Monday, December 14, 2009

Nordic crime; class issues in a supposedly equal society

Liza Marklund and Leena Lehtolainen have proven that the crime lit genre has its place within the more "serious" genres. You'll catch my drift:

43. Väärän jäljillä by Leena Lehtolainen ("Chasing the wrong one")

Väärän jäljillä is the 10th in line of Maria Kallio-novels. Maria Kallio is a policewoman, who, well, solves crimes. That by itself would not be quite that exciting, especially if we are talking about the Finnish crime scene. Maria Kallio is an interesting figure in the crime scene because firstly she is a woman. Secondly, she is a woman who can carry a conversation with other women about something other than a love interest.

(For more on passing the hilarioiusly simple Bechdel test, follow the link).

This is already refreshing, because usually whenever there is a main female character, she will have a trusted lady friend with whom she can cry about the lack of a boyfriend/husband/a successful date--other adult conversations are left for the female character to have with her (often) male colleagues or male friends. This of course does not mean that Maria Kallio does not or should not talk about men and relationships: she is married and has two children, and this often plays into the stories realistically, as she has to make tough choices between her family and her career. The stories often feature two plot lines: the first one is the case Kallio is currently working on, and the second one involves her life, namely how her police work affects her personal mental health and how she has to navigate child-rearing responsibilities with her husband, who also has a career to take care of.

It's fairly refreshing to read stories about a really tough profession (police!), where, once the shift is over, the worker goes home and slips into her real life, with issues about who goes to pick up the children from daycare the day after. The violence and terror at her workplace is juxtaposed with the anxiety at home; of never being good enough a mother, friend or a wife. Reminds me of a lot of British detective stories, where the police world and the home life are first kept separate, but soon one of them starts to affect the other, and the two are intertwined -- just like in real life.

When we meet Kallio again in Väärän jäljillä, she is no longer working for the police force, owning to a harrowing experience she had on duty earlier. She is now working for a group that researches domestic violence, financed by the Ministry of Internal Affairs. Through her friend and business partner, Leena, she meets a journalist who has been injured in a bad accident. She speculates that someone tried to kill her in that accident and now is again after her. The reasons for this are clear to her: her expose on the Finnish track-and-field drug usage a few years ago accumulated the threats. When some of the prank calls seem to take on a more serious note, Kallio is sent back to the police force to work on the case. What you get is a police officer with a bad case of PTSD, forced to work on some practicality in a contract.

The Kallio books are like any good old crime lit: after a while they start to repeat a clear pattern. Still, they are mostly very enjoyable to read.

44. Paikka auringossa by Liza Marklund (English translation of the novel can be found under "A place in the Sun")

Liza Marklund has her own Maria Kallio. This time, the crime solver is Annika Bengtzon, a tabloid journalist. Because her profession requires her to be fairly ruthless, she often ends up solving crimes while investigating a story for her paper. Whereas Lehtonen's Kallio is an all-understanding, analytical thinker, Bengtzon is sometimes, quite frankly, an asshole. She explodes over issues that seemingly do not warrant such behavior, and she is a pain to work with. However, we the readers do not see this because Bengtzon's thoughts and moods are very visible to us. Only when a new intern lets slip that of course she did not want to work with her because of the rumors she has heard of Bengtzon, does the reader stop, offended: how dare you say that of dear Annika? Don't you know her at all? She's not a meany! This is good writing: only when Bengtzon is forced to think about the way she behaves does the reader understand why others treat her so badly.

As with the Kallio books, the Bengtzon books follow a scheme: there is always a big case that Bengtzon is sent out to investigate, but the second story line follows Bengtzon's personal life. In the earlier books, that part focused intensely on the slowly crumbling marriage of Bengtzon's, which was like a train wreck; had to keep on reading, although you knew it wouldn't end well. The story is made realistic by Bengtzon's angry cluelessness of how to work out her and Thomas's problems, and only after a book or so later does she finally see (and allow the readers to see), what the main problems were. And the main problems were not late nights at the office, or answering a work phone during dinner.

Paikka auringossa sends Bengtzon to Mediterranean sun to solve a gas murder in a rich Swedish tourist resort. When the murdered family turns out to be that of a famous former NHL player, Bengtzon becomes intrigued: who would want to get rid of a family that has been doing nothing but good in the community? But the  more she interviews the player's friends and investors, the more blurry the case becomes. At the same time, her former colleague now has been promoted to be her boss, and he is enjoying the power trip to the extreme: instead of the murder case, he wants Annika to focus on a Swedish cocaine trafficing ring in the same area. As usual, Bengtzon walks around like -- excuse the Finnish saying -- a bear shot in the ass, while her boss is being unreasonable, her previous case comes back to haunt her, and she has no idea what her ex-husband actually wants these days. Whereas the previous book ended with a bang and on a very sour note, this one comes to the rescue to wrap, at least momentarily, Annika's life up, releasing her from her feelings of bitterness toward, well, almost anyone.

