Tag Archives: Finland

Sofi Oksanen, Baby Jane

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Ce livre a été publié en finlandais en 2005 et traduit en français en 2014. Cette traduction du deuxième roman de l’auteur est donc subséquente au grand succès de sa troisième oeuvre, Purge. C’est le livre que j’ai le moins aimé jusqu’à maintenant et j’espère que son nouveau roman, Norma, me plaira davantage.

Les commentaires parus dans des périodiques rapportés en quatrième de couverture disent: “Oksanen explore les ressorts de la jalousie. Un roman sensible, sur la difficulté de l’amour”; “Un tableau poignant de l’homosexualité féminine”; “Oksanen, d’une écriture charnelle, nous livre un roman au goût aussi amer qu’un Valium qu’on laisserait fondre sous la langue.”

Heu… pas tout à fait d’accord avec ces énoncés. Oui, on y parle de jalousie, mais on en explore pas vraiment les causes et le mécanisme de développement, peut être un peu les conséquences, mais pas toutes. Je ne suis pas sûre qu’on y parle d’amour, mais plutôt de dépendance affective ou de désir physique qu’on a besoin d’assouvir. Les personnages principaux sont certes des femmes homosexuelles, mais comme elles sont toutes affligées de désordres psychologiques, le tableau n’en est pas un sur l’homosexualité féminine, mais sur la sexualité trouble de femmes troublées. Enfin, le troisième énoncé emprunte l’image du Valium qui fond sous la langue au livre, et l’écriture du livre n’est pas si charnelle que ça, faisant plutôt état de la solitude profonde qui habite chacun des personnages.

On pourrait croire qu’il s’agit de l’histoire de la relation entre deux lesbiennes et du cercle social qui les entoure. Tous les personnages semblent être affligés d’un trouble mental: dépression, anxiété, ou phobie. En fait, je me représente plutôt avec l’image abstraite de particules qui flottent dans un champ énergétique, les impulsions énergétiques venant en partie des multiples intrants chimiques qu’utilisent les particules (alcool, antidépresseurs, anxiolytiques, etc.). À la fin, deux des particules s’échappent du champ qui les maintenait en place… et cette fin n’est pas heureuse.

Ce livre est très profondément triste. J’ai failli en abandonné la lecture à la moitié, mais je suis contente d’avoir pu le finir et d’en connaître la fin, parce que je me demandais où l’auteur aller amener cette histoire. La spirale ne pouvait que descendre et on ne pouvait attendre une fin de conte de fées.

Des quatres romans de Sofi Oksanen, j’ai préfére ceux qui présentent une fresque historique (Purge, Quand les colombes disparurent). J’ai hâte de voir ce qu’elle nous offre avec Norma.

 

Référence:

Oksaken, Sofi. Baby Jane. Éditions Stock, 2014. [2005 en finlandais]

Autre chose:

http://www.lemonde.fr/livres/article/2014/05/15/mal-etre-d-une-jeune-femme-moderne_4418727_3260.html

Aki Ollikainen, La faim blanche

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Un autre livre où règnent le froid et le vent…

Ce sont les fantômes de cet hiver – statues de neige que le vent arrache à la mer gelée. Le bateau n’est jamais arrivé, mais l’hiver, oui – sans prévenir, en une nuit.

La population, démunie, se meurt de froid et de faim. Les paysans prennent la route et se joignent aux hordes de mendiants.

Marja laisse son mari mourant à la ferme et entame son périple vers St-Petersbourg (un mirage!), avec ses deux enfants. Sa fille meurt de faim peu de temps après leur départ. La douleur envahit Marja.

Le froid se propage de son estomac à tout son corps, puis se change en une tristesse qui balaie sur son passage la faim, les grelottements et la fatigue. Elle remplit son corps creux d’un lourd vide qui ne laisse place à rien d’autre. À l’intérieur, comme un étang marécageux d’eau noire et sans vie. Un plongeon arctique nage devant ses yeux. Il se change en macreuse brune; elle essaie de prendre son envol. Mais la bise neigeuse fige tout, fait le vide, l’oiseau disparaît. La tourmente passée, tout est blanc, mort. Marja se lève et rejoint Juho endormi sur le banc, le prend dans ses bras et s’effondre de fatigue.

