state (as well as others are bound by race and ethnicity) and explores how this misreading (here the anger towards Americans) is a misguided and a confusion and often dripping with hypocrisy and self-righteousness.  Hirvonen explores how this mentality (which reduces individuals to nations, races, sexes, etc:) is injudicious and only makes Others who are guiltless a focus of hateful dismissal.  In this device the novel interrogates why Anti-Americanism (as with any prejudice: to racism, ageism, sexism) is so simplistic and toxic, especially inside of progressive movements (this can be accepted since Americans have “power”. But the reading should be individual as the government of a Nation should not be ideologically bound to individuals).

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One of the most Infamous anti-American propaganda works

Being hostile to someone just for being from a nation, a religion, ethnicity, etc. shows our irrationality and inclinations for simplistic aggressions, and we can find great thanks that this form of “Othering” the individual is grappled with by Hirvonen in the midst of all of the other despairs and hates she explores in this strong and forceful work.

Go check this novel out. It´s got great themes, it´s short so it won´t be difficult to get trough, and it´s utterly touching. A solid work.

For another account on Anti-Americanism, check out Bess Rattnay´s account on it at Salon.

It´s International Woman´s day! Usually for this day I would do a list of articles concerning Women´s rights and liberations across the world, but this year comes a decision to change things up a bit. Instead I will list a few feminist books and stories that are more than worth checking out. In order to explain what, in this list, is meant by a feminist read I´ll make a short explanation: it is a story that has three dimensional female characters and either deals with the subject of female liberation or deals with the subject of female oppression. Let´s get started.

Quick Note!: Most of these books can be triggering due to dealing with rape and violence.

1.“Changes: A love story” by Ama Ata Aidoo: This is a classic work of African literature, and for no small reason. The book takes place in the 1990´s Accra, Ghana, where the independent Esi decides to divorce her husband due to having endured a rape at his hands. After that she falls in love with a Muslim man named Ali, which leads her to question whether or not she should become his second wife. “Changes” was published in 1993 and was one of the first African books that dealt with women trying to balance home life with work as well as the stigma of being an independent woman. But it also openly deals with marital rape and its aftermath, which even to this day is still a taboo subject in much of literature and culture (including western). Esi´s struggles against expectations are shown in a complex light; while she is determined to keep her job and independence she finds herself still inclined to forgo her autonomy to please Ali and others. The book is honest and human. As the saying goes, the personal is highly political, especially for Esi.

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2.“Purge” by Sofi Oksanen; This novel takes place in both modern times free Estonia and the Estonia of WWII, when it was under Russian occupation. The story is about an old woman meeting a young woman; Aliide Truu, a woman who was rape and sexually tortured by KGB agents in her youth, and Oksana – a youth who has escaped from the hands of traffickers. Oksanen delves deftly, but horrifically, into a story of two forms of sexual violence; that of politically motivated rape and that of modern day sexual slavery. The novel is heavily disturbing, but the characters, especially Aliide, are wonderfully complex and the illustration of female oppression is powerfully exposed. It´s best to not say too much, since the plot´s enigmatic structure makes it a book best to read blindly.

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3.”The Ribbon Maiden”: This fairy tale, which originates from the Chinese ethnic minority of the Miao, is about a woman who people proclaim as the maker and creator of the most beautiful sowing and ribbons found in the land. The emperor, wanting this skill only to himself, has The ribbon maiden kidnapped and held against her will unless she makes him a continuous supply of the elegant ribbons. She submits to the emperors demands, but due to her great talents she is able to make the emperors bondage of her backfire on him. The tale is laden with female power – from the Ribbon Maidens wish to return home so she can reunite with her female friends, to her refusing to submit to the bully emperor. It is impossible not to cheer on this woman as her many gifts, and powerful sowing, defeats her captors and manifests her freedom in the face of oppressions both political and ideological. A really, really cool fairy tale.

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Miao woman wearing traditional clothing

4.“Blood and Guts in High School” by Kathy Acker: The most absurd and weird novel on this list tells the story of a woman who endures emotional abuse, trafficking and abandonment. The writing is surrealistic and the story is told in a nonsensical order, with Ms. Acker´s own NSFW yet creative drawings. The prose is a surging gush of rage and aggression, delivering a punk-themed punch to the capitalist patriarchy. Beautifully random.

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page from “Blood and Guts in high school”

5. “Ladies Coupé” by Anita Nair: This book is formed of an assorted set of narratives focused on diverse women of Today´s India. A woman aboard a train contemplates if she should run off with a younger man she´s in love with or stay with her conservative family instead. Finding herself in the company of a group of women during her trip she asks for advice. What follows are a myriad of tales of life and struggle – the serene joy of learning to swim, of getting the last wondrous laugh against a bully husband, and the lonely tragedy of being impregnated via rape. The tone continuously pivots from the lighthearted to the cruel throughout the entirety of the narrative, with both the epic and minute of characterizations. Despite some stories being tragic, the novel leaves a clear hope in the end, depicting a happier life just around the corner.