45. Luokkaretkellä hyvinvointiyhteiskunnassa. Nykysukupolven kokemuksia tasa-arvosta by Katriina Järvinen and Laura Kolbe ("Taking a class trip in a welfare society. Experiences of equality from the current generation's view point").

Beware. I loved this book, and I'm writing this fast. I want to tell you all about it, so I have to resort to long quotations and raving about it!

"Most of the time it is considered a taboo to bring out your class background in modern Finland. There is this mindset that all the people in this country are one big, happy middle class. Does a person's background then not matter at all? Finnish welfare society with its attempts at equality has brought people from different class backgrounds to the same schools, work places and to be neighbors in a way that would have been impossible in a class society. These encounters are eye-opening and enriching, and they create genuine friendships. On the other hand, the encounters might feed feelings of difference, of being an outsider, even of shame. It's easy to recognize a Finn among foreigners - but is our class background as easy to recognize, and how does it affect us?"

The "class trip" in the title comes from Swedish, where "klassresa" has become a term to describe a working class person's social ascent.

This should be required reading for anyone who has idealized thoughts about Finland (I'm looking at you, long-term expatriates!). I am not saying that Finland doesn't have a lot of good things going for it: universal health care, free education, good benefits for the unemployed. These seemingly make it easy for everyone to get an education and hop on board to join the middle class. This thought is imprinted into the minds of Finnish kids already at a young age, and you can imagine where that takes you: for one, you are proud of the country you came from, this land of equal opportunity for everyone! Then again, if you can't make it, you only have yourself to blame, because the Finnish myth tells you that as long as you work hard, you can do whatever you want. And now that you are unable to do what you wanted, maybe you just were a lazy no-good and should settle for less, right? Shame on you for being a failure!

The book is a collection of short essays written by Järvinen and Kolbe. Järvinen comes from a working class background, and Kolbe from an upper middle class background. Although they both have been born and schooled in Finland, and are now working in academia, they have a very different experience of growing up and becoming what they are. This has been strongly influenced by their class backgrounds:

- Järvinen and other people from working class backgrounds that were interviewed in this book feel that although money did not play a role in getting an education, the mental capital that they received at home certainly did. In most working class families, reading was considered a "waste of time", because if you had time to read, you were not earning money to bring to the table. Likewise, the idea of small talk was unheard of. One man says how he brought a middle-class girlfriend over one time. His parents had sat silently in front of the TV after offering her some coffee, while the woman tried to engage them in a conversation. Finally the man had to tell the woman to stop speaking, because his "parents would get scared--they're not used to that". This is understandable--if you do not read, and the majority of your time is taken by some kind of a physical or half-physical labor, what do you need to talk about beyond the basics of life? This interaction with other people comes up again and again in the book: at parties, Järvinen feels that she has to be more proper than the rest so that she will be taken seriously, whereas a man from a middle-class background licks his plate clean and nobody bats an eye. He has the privilege of not caring what other people think of him, because it would not affect his status. Järvinen feels that for her, life is still a struggle of proving herself worth of this new class that she has transferred into. Although now firmly in the middle class with her work in academia and with no immediate money problems, she is still conscious of her habits of finishing whatever is brought in front of her on a plate, whereas her friends who have grown up in more well-off households usually take only a few bites out of their foods and throw the rest away.

- Kolbe expounds on the privilege of learning to communicate with others. Her middle class family, with semi-academic professions and enough money to travel abroad on holidays, has taught her to converse with a variety of people during their trips. She has learned how to behave at restaurants and at dinner parties, how to talk with people from a variety of cultural backgrounds, and she has learned how to debate furiously about politics. All this she has learned simply through her everyday life, not from school. She, and others from a similar background interviewed for the book, feel that this has given them another edge in life: they have an easier time of communicating their thoughts to others, which works marvellously in most current working environments, where a lot of energy is spent on work groups or brainstorming meetings. Järvinen agrees, saying that people from working class background who suddenly find themselves in a similar situation are at loss: they do not have the same communication and interpersonal tools as these middle class people have, and this causes immense frustration and shame.