Le périple continue avec toutes ses difficultés, mauvais traitements, la faim, le froid, la fatigue. Marja s’effondre sans se relever. Un médecin compatissant amène Juho à un vieux couple bourgeois sans enfant.

Les survivants de cette tragédie mineure, famille défaite, ne se retrouveront peut-être jamais. Juho est trop jeune pour savoir d’où il vient, pour y retourner, s’il survit à la famine, à son futur incertain.

Ce petit livre, à la lecture duquel le froid nous envahit, évoque de façon très imagée les difficultés de la vie dans les contrées nordiques. Les moyens limités des gens face au froid mortel et sans pitié fond de la vie une rude bataille.

La faim blanche est le premier roman de cet auteur finlandais dont la version originale a été publiée en 2012. Je lirais avec plaisir d’autres écrits de même auteur.

Référence:

Ollikainen,  Aki. La faim blanche. Éditions La peuplade, Chicoutimi, 2016.

Autres choses:

http://www.ledevoir.com/culture/livres/481729/litterature-etrangere-les-ames-mortes-de-la-finlande

http://next.liberation.fr/livres/2016/09/09/la-route-de-la-faim_1491234

https://plaisirsacultiver.wordpress.com/2016/10/25/la-faim-blanche-de-aki-ollikainen/

Continuing Love Affair With Literature From Cold Countries: Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Finland and Iceland

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In 2012, I planned a trip to Stockholm. I had been reading Swedish police procedural and noir for some time and I had a lifelong fascination with Scandinavia, thanks to the Puck novels by “Lisbeth Werner”, a pseudonym for two Danish writers (who wrote novels for girls”).

In order to prepare for the trip, I came up with a reading list (see here). That was quite a lot of fun and very educational. I have continued reading a variety of authors from the region, expanding beyond Sweden.

The current to-be-read pile is quite impressive at this point, and I am hoping to get through some of it in 2017 (while most likely growing the pile in the meantime!).

Here we are in random order:

Aki Ollikainen. La faim blanche. (Finland)

Jonas Karlsson. La pièce. (Sweden)

Audur Ava Ólafsdóttir. L’embellie. (Iceland)

Carl-Johan Vallgren. Les aventures fantastique d’Hercule Barfuss. (Sweden).

Tarjei Vesaas. The Boat in the Evening. (Norway)

Tom Malmquist. À tout moment la vie. (Sweden)

Agneta Pleijel. Fungi. (Sweden)

Guđrún Eva Mínervudóttir. Album. (Iceland)

Tomas Espedal. Marcher (ou l’art de mener une vie déréglée et poétique). (Sweden)

Sara Lövestam. En route vers toi. (Sweden)

Audur Jónsdóttir. Tourner la page. (Iceland)

Eiríkur Örn Norđdahl. Illska. (Iceland)

Kim Leine. Les prophètes du fjord de l’Éternité. (Denmark)

Alexander Söderberg. The Andalucian Friend. (Sweden)

Lars Gustafsson. Bernard Foy’s Third Castling. (Sweden)

Kerstin Thorvall. Le sacrifice d’Hilma. (Sweden)

Anna Jörgensdotter. Discordance. (Sweden)

Per Olov Enquist. Le départ des musiciens. (Sweden)

Per Olov Enquist. Le second. (Sweden)

Per Olov Enquist. L’ange déchu. (Sweden)

Per Olov Enquist. La bibliothèque du capitaine Nemo. (Sweden)

Göran Tunström. La parole du désert. (Sweden)

Göran Tunström. L’oratorio de Noël. (Sweden)

Göran Tunström. Le voleur de bible. (Sweden)

Göran Tunström. De planète en planète. (Sweden)

Jón Kalman Stefánsson. Entre ciel et terre. (Iceland)

Jón Kalman Stefánsson. La tristesse des anges. (Iceland)

Jón Kalman Stefánsson. Le coeur de l’homme. (Iceland)

Jan Guillou. Les ingénieurs du bout du monde. (Sweden)

Kristina Ohlsson. The Disappeared. (Sweden)

Anne B. Ragde. La tour d’arsenic. (Norway)

Insane, you are thinking? Nothing like a list to make that quite obvious, I say. And the authors are still mostly from Sweden, which somewhat surprises me… It was hard to tell without making the list. That is 31 books, some of which are sizable tomes and/or challenging reads.