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6.“From a crooked rib” by Nuruddin Farah: This novel takes place in 1980´s Somalia, where a nineteen year old girl runs away from home to escape an arrange marriage, only to find herself having to marry other, equally unpleasant men, in order to survive. Beyond all hope, and needing both men to ensure her social and monetary survival, she navigates a precipice to keep secret her twin marriages from both men (she hasn´t legally divorced either one of them). Farah illustrates the economic and political challenges facing women in Somalia and minutely exposes how the social mores, and legal system is biased against women (and laying bare double standards applied to men, as opposed to women, when it comes to marriage and relationships). While the heroines husbands both indulge openly and continuously in second wives and many lovers, the protagonist finds herself mercilessly slut-shamed, tormented and ostracized by the community for falling outside of the hallow prescripts of monogamy. “From a crooked rib” was Farah´s debut novel, but you would never guess that.

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7.“The Butcher´s Wife” by Li Ang: Based on real events, this story is about a Taiwanese woman, Lin Shi, who after taking years of absolutely ruthless abuse kills her husband in self defense. The story begins when the protagonist’s parents, fearing Lin Shi’s youthful behavior as signs of uncontrollable and uncontainable sexuality, marry her off to a local butcher, who it turns out is fond of making Lin Shi scream in agony. He abuses her both physically and sexually, and when she starts to defend herself he starves her. One of the toughest books I´ve ever read, but none the less this novel remains gripping and spellbinding. The novel not only showcases abuse, but critiques neighbors and family members that enable abuse through ignorance and acceptance, as well as showing a side of the local Buddhist religion which is not a flattering depiction to say the least. Thought-provoking yet brutal.

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8.“The House on Mango Street” by Sandra Cisneros: The story of a Mexican-American family is told in a series of drabbles in this short book. Through the narration of the adolescent Esperanza these petite deft drabbles explore poverty, culture, sexual assault and hope. The stories are like extended poems, with heartbreaking scene after heartbreaking scene. From Esperanza witnessing her father grief stricken by her grandmother’s death to Esperanza being sexually attacked by racist white boys, the novel makes a depressing, memorable quick read.

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9.“The House of Bernarda Alba” by Federico Garcia Lorca: This was not only an unusual play for it´s time for its open brutal criticism of Spanish honor culture, but is also remarkable by even today´s standards in being a play with a all female cast with no speaking roles for men, as well as dealing with female sexual frustration. The play is about a classist, narrow minded mother who rules over her five daughters with an Iron fist, never allowing them to socialize with others in the town or marry. This leads to a major conflict when a young man arrives and three of the same sisters are smitten with him. Things become especially disturbing when the youngest daughter is implied to be pregnant without being engaged. The sisters play off each other perfectly, and the deep seated melancholy and sense of being trapped in being an “honorable woman” echoes through the story with great strength.

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10. “Woman at Point Zero” by Nawal El-Sadaawi: the angriest and fiercest work in this list by fair, El-Sadaawi´s classic novel tells the story of a woman on death row that has killed her pimp. The woman details her life from girlhood to the point where she ended up in prison, describing her ordeal with female genital mutilation, male betrayal and violence. Through the course of the novel the protagonist makes abundantly clear how she has come to be so angry and uncompromising with the world she lives in, where, beginning with her birth as a woman, she was set up for pain. The woman´s narration bursts with a fire at the face and fact of an unjust world. It is provocative and unapologetic, an instant masterpiece.

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Ms. Nawal El-Sadaawi

That´s a few recommendations. What feminist novels, short stories/ fairy tales or graphic novels do you readers recommend? Comment done below and A Happy International Women´s Day to all sisters, Cis to Trans, out there!

Over at the YouTube Channel “Screenjunkies” there was a lively discussion about film adaptations, regarding a panel discussion of what were the most and least well made adaptations of comic genre and, its close companion, the Graphic novel*. The video panel discussion ended with a question to the viewers regarding what comic/graphic novel they would most like to see get adapted to film. After pondering this question for a while, I came to the conclusion that only naming a few would not be fair, since, within the entire history of Alternative Comics, some truly remarkable stories have been told, and, in their breathtaking and compelling sweep of ideas and vision, would lend themselves well to a big screen incarnation.