Shame and guilt is also another recurring topic in the book. The shame of your background when you find that your better-off friends thought that your bohemian lifestyle is actually not a cool choice, but dictated by your parents' lack of money; the shame of educating yourself, and feeling that you have betrayed your class background and your family, when you can't even carry a conversation with your parents anymore because they don't have a clue what you are talking about; the shame when you find out that your cleaner is actually your old college classmate, and you haven't worked a day in your life. The shame when you have to rely on your spouse for money, just because you are too proud to take the handouts from your rich parents, lest someone call you pampered.

It's very difficult to discuss about class in a constructive manner. When these class-related problems are brought out, the conversation often veers into people defending their class backgrounds, and suddenly we are giving points to whom is more oppressed, or which class is actually the better one. That is what this book tries to avoid: it introduces problems from both working and middle class (and the odd class in between: enterpreneurs), making us face the fact that although the nation prides itself for creating an equal opportunity environment for all, there are still hidden inequalities at work. And because they are hidden and not talked about, the class division and unequality between classes keeps on growing. It also makes us recognize our privileges and to face the fact that yes, my life might have been easier just because I was encouraged to read and study at home, compared to the kid whose parents scoffed at an inquiring mind.Of course individual responsibility should not be shrugged off completely, but neither can we say that an individual is totally free to decide whatever they want if they do not have the assets to honestly do so. In Järvinen and Kolbe's opinion, the people who often say that it all depends on how hard you want something are those who are not at risk of living on the streets any time soon.

Järvinen writes about her wake-up call to class issues: "I specifically remember [at a college course] this one lady who was divorced from her priest husband. She stated that everything depends on you personally. She also calmly stated, that if she doesn't have enough money otherwise, then she can maybe sell her house and move to a smaller apartment. This lady forgot that not all of us have even that apartment or anything else to sell off."

Järvinen and Kolbe state, that Finland is going back to inherited professions, and fast. It is already visible now, when the kids of well-to-do middle class folk obviously go to high school, and then obviously go to a college--no questions asked. Kids from working class backgrounds often choose a vocational school instead of high school, and decide to become what their parents have been, because they might already be good at the job as they have watched it being done all their lives.

Again, choosing a vocational school over high school is not bad per se, or vice versa. There is only a problem when we encourage our children to only stay in their comfort zones and not seek out anything else.

Monday, December 7, 2009

While we're waiting for a happy Finnish book...

42. Raja by Riikka Pulkkinen ("Border")

A disclaimer: if you are reading this journal, you might notice a bit of a depressing trend in the previous few books. When I started reading this one, I thought "Oh no. Suicidal people. Sex. A bit of alcohol, too. Again!" No worries: the book selections aren't a cry of help...

Raja is Riikka Pulkkinen's (who is born the same year as I, gasp) first novel, but it reads like one written by a person who has seen a lot. The narration switches between Anja, a fiftysomething literature professor whose husband is consumed by Alzheimer's; Mari, a 16-year old high schooler with literary pursuits and her young and handsome literature teacher Julian, who has decided to seduce Mari because of her muse-like qualities, and finally, Julian's small daughter Anni, whose only wish is that everyone is happy and safe, which she magically tries to ensure in everyday life by not upsetting anyone.

All of the characters concern themselves with the mysterious border between life and death. Anja tries to commit suicide because the promise she made to her husband is too much to bear. When she does not succeed, she has to face another, ethical border: is she ready to take another person's life? Mari, a plain girl and a straight A student, dreams of her death, her funeral, her obituaries, but the closest she dares to get to death is by cutting herself and letting pain make life real for her. Julian, in the quest for a new muse now that he and his wife are having problems, is preoccupied by Greek tragedies and is convinced that as art and life are not that far apart from each other, each story must involve a death to become a good story, a good tragedy. In real life, his border is, like Anja's, an ethical one. His daughter Anni, still in daycare, is the only one for whom the border between life and death is not yet clear, nor does she want to go explore it. She still believes in magic, and if she just plays the right way with her dolls, or if she just does this other little thing, her parents will not be angry with her and everyone will be happy.

Although a novel to really be gorged because of its intrigue, the subject of death and the fear and desire of it can be a difficult read. At the end, the reader feels the need to give absolution to all of the characters, regardless of their actions, and is thus made to think of his or her own borders and limitations. And as for the Greek tragedy pattern, the novel stays true to the form: death, suicide, murder, and even incest (albeit indirectly at the times, when Julian realizes what a small girl Mari actually is and how much she reminds him of his daughter, who secretly wants to be like Julian's lover)--all are present.

There's only one piece of criticism I have for this book, and I know, it's very petty, but... stop saying that horses always sleep standing up! It is not true! Every time an author perpetuates some myth without checking it, especially if the myth is used to bolster some greater metaphor in the book, a part of me is very disappointed. Same goes to you, writers, who say that Eskimos have a gazillion words for snow. In addition to using a thesaurus, authors should really have a link to handy.