Please do let me know if you have any other suggestions for the future. I doubt the obsession will ever abate.

Sofi Oksanen, Quand les colombes disparurent (When The Doves Disappeared)

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This book describes the survival strategies adopted by various characters as they grapple with the historical events they cannot influence. There is the fighter who resists situations he disagrees with and tries to help those who want to flee from it, there is the chameleon who tries to align with the forces at play and goes as far as changing his name (and beliefs!) and find all sorts of ways to justify his own behavior. Their the pretty woman who is sent to seduce a German officer and falls in love with another and imagines that is her ticket to safety, freedom and happiness and gets in the end terribly disappointed.

Some people have described this book as complex or difficult. It is only so if you are not accustomed to multiple voices and nonlinear timelines… And the design of the chapter headings make it easier to keep track by stating the location and year of the action that takes place in it. Two of the voices belong to brothers with widely differing political leanings, Roland and Edgar, and the third to Edgar’s wife Juudit. There might be a complication due to the fact that some characters change names depending on the political situation or to go into hiding. Then, you initially have to guess who’s who but that rapidly becomes clear.

I have seen in a newspaper article somewhere (just don’t remember where) that Oksanen wanted to write a Judith story. Well, I had to look up that biblical reference to see what she meant. So, Judith was a beautiful, intelligent and cunning woman who seduces a ruthless general and decapitates him in his sleep (that might be an oversimplification of what happens in the Book of Judith, but that’s have to do here). The Juudit of Oksanen’s story is not so cunning and while she gets into the bedroom, she ends up finding it way too comfortable to leave…

One thing that stuck me was the description of Juudit worrying about being seen at her mother’s old apartment being reminiscent of the scene where Raskolnikov is stuck in the apartment of the woman is murdered in Crime and Punishment. There is similar description of fear of repercussions and thinking about how to get out of that tough spot. I wonder is that was on purpose.

Overall, this was quite a compelling read. I will be looking forward to more books from Sofi Oksanen. See previous reviews here and here.

Reference:

Oksanen, Sofi. Quand les colombes disparurent. Collection « La cosmopolite ». Stock, 2013. (originally published in Finnish in 2012)

Sofi Oksanen, Les vaches de Staline (Staline’s Cows)

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Ce livre n’est devenu disponible en traduction française qu’après le grand succès de Purge et ne l’est toujours pas en anglais. Tout comme Purge, ce livre se passe en partie en Estonie et l’histoire récente de ce pays se pose en trame de fond au récit. Katariina, un des personnages principaux, est une ingénieure estonienne qui épouse un Finlandais et émigre en Finlande. Ils ont une fille, Anna, qui a une relation trouble avec ses origines, avec la Finlande et sa culture, ainsi qu’avec la nourriture. On pourrait ainsi dire qu’Anna est une personne troublée dont les problèmes envahissants l’empêchent d’avoir des relations saines avec autrui.

L’obsession de Katariina pour la gestion des apparences, un moyen de protection sûr dans un régime totalitaire où rien ne peut aller à l’encontre des attentes du régime sans poser problème, s’est transmuté en boulimie-anorexie chez sa fille Anna qui a une obsession d’avoir une apparence qu’elle considère idéale à un poids qu’elle considère idéal. En même temps, elle veut cacher le fait qu’elle se fait vomir et les divers stratagèmes qu’elle emploie pour dissimuler cette pratique relève parfois de la farce.

Ce livre foisonne de lignes narratives et je doute qu’une seule lecture permette de toutes les saisir et de voir les relations entre elles. Pourquoi le père est-il toujours absent et pourquoi semble-t-il avoir une autre vie à Moscou? Pourquoi la mère accepte-t-elle cette situation? Elle préfère peut-être ne pas avoir le père dans les jambes? L’auteure essaie-t-elle de souligner l’immense solitude de chacun des personnages?

Le récit passe maintes fois de la période des années 40 (l’enfance de Katariina), au milieu des années 70 (la rencontre des parents) et un présent où Anna est une jeune adulte. Ces passages mettent en évidence le lien entre les dissimulations des proches de Katariina durant de l’ère soviétique, l’étanchéité de la cellule familiale d’Anna en Finlande où ils ont peu de contact avec les Finlandais et se méfient et se tiennent à l’écart de la communauté estonienne, et l’isolement dans lequel les troubles alimentaires poussent Anna tout au long de sa vie.