1.“Shortcomings” by Adrian Tomine: A cynical look on race, Tomine’s masterpiece centers on the unsympathetic Ben. His girlfriend Miko accuses him often of being ashamed of his Japanese heritage, which she in returned is extremely proud of. She also accuses him of having an obsession with white women, which Ben laughs at. However, once Miko decides to leave for New York for a couple of months, Ben decides to replace Miko with a white woman (proving Miko´s discomfort to be accurate). When all does not go as planned, Ben flies to New York to meet Miko and becomes obsessively jealous when it turns out Miko is dating someone else.

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“Shortcomings” is about flawed people engulfed in a racist society, mixing character study with harsh social commentary. Ben in his hypocrisy claims he does not want to be a victim, but simultaneously has become so unlikeable and hypocritical because of the white supremacist emasculation of Asian men. Miko has her own prejudices as well, but ultimately finds empowerment in her pride. The comic also addresses race fetishazation, and explores the myth of White normativety as desirable. A film adaption that would also include the comic’s social commentary would be a brave move, but no doubt an ultimately enjoyable film.

Cover of "Shortcomings"

Cover of “Shortcomings”

2. “X-Day 1&2” by Setona Mizushiro: This manga is famous among those who like their manga and anime more close to “real life”. The plot centers around three students and one teacher who due to personal difficulties, decide, via an internet chat room, to blow up the school they attend and work at. The biology teacher, using the pseudonym “Jangalian”, due to being stalked by the principals daughter; is engulfed in a sense of powerless exasperated by the unending claims of the school’s principal that Jangalian has slept with his out of control daughter (he hasn´t). The school principle continually foists the blame for her behavior on the victimized Jangalian. Mr. Money, a male student, has an abusive mother. 11, a former popular athlete, is entrapped in the insecurity that other women continually strip her of boyfriends and friends, and Polaris is crippled by shyness unless she wears gothic Lolita clothes, which the school prohibits.

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While the beginning of this Manga feels like it will be a dark terror story, the four start to reach out to each other and common bound circumventing the planning the attack through friendship. Mizushiro doesn´t shy away from depicting youth sexuality and loneliness, and boldly illustrates four lost souls who find solace in each other. The characters captivate and possess you, making the reader cheer for the melancholic protagonists to overcome their situations. With protagonists like these, this adaption could very well become a classic Anime movie.

Read left to right, dear folks!

Pages from “X-Day 1”. Read left to right, dear folks!

3. “Tuuli ja Mursky” (“Wind and the Storm”) by Tiitu Takalo – In a time where every woman is in one way or another affected by the misogyny of rape culture, it seems like an appropriate moment for an adaptation of a Graphic novel which addresses every aspect of that said culture. The comic centers around a group of young feminists who discover the fact that one of their members, Miira, has been raped at a party. Miira doesn´t want to report the horrid incident of abuse to the police, but still wishes her rapist to be exposed. Her friends do what they can by putting up posters, talking to people who had attended the party, and so on; but after being constantly shut down and silenced in their quest for justice, the young women grow angry and begin to consider more lethal means.

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The comic discusses repressions and prejudices victims of sexual abuse face, and the rampant misconceptions people have of the rapist and the culture that empowers their acts of violence. The boy who perpetuates the abuse to Miira in this tale, is an unquestioned friend and wildly known to be a pleasant fellow resonating the plot of the story with one of the most popular misconceptions about rapist/sexual abusers as a repulsive persona, mean-spirited and outside of society. Holding strong with the truth of rapists in a rape culture this comic confronts us with the reality of the nice fellow simultaneously hiding the most abusive of tendencies.
Miira had passed out at the party and the collection of friends find that many of the people involved in their inquiry try to convince the group that the incident was Miira fault, ignoring the fact that her abuser intentionally choose to extremely violate both her body and trust.

Cover for "Tuuli ja Myrsky"

Cover for “Tuuli ja Myrsky”

The novel also addresses how rape culture affects men. The male ally of the group talks about how men are also afraid of walking alone during the night but due to the extreme pressures of an overburdening Macho culture are not allowed to admit such a simple fact. He also subjects within the story, when confronted with the rapist and his actions, merely berates the rapist for his behavior, stating that the abusers actions makes all men look like would-be rapists and chews the rapist out for ignoring the sphere of pain the act caused in action and aftermath to the actual victim of the molestation.

Ms. Tiitu Takalo

Ms. Tiitu Takalo

This Graphic Novel is regrettably underrated and is an exciting story that subverts the Rape-Revenge genre, while also addressing the issue of sexual violence in an in depth and serious manor. The issues it discusses cannot be more relevant and urgent, and the comic, while it should become more of staple stock to the lovers of the Graphic Novel genre, would do superbly as a filmic work.

The posters, saying: "Warning! Rapist!"

The posters, saying: “Warning! Rapist!”

