Wednesday, 18 February 2009

Oh to be a Finnish Man

Apparently there's a rush on books from Finland. I was talking to Nick at the lovely Mr B's bookshop in Bath last week and he said one of their bestsellers is The Howling Miller by Arto Paasilinna. He was popular when I was growing up in Finland and some of his novels were turned into films (The Year of the Hare). To me he was a little old-fashioned, concerned mostly with the agonies of being a Finnish Man (there are many). This theme is well covered by modern Finnish literature.

When I was last in Helsinki I picked up Mika Nousiainen's Finnish bestseller which has not been translated into English yet (I don't think). It's a story of a man who loves Sweden so much that he exchanges his life with a Swedish man. Most Finns hate Sweden - to an Englishman this is the same as wanting to become a Scott (or an Irishman, Frenchman, Canadian, get the gist). Nousiainen's book is a very astute exploration of the relationship between Finns and Swedes. Finland was under the rule of the Swedish kingdom two hundred years ago. During the Second World War Sweden was neutral (or cowards Finnish Man would say) while Finland fought with Russia. You can see how the Finns had a minority complex about Sweden.

But of course Nokia changed all that.

Most people I encounter in the UK are surprised to hear that a) Finnish is a completely different language from Swedish b) the two countries don't get along. I lived in Sweden as a teenager, and loved it there. My book Pappa's Girl deals with some of those memories. So to me it's interesting to read about this conflict between the two countries and how others perceive it. It's also incredibly funny, because we are so very different both temperamentally and culturally. This is particularly apparent in the way the men in the two countries behave. There's a quote from the book which I'd like to translate. 'Nobody wants to be a Finnish Man. Even a Finnish Woman only marries a Finnish Man if she's not pretty enough to marry a foreigner.'


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