Dans la troisième partie du livre, Anna a un amant qu’elle appelle « son petit troll »… devant qui elle ne dissimule rien et à qui elle révèle tout. Cet état libérateur lui permet de mieux jouir de la vie; elle sent qu’elle est arrivée à destination.

 

Référence

Oksanen, Sofi. Les vaches de Staline. Éditions Stock, 2011. (originalement publié en finnois en 2003)

Tuesday Night Ramblings: I Am Not Being A Good Reader

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Being of a slightly competitive nature, I like to be “good” at what I do. Now, what does that mean when it comes to reading? Well… we could take into consideration how fast one reads, what one reads (something meaningful and challenging?), reading thoughtfully (engaging the text and learning from it?), and by extension, writing interesting blog posts about said books. I am having trouble concentrating on reading after finishing Madd Addam, maybe because of the focus I put on this book when I read it. It is just hard to get into something else heartily enough to read fast.

But who am I kidding, does anybody really care? Shouldn’t I just concentrate about having fun reading, learning something interesting by reading, enjoying writing about the books I read just for the sake of moving my fingers over the keyboard and seeing the words appear on the screen, having fun thinking as I write?

And enough navelgazing for now… Better concentrate on “novel” gazing. OK, bad pun…

I am currently about two thirds of the way through a book originally published in 2003 by Sofi Oksanen called “Stalin’s Cows” (in French, Les vaches de Staline). It appears in French translation in 2011 following the success of Purge. It does not seem to exist in English translation. Similarly to Purge, the recent history of Estonia features prominently in this book, but so does the issue of eating disorders, an issue that the author reportedly has struggled with. Other themes of importance include: Soviet society, Soviet occupation of Estonia, immigration, ethnic identity, handling difference in a mixed couple, being a child of a mixed couple, maintaining relationships with relatives in the home country, etc. A very rich book. I highly recommend it and I am already looking forward to the next one, Quand les colombes disparurent (“When the doves disappeared”), already waiting for me at home.

I am also about 30% through Mrs. Radcliffe’s book The Mysteries of Udolpho, which I said I would read after I was done with Jane Austen’s Northanger Abbey which was a parody of the gothic genre. This is a very, very long novel which tells in details of the trials and tribulations of a young French woman, who’s aunt becomes her guardian after her father’s death. The aunt’s focus on getting her a wealthy husband (not a totally disinterested end) drags her into several uncomfortable situations and highlights the dire powerlessness of women in the years in which the story is set (late 18th century). I have yet to come to the part of the book which features the famous castle of Udolpho and so far, there isn’t much that is overtly gothic about this novel.

I am also travelling with some work-related reading: one book about the system approach to performance improvement, and a new edition of a Quebec book about the management of learning and development. Gotta try to keep up with the lit in that area somehow…

 

References

Oksanen, Sofi. Purge. Black Cat, Grove/Atlantic Inc., New York, NY, 2010. (originally published in Finnish in 2008)

Oksanen, Sofi. Les vaches de Staline. Éditions Stock, 2011. (originally published in Finnish in 2003)

Oksanen, Sofi. Quand les colombes disparurent. Éditions Stock, 2013. (originally published in Finnish in 2012).

Radcliffe, Ann Ward. The Mysteries of Udolpho.  (as published in Project Gutenberg, originally published in 4 volumes in 1794)

Sofi Oksanen, Purge

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Set in Estonia through the whole period that saw the German occupation, the Soviet occupation and the return to independence, this novel tells the story of two sisters from a small village who only try to survive the difficult circumstances of their lives. The eldest, Ingel, marries Hans for love. Aliide, also in love with Hans, has to share their life on the family farm until she marries herself. Her marriage is not based on love, but on the need for protection and survival and her husband is a Party man. At the beginning of the Soviet occupation, Hans goes into hiding supported by his wife and sister in law.

Much of the story is told from Aliide’s point of view. While she seems to be a trustworthy narrator, we eventually come to suspect that her version of the facts may not be entirely truthful. She claims to be innocent, unaware of and unaffected by politics and driven by her love of Hans and need for her own survival. It seems, based on later statements, that she may have had more of a hand in the removal of both her sister and her young niece to the Soviet Union.