Sunday, December 6, 2009


41. Elämänmeno by Pirkko Saisio ("The way life is")

Trying to translate these titles into English is good exercise for my brain: should I take the literal route, or should I take concentrate more on what connotations the title brings to my head? Mostly I go with the latter. Alternative translation suggestions are accepted gladly!

Elämänmeno is a darned rough book about a family in the early part of the 1900s in slowly industrializing Helsinki. The 5-person family lives in tiny, cramped conditions as all working class families do; they struggle with work or the inevitability of unemployment or bad working conditions, alcoholism, and whether they can afford to send their kids to school themselves further (yes--now Finns just take the whole "free education for all wheeee!"-thing for granted...). The narration switches between Eila and Marja; mother and daughter, who are like day and night. Eila is a manic, Eastern Finnish character who curses, drinks and screws, and whose worst fear is to be looked down upon by people who think they are better than her. Which makes all of her actions defensively aggressive.  This behavior is targeted at her family, with Marja, the illegimate child of Eila's, bearing the worst of it: she is constantly reminded that she is not good enough for... well, anything. Later Marja watches in horror when the youngest of the siblings in her teenager years talks back to her mother, and gets away with it. The reader follows the confusion and bitterness of these characters as they grow older and try to figure out how much they can personally change and how much their living conditions and their class status affect their lives. With Eila, the case is already lost: she has basically given into a thought that her life was ruined the day she got pregnant with Marja, and there is no possibility for improvement, whereas Marja sullenly and patiently waits for better days.

It's a wonderfully written book, although at points terribly difficult to read because of the subject matter. I'm looking forward to reading more of Saisio's books, as I hear that she tends to slip in some autobiographical elements into most of her stories.

Friday, December 4, 2009

As long as the model looks good...

I read quite a lot of knitting and crocheting books, and I am getting acquainted with the world of photographing your artistic creations. In The Happy Hooker, young and hip models are wearing the crocheted goods in natural-looking settings: out on the streets, in a park, or in their apartments. The pictures make the crocheted hats and other wear look interesting and just fitting.

But then sometimes, there is a book that had no idea how to photograph such creations. This is one of them. I recently checked out Love to Knit Socks from the library, because it had some interesting looking sock patterns. Here is the cover:

The top-most pair especially caught my eye, the one with the snowflake pattern. But once I opened the book, more atrocious pictures after another were shown: they were all shot at a white studio setting with terrible lighting and home make-up, and most of the time the humans wearing the stuff were shown more than the actual items. My favorite picture out of them all is this:

Helloooo, sassy red head! Oh yeah, about them socks...
See anything weird about the image? These are the same socks that were on the cover, except that...

this model's feet are too big for the socks! The heel is bunched up at the bottom of her foot! And they still decided to shoot this picture and leave it in the book! The pattern looks totally misplaced and weird!

Simply amazing. So they had another person pose for pictures of only the foot (as seen in the cover and other cropped images inside the book), but then, for some mind-boggling reason, they decided that this model looks way better than the foot model, even if the socks don't fit at all--and the socks were supposed to be the whole point here.


Well, this book wasn't that great otherwise, either: it did not tell what size knitting needles or yarn the patterns use, and sometimes the patterns were written just so oddly that I had no idea what I was supposed to be doing. I didn't end up making any of the socks. But at least I got some entertainment out of the book!

Finnish book club edition: November

The Finnish Book Club I go to has done me great good: it has introduced me to many authors I would never have read, either because of my prejudices ("detective stories?? Puhleeeeze"), or simply because I was so wrapped up in literature and nonfiction written in English that I didn't even think about giving Finnish literature a chance.

I know it's December already, but these are some of the books I either returned or borrowed from our November meeting. All good stuff.

38. Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides
OK, we also read literature translated into Finnish...

 First, a confession: for the longest time I have seen this title mentioned in various blogs that I read. For some brain-farty reason, I always thought people are talking about Middlemarch, and I was wondering why on Earth young generations seem to be finding such solace in this book... Duh.

This is one of those books that I would love to describe in the clichéd terms of "This is like authors X, Y and Z on drugs/in a rollercoaster together/having lunch in Sicily with old men", and only because I want to convince everyone that they should check this out! The style of writing reminds me of Love in the Time of Cholera, where things mundane and even grotesque were described so beautifully that you'd think you are reading about some magical event when, basically, you are reading about two really old people getting it on.