4. “My friend Dahmer” by Derf Backderf: This is a chilling graphic memoir that came out just couple years ago. The story focuses not on the author himself, but his former classmate, Jeffrey Dahmer. In a society which obsesses over serial killers and the atrocious crimes they commit, “My Friend Dahmer” shifts the focus from the gruesome killings to an investigation of a teenage Dahmer who pointlessly grows to adulthood to become a monster. Backderf, who had acquaintance with Dahmer, puts together his own memories as well as memories Dahmer gave in interviews, envisioning for us a lonely, weird teenager who already at a young age showed disturbing behavior. Despite the red flags that even a teenage Backderf recognized, the adults revolving around the teen Dahmer didn’t ever pick up on the deviant behaviors, neither did they interact with him to exasperate his deviations. We find a wildly out of control Dahmer, in an attempt to get rid of his fantasies of necrophilia and killing, turning to heavy drinking, and where Dahmer’s only laughter is found with students who through their clumsiness hurt themsleves and others. Yet no adult ever intervenes.

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The story is powerful in it´s message: the troubled child didn´t have to end up killing people. Backderf wisely says that while our sympathy for Dahmer must end when he started killing, it should be still be noted that he once was a troubled teenager who adults failed. In this extreme case, “My Friend Dafmer” makes a convincing case for social and psychological support for children and teenagers. Ignoring young ones with problems will not make the problem go away. It will only be a problem which will lead to more evils. In worse case scenarios, ignoring a child who is having difficulties may cost innocent lives; a truly unnecessary sacrifice.

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5. “Epileptic” by David B.: Here is another memoir which does not star the author. Instead the story concentrates on the plight of the struggles of David B’s epileptic brother and the labor of a family attempting to cope. It depicts a happy childhood until one day, Davids brother Jean-Christophe gets a seizure. This leads the family to seek hills and mountains for a cure and, as time goes on, makes a once cheerful child into a bitter, mean spirited youngster and a depressed adult. This graphic novel starts off with a child’s perspective, where imagination and stories run wild and, as it unfolds, turns towards the surrealistic, where we find David and Jean-Christophe entrenched and entrapped within a fantasy in order to merely communicate. Jean-Christophe is put through several trials, in which he often is met with ableism. When he has seizures, people stare and make insensitive comments, as if he is childishly acting up or merely play-acting for attention. Jean-Christophe, in his spiral of suffering, becomes isolated from his peers, and as a teenager, while in the simple act of befriending a small boy, finds himself instead being accused of child molestation. David notes how the stigma of his brothers struggle haunts him into his adult life, when he recounts a conversation with a girlfriend which ends with the ultimatum that if they have a child, he has to make sure his genes are perfectly healthy since she “does not want any of his families illnesses”.

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Image from “Epileptic”; illustrating the prejudices aimed at David´s Brother

The book is spell-binding and tragic in its depiction of family life and society, where everything always seems to go wrong. David´s depictions are cryptic, but also loving towards his unfortunate, impossible brother. A truly remarkable read, it would no doubt be a film that would give animators free hands to simultaneously make wild drawings while also clutching the viewers hearts.

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6. “Elfriede – en dystopi” (“Elfriede – a dystopia”) by Åsa Grennvall: Now here´s a graphic novel that would be a real challenge to adapt. “Elfriede”, unlike the other graphic novels on this list, does not tell a straight story. In fact this tale is entirely a character study. It follows a middle age woman named Elfriede, who is extremely cynical and bitter about the world. She takes us through her job where she condescendingly describes her boss (whom according to her shouldn´t be able to get his job done but somehow does), how she tries not to get involved when a female co-worker ask for comfort and advice regarding her physically abusive boyfriend (since Elfriede´s attempts to help her before only end up with the co-worker getting angry at Elfriede and going back to her boyfriend anyway), and how she hates her happy-go-lucky friend. She talks about her children, who she hopes don’t hate her as much as she hates her parents. Elfriede speaks frankly of how she is doing a countdown to her death and how she believes humanity is doomed due to it´s own ignorance. This story should fail, but due to Grennvalls gifted talents it is instead a work of genius in its unique concept and visualization. Elfriede’s life becomes fascinating in a tale where the reader is brought to understand Elfriede and dreadfully notices that Elfriede has legitimate points within the context of her life.

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Bitterness is a very uncommon theme in fiction, which is a shame because, if used well, can make for a uncomfortably interesting read and an fascinating exploration of what we are in an indifferent world. “Elfriede – a dystopia” is a good testament of the many alternatives of life and our emotional responses to it, and a film adaption would make an interesting addition to the animated exploration of the existential.

