Finnish literature echoes the country’s vast forests, icy winters and endless summer nights. But also, at times, the conservatism and racism, social gaps, and haunting memories from the two world wars. At its best, it’s dark, witty, and brave – particularly the works of these five writers.
Outside of Finland, Tove Jansson (1914-2001) is best known as the creator of the wildly popular Moomins. Jansson was a multitalented artist who wrote and illustrated fiction for children and adults. She also led an ‘unconventional’ life, choosing never to marry or have children, but instead to put her artistry first. She often approached taboo themes, for instance, she incorporated her romantic relationships with women in her stories. (In Finland, homosexuality was considered an illness until 1981.)
The Summer Book is set on an island in the Finnish archipelago. Sophia and her grandmother spend the summer on the remote island, observing and living in harmony with the animals, birds and natural forces around them. It’s a quiet and soothing story about the sea, friendship, life and death, written without beautifying filters or nostalgia.
I only want to live in peace, plant potatoes and dream! – Tove Jansson
Katja Kettu wrote her most successful novel in the back of a car, while she and her boyfriend were travelling back to Helsinki from Rovaniemi, the small city in the north of Finland close to the Arctic Circle where she grew up. Maybe that is why her writing is as wild and untamed as the northern lights. Katja also works as a director of animated films, and her bestseller The Midwife was turned into a movie.
The Midwife is a controversial love story between a Nazi officer and a Finnish midwife during WWII, set in the icy forests of Finnish Lapland. The midwife falls in love at first sight with the handsome officer who one day comes to the village as a photographer. She joins the German side as a volunteer nurse, just to be close to him. Brutal murder, abortions, pain… Is all really fair in love and war? A magical, hypnotic, fleshy, and disgusting story about love.
Rosa Liksom is a Finnish writer and artist from Lapland who has produced a large number of novels, children’s books, art books, and plays. In 2011, she was awarded the Finlandia prize for her novel Compartment no 6.
On a long train journey from a wintery Moscow to Mongolia, a young Finnish woman gets stuck in the same compartment as a talkative, foul-mouthed former soldier. He talks and drinks endlessly during the long journey, and even trying to silence him by pouring a bottle of nail polish remover into his vodka doesn’t help. The pen of Liksom is poetic, dramatic and incredibly witty.
Sofi Oksanen is one of the best known contemporary Finnish writers. Her stories are brave and fierce, and she’s not afraid to attack touchy subjects. In Sofi’s debut novel Stalin’s Cows, the eating disorder of the main character and the racism she and her Estonian mother are subjected to make the novel a very painful read at times – but also an honest and touching one.
The bestseller Purge is set in Estonia, where the worlds of Zara and Aliide collide. Zara is a trafficking victim on the run from her pimp, who ends up as by chance in Aliide’s backyard. But, it turns out that the meeting of the two women might not be a coincidence at all. Here begins a story of past horrors, sexual abuse, and how history is written by the winners – but we all have blood on our hands.