Thursday, 30 July 2015

When the Doves Disappeared by Sofi Oksanen - book review


Once again Sofi Oksanen excels in making the recent tragic history of Estonia and its people into an engaging and riveting read. 


In her previous, much acclaimed novel, Purge, the story follows three generations of women, while in When the Doves Disappeared, we trace the fates of two male cousins, each of whom deals very differently with their lives marred by war, the Red Army’s invasion, the brief but devastating period of German rule, and eventually the Soviet era.

Roland is a passionate freedom fighter, desperate for an independent Estonia. His younger cousin, Edgar, however, is more pragmatic and easily aligns himself with whoever is in power, without much thought to principles. Edgar’s wife Juudit too, is a survivor, but she has more difficulty in escaping her Estonian conscience, or Roland, who is often at hand to remind her.

The story is told from the point of view of the three main characters, Roland, Edgar and Juudit, and is set during two particularly violent periods in Estonian history; 1941 under Communist and Nazi rule, and 1963 when the Soviet Union increased its stranglehold of the small Baltic nation.

But this novel isn't merely a story of tragedy brought on by war and oppression, but also a tale of love, sexual identity and the secrets that haunt Roland, Juudit and Edgar. 


The heart-warming description of Edgar’s attempts to please his various masters is squirm-making; while the infatuation and passion Juudit feels in the height of her doomed love-affair is heart-breaking; and the seemingly mysterious and futile loss Roland suffers makes you wish you were reading a comic novel. However, the twists and turns of this brilliant book make you read on – and when you've finished, you wish you could read When the Doves Disappeared again.

This review will also appear in the next issue of Horisontti, the Finn-Guild magazine.

Tuesday, 2 June 2015

Want to hear me speak in Finnish?



I was asked some time ago to do an interview for the School of Slavonic and East European Studies at University College London. Afterwards, I promptly forgot about it, until today when I came across the email exchange about the Language Trail project.

I don't usually like listening to myself (and here I go on a bit), because I sound like a high-pitched girl rather than a grown-up woman. So I was surprised how deep my voice seemed here. Perhaps it's the language - Finnish is spoken a few octaves lower than English? Or perhaps this is just another sign of old age. (Probably the latter. Oh my).

Whatever the case, here is the whole interview, where I talk in Finnish about my work at Finn-Guild, about how I came to be in England, and about my novel, The Englishman.

Thursday, 21 May 2015

Moomins on the Riviera out in UK cinemas tomorrow!


I wrote about this wonderful new animated Moomintrolls film (here), when it was featured in the London Film Festival last autumn. At that time the film only got two showings here in the UK, but now at last it'll be on general release from tomorrow onwards.

So if you are a Moomin fan, or just fancy a feel-good film about life, love and family, go and see this fantastic film. Its funny, its heartbreaking and beautifully hand-drawn, whilst still being faithful to Tove Jansson's original artwork.

Time Out gives the film 4 stars, and The Guardian too is waxing lyrical about this Finnish/French production.

Thursday, 30 April 2015

Cold Pressed by J J Marsh

Cold PressedCold Pressed by J.J. Marsh
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Another competent DI Stubbs tale set in a warm country. This time the calm and clever female detective investigates the deaths of women of a certain age onboard a luxury cruise liner criss-crossing the Greek archipelago. As a pure gesture of political goodwill, Beatrice Stubbs, a well-respected Scotland Yard detective, is called in by the Greek authorities to investigate the death of a British eighty-year-old woman, who's fallen off a cliff at a beauty spot in Santorini. Everyone thinks it's a case of death by natural causes, until Beatrice and her young Greek counterpart, DI Stephanakis, start investigating.

Cold Pressed reminded me of Agatha Cristies' novel, Death on the Nile. The novel has the same quality of the luxurious surroundings hiding a raw desire to murder. The author here also has the same eye to detail, some of which turn out to be false and some not so. JJ Marsh keeps the readers guessing right to the moment when the killer(s) is (are) revealed.