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7. “Smile” by Raina Telgemeler: Remember when you were a teenager who hated the way you looked? Well, then you should definitely read this graphic memoir “Smile”. This tale follows the struggles of the protagonist with her dental care, where, after an accident, her teeth need intensive management and repair. Raina feels painfully insecure about her reconstituted teeth, and her teeth become the focus of fear about being different from her fellow classmates. Raina faces a lot of peer pressure and frustration when growing up, while also feeling the pain of bracelets which engulf her teeth and expose her as different in the mere acts of smiling or talking.
This graphic novel is an honest memoir that shows Raina at times as unpleasant as the worst about her, but also as sweet and secure at the oddest of moments.

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The best parts in the memoir, though, are the details about her friends, who, instead of being a reserve of comfort and connectedness, belittle and seem to find joy in bossing her about in her new outsider state. Though it takes time, as Raina grows older within the story, she acquires the strength to say no to her friends and in her blossoming confidence is even able to find less toxic friends.

This memoir is funny and very relatable and speaks to the growing pains that ring so true to many young girls and women. Now, with Young Adult film adaptation’s so popular, this tale, with its insightful teenage explorations, would make perfect sense to adapt to the filmic media. As an extra bonus, Ms. Telgemer has recently published another graphic memoir titled “Sisters”, which I for one can´t wait to read!

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8. “Moomins: The policeofficer´s nephew” by Lars Jansson: Technically cheating since this is a comic strip, but this supposedly younger readers graphic tale would be an interesting and extremely brave adaptation. Over at Flavorwire this “storybook” is found listed this as one of the children´s books that deserve a re-boot, and indeed, while the cartoon show which was based on the books is good, it still lacks a lot of the more philosophical and political themes which the Moomin books are famous for. The comics, while not always as good, were at best as sharp as the original stories. Especially we can note this comic series springing from the originals, where the police officers nephew comes for a visit to Moomin valley and decides he suddenly wants to become a policeman himself. Unfortunately this leads to a slew of over-enthusiastic actions leading him to harangue and arrest the innocent populace of the tranquil valley. To thwart the worst of the Nephews actions his Uncle claims there is an illegal drug trade in Moominvalley, hoping this will distract him. Yet instead of diverting the authoritarian behavior of the nephew it only makes things worse.

Muumit Brysselissä

This comic is as bizarre as it is funny and takes enormous risks, inside of this genre, in making references to both marijuana, cocaine as well as opium. Naturally, this comic is a critique of the social ideal of the police officer having definitive, unquestioned power within all encounters and situations, and of the drug panic which our society reacts to blindly (and criminalizes). While it can be argued that perhaps this comic is not exactly for young children, it still could pass for young adults and adults. The comic isn’t afraid of poking fun at authority while keeping the Moomins pure hearted and kind towards the misguided nephew. It is a truly odd, fun read and would most likely stir debate and laughter as a film.

Not from the same story line, but still funny!

Not from the same story line, but still funny!

9. “Army of God” by David Axe and Tim Hamilton: This is journalism in the form of comics, similar to the work of Joe Sacco (author of the classic “Palestine”). A little while back there was a lot of controversy over the video “Kony 2012”. Most reactions and opinions were spontaneous, though heartfelt, but few really got to get a clear picture of the ideology and actions perpetuated by the Kony “movement” in the Congo. In this comic, two journalists give a short introduction to the Congo´s modern history, what exactly the “Lord Resistance Army” (Kony´s terrorist group) is, about the international movement to stop “LDR”, and most importantly tells the story of few of Kony´s victims. It would be a great documentary film if adapted, and a much needed one, since it is hard to get real, concrete facts and information about the horrors LDR have committed.

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10. Nearly the entire comic output of Nina Hemmingsson: Ms. Hemmingsson is a Swedish comic artist who has become famous for her short comics about a socially inept young woman. Her collected works include “I am your girlfriend now”, “My beautiful eyes” and “It´s hard to be Elvis in Uppsala”**. Her works are witty, dark and hilarious. Addressing gender stereotypes and norms, her work details in a personal and bizarre fashion telling of the tireless exploration of characters pushing against convention while continuing the battle of being themselves. In a film adaptation it would be a interesting experiment of following multiple story lines and situations, bursting with awesome social commentary.

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For example, the story “I dated a Buddhist”*** is a sharp, funny commentary of white westerners who practice a form of “Buddhism”, simultaneously watering it down and not being entirely understanding about the real roots of the faith (i.e. committing cultural appropriation), all the while using their “enlightened faith” to elevate themselves amongst their peers and depress-shame others who inadvertently find themselves in their company. Another story depicts a young girl getting on a buss after a riding lesson. The driver makes a comment about all girls loving horses to which the young girl responds to gently point out that boys can also like horses and horse riding. This insight gets the young girl shut down in the conversation as soon as she indicates the sexist assumptions and absurdity of the discussion.