The narration from Aliide’s point of view is interspaced with entries from Hans’ journal. A third point of view is prominent throughout the novel: that of Zara, Aliide’s great-niece, who seeks to escape from criminals who had taken her from her home in Vladivostok to work in Germany where she was forced into prostitution.

At the end of the novel, the tone changes and we find ourselves reading secret service reports into the behaviors of Hand, Aliide and Ingel, as well as Aliide’s husband Martin and a few tantalizing tidbits shed new lights on information previously revealed or hinted at… and some people are not what they seemed to be.

A great read, with a complex story, set in a part of the world I hardly know about.

 

References:

Oksanen, Sofi, Purge, Black Cat Grove/Atlantic, New York, 2010. (originally published in Finnish in 2008)

Wonderful Women by the Sea, by Monika Fagerholm

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Well, yesterday was a busy night with many things to think about, but I mostly need to think about something else than the Quebec provincial election results, so I’d better concentrate on one of my favorite things, books. Much more comforting than politics, IMHO.

Thanks to the always interesting phenomenon of changing European borders and linguistic politics (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Swedish-speaking_population_of_Finland , here is a book from a famous Finnish writer who belongs to the Swedish minority in Finland. Well enough about that angle…

Wonderful Women by the Sea was Fagerholm’s first novel. Published in 1994, it starts in 1962 and presents some snippets of life seen mostly through the eyes of a seven-year-old boy. His family spends summers in a rented sea-side cottage and little Thomas casts admiring eyes on both parents and endlessly puzzles at the wonders of life around him. He befriends the somewhat odd daughter of a neighboring family, Renee, who accompanies him in his adventures and often instigates some of the stranger things that they do. She eventually becomes a champion sailor.

His mother, Isabella, is nicknamed Isabella Mermaid due to a summer job she had when she met her husband Kayus. The book opens with this paragraph:

One time Kayus was throwing balls at the mermaids at the amusement park. Each mermaid lay or sat on a green shelf above the pool. The shelf gave way and swung down whenever the ball scored a direct hit on the pink board below the shelf. The mermaid screamed, fell, and landed in the shallow water, which was barely higher than her knees. Again and again Kayus aimed at the same spot on the board. Again and again Isabella fell, again and again she screamed, the same brief shrill scream, which was not beautiful but certainly not inaudible, a scream that began to haunt Kayus so that it reverberated in his head all the time, even when he was not at the amusement park.

Kayus is a very serious engineer who loses his sense of fun somewhere in the book.

Isabella befriends Renee’s mother Rosa. They spent many a sunny summer afternoon lazing around together and discussing what they really want from life. Summer after summer, the families return to their “summer paradise” until one day, someone changes the rules… The tone in which the book is written really changes much before the actual event, from one of childish innocence and hopefulness to waiting for something dreadful to happen.

One day, Bella and Rosa decide to go to Copenhagen for a few days. Apparently, Bella decides not to return to her life as wife of Kayus and mother to Thomas, and abandons them.  Her dissatisfaction with the routine of her life as a mother and wife wins out over her loyalty to her family and all the wonderful moments they had created together.

Maybe she felt that those moments had imprisoned into a definition of herself, Isabella Mermaid, that was limiting and she needed to search for herself again.

Eventually Thomas grows up into a quiet young man, while Renee meets with a stupid, tragic end that quite reflects the recklessness with which she approached all situations even as a child.

So, this is where how it ends up for Thomas, in 1973, which the promise of a life rich in experiences to come:

But now Kayus has turned up the sound on the television because he is anxious not to disturb Thomas. He is pleased that his son has a girlfriend, a sensible girl who comes to see him.

Whereas Renee, who meets with one of the kids from the seaside cottage days, goes on an ill-fated boat ride with him:

Renée and Lars-Magnus Lindbergh are clinging to the foredeck. There, somewhere, Lars-Magnus Lindbergh loses sight of Renée. She just disappears, swept off deck, sinks, is lost. Then Lars Magnus is alone in the cold and the dark, drifting with the boat. Then there is no longer a boat.

Reference:

Fagerholm, Monika, Wonderful Women by the Sea, The New Press: New York, 1997. (original published in Swedish in 1994)