But as well as a story about nasty happenings on a luxury cruiser, Cold Pressed is, just as the other Di Stubbs novels, about the complicated personal lives of the two detectives. We learn of the self-doubts of the young, newly promoted, Detective Nikos Stephanakis, and are given very interesting revelations into Beatrice's mind, and her relationship with Matthew, her long-term partner.

I read this book in two days flat, so all I now need is the next Beatrice Stubbs book, please Ms Marsh!



View all my reviews

Wednesday, 15 April 2015

Finnish Tango is the Dance Therapy for the Soul


You may be surprised that in my view, out of all the Nordic people, we Finns are the most passionate.  That strong emotion is a Finnish national characteristic may be a little known fact also because, as a people, we are most apt at hiding our passion – until we hear a tango piece.

If you’re in a dance restaurant, or at a summer dance in Finland, you’ll notice that the floor will be empty until the first tango is played. We Finns love moving along to this slow, staccato beat. With serious, concentrated faces, you’ll see the couples move swiftly, and expertly, along the floor. The Finnish tango is danced with close contact in the pelvis, upper thighs, and the upper body, with frequent dips and rotations. In the Finnish tango feet stay close to the floor, with no kicks as in the Argentine tango. The lyrics in the Finnish tango are important, as is the accordion, which has a prominent place in the score.

The Finnish Tango emerged at the same time as the country gained its independence. Nobody seems to know who brought the first tango music into the country around 1910, but by the 1930’s Finnish musicians started writing their own tango pieces, and after the Second World War, tango became the most popular form of music in the country.

Perhaps it’s the slow, but persistent, rhythm in a tango, which appeals to the Finnish sense of deep melancholy. This basic sense of drama is also reflected in the lyrics of the tangos. The most popular themes are love and sorrow, or longing for something unattainable, such as a warm, far-flung country, or one’s homestead – a distant land of happiness. Tango is not a light-hearted business in Finland.


One of the most revered Finnish tangos, and the one I remember from my childhood is Finnish classic is Satumaa; (Wonderland), sung by Reijo Taipale. This is a tale about a paradise far away, so unattainable that the singer feels he’s a bird with clipped wings. Another tango, Metsäkukkia (Forest flowers) sung by Olavi Virta, is a song about a lost summer and lost love, rediscovered in the spring. Whereas Kotkan Ruusu (Rose of Kotka), sang by Eino Gron, tells the tale of a woman of the night, told with the most passionate words allowable in the 1950’s, when the song was written. Its beat is such that I’d defy anyone listening to it, not to immediately want to get up and dance – or at least tap a foot.

Although the most popular tangos were written in the 1950’s, they were constantly played on the radio when I was growing up in central Finland. As a child, I’d watch my parents and other grown-ups crowd the dance floor when a popular Finnish tango was played at family parties.  My first boyfriend was a passionate tango dancer and taught me the steps, although I think you’d be pressed to find a Finn even today who doesn’t know how to dance a tango.

Many of the tango songs have also been re-recorded many times, and new tangos have been written. Some, such as Kotkan Ruusu, or Suyyspihlajan Alla (Under the Mountain Ash tree) sung by Arja Saijonmaa, became popular in Sweden amongst the large Finnish ex-pat population in the 1970’s and 80’s.

Even today, the Finnish tango, as popular music and dance, is thriving, although it’s no longer the chart-topping music of the post-war era. There’s a hugely popular competition, Tangomarkkinat (Tango Market), started in the mid-eighties and held in the central town of Seinäjoki, where a Tango Queen and King are crowned each summer. The 2015 Tango Market is a five-day affair on 8-12 July, with tango lessons, tango karaoke, concerts and most important of all the tango competition final.

The event attracts more than 100,000 visitors (out of 5 million residents) and the winners of the song competition become instant celebrities in Finland, and often have successful long-term careers in the music business.

So, if you’re near a dance floor in Finland this summer, have a go and get some therapy for the soul!

Information on the Seinäjoki Tango Market can be found at www.tangomarkkinat.fi

This article will also appear in the Summer 2015 edition of the CoScan Magazine.