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One of Hemmingssons strips……” The young man encourages the older woman to express herself, the woman conveys her frustration and suggests a sexual liasion between them. The man quickly notes that some self-censorship is still advised.”

A common core to the story arc of Hemingsson’s tales is the positioning of the weird and wondrous protagonist to reflect the conditions of real life in a melancholic yet hopeful way. In the end of the day, a film version of these kind of stories would be great. Who doesn´t need some laughter nowadays?
So there´s my list. What do you readers think? Any other comics/graphic novels/graphic memoirs you would like to see a film adaption of?

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*For anyone interested, the very best comic/graphic novel adaptations done to date are “Persepolis” and the television adaptation of “The Boondocks” (specifically season 1 and 2).

persepolis** My own translations.

*** My own translations.

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“The Letter” (1976) by Fernando Botero

Kreetta Onkeli (born in 1970 in Jyväskylä) is a Finnish writer who won several awards and has been a bit of a critical darling. This year she won the Finladia Junior Prize (one of the major literary prizes in Finland for young adult/children’s books) and also received the “Kalevi Jänti” award for her debut novel, “Iloinen Talo” (“A Happy House”). Her work has encompassed narrative satire, biographical novels, shorter essays as well as opinion journalism.

Onkeli’s  debut novel, “Iloinen Talo” (1996), was based on her childhood memories and chronicles the life of two young girls living with an alcoholic mother and the occasional foster family. In Finnish the title plays on the ironic and inclines to the double entendre. The novel is anything but happy and the context of the word “happy” in its “double sense” alludes to prostitution (prostitutes are sometimes referred to as Ilotyttö, “Happygirl”). Ironic tittles are a favorite trope of Ms. Onkelis; her fifth work “Beige: Eroottinen Kesä Helsingisä”(2005), in English “Beige: An Erotic Summer in Helsinki”) does take place in Helsinki, but it is anything but erotic.

Kreetta Onkeli at the Finlandia Prize Ceremony

Kreetta Onkeli at the Finlandia Prize Ceremony

“Beige” focuses on the protagonist Vappu, an overweight girl who is painfully insecure. She is a complete outcast, being nearly completely friendless. Her homelife, mirroring her disconnection with humanity,  is composed solely of a oblivious father with whom she has no real connection. Onkeli starts her novel describing the depth of this disconnection with Vappu declaring the sun “was not a friend. It laughed at my figure, my pale and clumsy body.” Musing about a previous and unseen scene in the narrative Vappu reflects on being unable to find a swimming suit and whether the reality was a purposeful forgetting to hide her shape from others. Attempting to get into the building she lives in, at the end of this dire contemplation, her landlady denies she recognizes her and refuses her admittance to the building claiming she doesn’t know anything “that fat”. Already on the first two pages Ms. Onkeli establishes two of the most important themes in “Beige”: Vappu’s immobilizing belief that her “undesirability” justifies her rejection by others and how others around her define and magnify this self-doubt through their commonplace cruelty.

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Vappu lives in a small town, where she develops a habit of escaping into daydreaming mixed in with her awakening sexuality. Vappu deeply desires sexual intimacy, but, due to the compounding of her unfortunate circumstances and the mental state this creates, is unable to. She invents an imaginative boyfriend, which she then goes onto graphically describe having imaginative sex with. She tells people around her she has a boyfriend, even if no one believes her. As times goes on, Vappu turns  18, which means she is no longer a minor. Her father takes advantage of this fact and sends her off to live in Helsinki so he can have more time with his new girlfriend. Vappu’s father informs his daughter that in Helsinki she will find a guy quite easily. Using the details of language Onkeli lets the reader know that Vappu is aware of her father’s true motivations but Vappu cannot but help to embrace a hope of finding love and sex in Helsinki. Onkeli masterfully indicates each of her characters motivation while showing how the crux of the human relationships revolving around Vappu is far from the ideal and is founded on a grim combination of the malicious, deceit and hope . It works perfectly for setting up the main conflict in the book as well as getting the reader to sympathize with Vappu.

Ms.Onkeili's first novel

Ms.Onkeili’s first novel

However nothing goes as Vappu hoped. She is ridiculed and mocked at work. When the few episodes of kindness are expressed to Vappu, her reaction is based on the rejections she has endured and she becomes too frozen to respond. Her time in Helsinki becomes a spiral into the paranoid about herself, and even the exposure of being outdoors becomes saturated with the feeling of shame for Vappu. A continual monologue is channeled through those around Vappu detailing how she resembles a man and how she should exercise to counter all of the faults which she has. Pushed by this continual stream of chatter about her defects Vappu begins to lose control of her situation and dwells more and more within her sexual daydreaming, which begins to take a violent turn.

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“Benefit Supervisor Sleeping” (1995) by Lucien Freud

The usage of people daydreaming to escape their reality is a common theme in fiction. Such as the short story “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty” by James Thurber, where a bored man has regular daydreams and fantasies as a means of escapism. The man is timid in life, but fearless in his daydreams, much like Vappu who, though remaining a virgin throughout “Beige”,  has constant sex with every man she meets in her daydreamed life. Other literary examples are the Finnish writer Joel Lehtonens “Rakastunut Rampa” (1922, “A Lame in Love”) where a poverty-stricken hunchback fantasizes about being a ladykiller while in real life he faces prejudice and hatred. This theme also appears in a Moomin novel, “Moominpappa at Sea” (1965) by Tove Jansson . In the novel Moominmamma, who can barely stand having to leave Moominvalley, paints a garden similar to the one in Moominvalley as a wall mural, which, motivated by her extreme homesickness, she finds she enter. Onkeli takes this classic theme and does an incredible twist to it. She uses it to describe female sexual frustration, a nearly unrecognized subject in literature. She also makes the subject modern by making the person who faces constant rejection from society an overweight person. An acerbated problem of the contemporary era as consumerist culture endeavors to create a model of the “attractive women” more and more out of reach to the normal human.

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Painting by Pierre-Auguste Renoir (he used plus-sized women almost exclusively)

Kreetta Onkeli illustrates a world where Vappu is constantly being punished for being overweight. People shun her, laugh at her and ignore her. She is mistreated because she doesn’t fit a norm and standard others expect her to. Onkeli goes into detail regarding the shame that is placed on Vappu, how Vappu internalizes this monologue into herself (and how she only “sees” through this horrible model), and how this sends her into a horrible spiral of impossible resolutions. She slowly loses grips on reality. As time passes, her self-hatred overwhelms her, as it must in this skewed image of self, ending in tragedy.

That this novelette is not translated is unbelievable. It has a great main character while dealing with intense, current and timely issues. This narrative erupts to the surface of our real experience as it speaks of a society which ridicules people who don’t have the perfect body, a society which openly despises people outside of the norm. Vappu represents women who are not considered beautiful or desirable in the narrow perimeters which are aggressively set by a culture of consumption and image. Vappu’s narrative exposes a world where women are constantly judged on the altar of advertising media normativity for their body. Vappu is laid bare in the story as the excluded and ultimate other, as her father’s girlfriend states, “a different type of women”. Vappu becomes sexually frustrated since society does not allow her to be sexual, to be a desirable woman. She is not allowed to be a whole person, a person whose sexuality is equal to others.

“Beige” is a perfect depiction of how women are stripped of their sexual positions and possibilities and how this is founded on the obliteration of even the most meager right to exist as their own persons established on their own considerations of being.

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A more relaxed Kreetta Onkeli

“Beige: An Erotic Summer in Helsinki” is a real gem that should be much, much more known. It speaks of people who face a new and terrible form of alienation. It should be translated; it is a crime that it is only available in Finnish.

“It is my desire, it is my wish
To set out to sing, to begin to recite,
To let a song of our clan glide on, to sing a family lay.
The words are melting in my mouth, utterances dropping out,
Coming to my tongue, being scattered about my teeth”

So begins the first poem of the Kalevala, the national heroic epic of the Finnish people. The tales depict numerous universal subjects such as failed marriage proposals, death, sorrow, the miscommunication between parents and their children, love, hope, and war over wealth and power. Before being documented upon paper, the stories had traveled throughout Finland by song and tale telling for thousands of years. The poems were learned by heart and passed on through oral tradition, since books in the Native Language of the Finns did not yet populate that nation (nor had Finnish yet been standardized for script). The poem chroniclers not only sang the tales to entertain, but also to teach the lessons of life, morals and customs. Despite the oral tradition of the tales, and their recounting, dying out around the 18th centrury, the growing desire to restore and cherish the ancient stories blossomed in the early 19th century.

The birth of the earth (by: Gallen Kallela)

The one who set out to re-discover and collect the poems was Elias Lönnrot, a highly educated young man, who not only was an explorer but also a doctor and scientist. Lönnrot is often credited as the father of developing and reinventing (standardization of the scriptural form of the language which had yet to see the written page) the Finnish language – and indeed, after working as a doctor he moved on to becoming a professor of the Finnish tongue and spent his retirement working upon the Finnish dictionary. While traveling, Elias Lönnrot collected many of the old myths and legends. He used the known poems in his work while also adding more characters and events to the original tales.* Thus the first volume of the epic, titled “The Old Kalevala”, was published in 1835, soon followed by the second volume, “The New Kalevala” in 1849. “The Kalevala” has by today been translated into over fifty different languages and is the only national epic which is honored with a flagging day.

Elias Lönnrot

Since today, the 28th of February, is the national day for the Kalevala, I should probably say what the Kalevala means to me as a fellow (Half) Finn. The Classic book is historically important for the development and growth of the Finnish language. The language in question had weakened and been held back for quite a while, so one could argue that “The Kalevala” and Lönnrot basically saved the Finnish tongue. To me, a speaker of fluent Finnish and one who finds some sort of personal subjectivity in the use of this tongue, “The Kalevala” stands out as a form of linguistic savior. But beyond the importance of the text to Finnish national identity and the personal subjectivity this engenders, the book further explores the realms of the broad-spectrum human condition and metaphors and fantasies which form the collective insights and narratives of the human tale and the abode of nature in which we find ourselves.

In addition, “The Kalevala” is interesting in its portrayal of the female characters. For the Era in which the epic was published, not to mention when the myths-singings and tellings were communally recounted, one could argue that the tales are surprisingly feminist. One of the most famous stories found in the epic is Väinämöinen’s (the Kalevala’s leading character, and the oldest being in the world) ill-fated wooing of the young maiden Aino. The legend begins with Väinämöinen getting promised the hand of Aino from her brother Joukahainen through the machinations of a lost duel. The mother of Aino and Joukahainen is thrilled with the idea of her daughter saying “I do” to Väinämöinen (as he is considered very old and wise, perfect husband material), but Aino is not. After Väinämöinen’s persistent chase of Aino, she, in absolute despair, drowns herself. In the aftermath of her child’s suicide, Aino’s mother woefully exclaims : “Do not, wretched mothers, ever , ever at all lull your daughters, rock your children into a marriage against their will as I, wretched mother, lulled my girls, brought up my chicks”. The Aesop of the myth is clearly that children, especially young women, should not be forced into marriage. Even if it’s peculiar that the Aesop only targets mothers instead of both parents, it’s really fascinating and wonderful to hear such an enlightened, modern moral from a story that probably was told thousands of years ago. The poem is a manifest to a woman’s right to choice.

Gallen Kallela's "The Aino Triptych"

Gallen Kallela's "The Aino Triptych"

The epics women are also portrayed as just as wise, if not sometimes wiser, than “The Kalevala’s” men. Lemminkäinen, an ambitious and notorious ladies man, is rescued from death by his wise mother who often gives him life-saving advice. Louhi, the powerful mistress from the North, is shown having more smarts then any of the men and being more handy of life-important objects. Even the creation story depicted at the beginning of the Kalevala is credited to a woman: the maiden of the air, who grew tired of living her life as a virgin in the sky and came down to the sea. She created land when she, out of kindness, befriends a bird and helps it to fabricate a nest in order to lay and nurture its eggs. After land was formed, the maiden gave birth to Väinämöinen. (If you’re wondering: yes, the sea somehow manages to impregnate the maiden of the air). Basically: land is born through a maiden’s curiosity and kindness and we are shown how the open and inquisitive woman can accomplish great things.

Lemminkäinen's mother brings him back to life (by: Gallen Kallela)

The Kalevala is a lyrical, tragic, comic read, and the varied and multiple characters and story lines yield themselves easily to a re-reading, re-immersion and re-interpretation many times over of this wondrous text. A book that saved a language, offers great entertainment and insights for today, and flows as both great literature and narrative folk-art —– A day for “The Kalevala”!

Aaltonen's "Ilmatar, maiden of the air and the bird"

Information on “The Kalevala” and Lönnrot token from educational site here.

For those interested, you can read “The Kalevala” online here. You can even download it as a e-book!

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*This has spawned lively and numerous debates about what is in actuality the Finnish Folktale and what the imaginings of the “neutral anthropological scholar” in the beloved Lönnrot.

Sofi Oksanen, celebrated finnish writer, known feminist and goth, just won the biggest nordic prize you can win for litteratur. As a person with finnsih roots, I’m proud and overjoyed that a finnish woman has gotten such an honor. She won it for her book “Puhdistus” (Purge), a book that explores dark themes as Estonias years under the Sovjet Union and sexual violence towards women.                                                                                                                                                                                    Miss Oksanen is the second finnish woman to win this prize. She is also one of the few writers that write in finnish get such high prays from Finlands “neighbours”. What makes me extra happy as not only is it written in finnish and written by a outspoken woman, but the novel it’s self is so blissfully “finnish”! Meaning that the book has some characteristicks that are typical in finnish litterature: it’s set during war time, it has strong brave female  protagonist and the story is beautifully, brutally melancholic.

Congratulations, Oksanen! Way to go, sister!