Eugenides takes a coming-of-age story, and deeming the genre's protagonists and their usual adventures worn out, he creates Calliopeia, an intersex person who, because of a doctor's error, grows up to be a woman in a man's body. The novel stretches back generations to explain why this genetic mutation happened, and it cleverly discusses the influences of nature and nurture in becoming a gendered person, while in the center there is Calliopeia, a tortured teenager without knowing the reason why. Also, it's simply a pretty damned funny story. Sad, too. Unfortunately, every synopsis I have read (and now the one I have written) don't do justice to the book. There's just too much... stuff in the book to summarize it well in a paragraph or two. There's Greek history, a bit of mythology, immigrant issues, some great love stories (with realistic-seeming outcomes) and the issue of growing up in the "wrong" gender, all in a neat and pretty package.

39. Kommentteja kaksoiselämään by Olli Nuutinen ("Commentaries on a double life")

Olli Nuutinen is a guru among Finnish teachers: he has written the first ever, Finnish-only Finnish textbook (that does come with small dictionaries in various languages). All my students know and love his books, especially because the situations in the books are sometimes just so memorable. In one of the books, a lot of the dialogue revolves around a young Finnish lady, who loves to go out and meet men and party...

I knew absolutely nothing else about Nuutinen. Nor did I ever think to read him up. I haven't read up on Fred Karlsson's personal life either, so why should I start stalking these linguistic celebrities?

Nuutinen wrote this book as a seeminly cathartic effort: being a homosexual in the 1960s, up until these days, in a country with very small circles, has not been easy. In the beginning of the book he states that he is not going to write about his love for languages and Finnish especially, because he has done that so many times already. Nor is he going to list the events in his life in a chronological order. The book seems more like little glimpses to the hidden and shameful life of an academic homosexual, who knows he is being surrounded by similar people, but also knows that what he is being and doing is illegal and, up until fairly recently, classified as an illness. His descriptions vary from romantic romps in Central European towns, to that sunken feeling on Monday morning at the teacher's lounge when everyone is talking about what they were up to with their significant others during the weekend--while Nuutinen cannot even wrap his arm around his lover while walking on the street, in fears of being found.

The only thing that bothered me with the book was sometimes his "facts", which he had taken from a book written by another academic homosexual, sometime in the early 1900s, or then from his own observations. Compared to Eugenides, who discusses various sides of the nature vs. nurture debate in forming a sexual identity (in fiction), Nuutinen states things such as  

I do not remember a single homosexual, who would've been interested in soccer. We think about it like women do. A hint for researchers: this is not because of nurture. 

Later he makes an exception: lesbians may like soccer, because they like manly things more. Nuutinen also adds, that because lesbians identify more with men, they also hang out more with their father than their mother when growing up. So, I would assume that in traditional family settings in the 1960s-70s, hanging out with the father would also mean going to more soccer matches or watching soccer than what you would do if you hung out with your mother (which Nuutinen states is the gay male child's preference).

With these statements in mind, the book comes out as Nuutinen wanted: a kind of a confession of a very confused man, who was able to hold hands with his partner publicly for the first time when he was already past his 40s. The sadness and bitterness of this burden, as well as the misinformation and confused feelings of what homosexuality really is, is well expressed in the book.

40. Baby Jane by Sofi Oksanen

Sofi Oksanen, Finnish literary scene's Lady Gaga, was introduced to me first via tabloids which, instead of discussing her work, focused on her "gothic" look and whether she was hot or not, and whether she would be hotter if she just got rid of those weird dreads. I wanted to see what English speaking readers thought of her work, but Googling resulted in similar stuff as the tabloids.

So, unfortunately she got onto my Prejudiced-list. I thought she must be all show and no content.

I was so, so very wrong, and this is my public apology. Sofi Oksanen's books are amazing. I have previously read Puhdistus (which should come out soonish under the title "Purge", IIRC), and Stalinin lehmät ("Stalin's Cows"), and both of them made a huge impression on me. Oksanen is Estonian-Finnish, and her subject matter in both of these aforementioned books revolves heavily around the history between these two neighboring countries. To those of you not in the know, Finns seem to think that Estonians are these cute mini-Finns, who speak a funny language. It's an oddly patronizing a relationship, especially when you add to that the other stereotypes, such as that all Estonian women are prostitutes and the expectation that Estonians know Finnish because they just must like us, the big brother... Oksanen reveals facts from history and present that the Finnish school history books do not want to talk about: Finns know embarrasingly little about Estonia, thinking that the country is only worth for cheap amusement. The books reveal a nasty side of Finns to Finns themselves (the disgusting treatment of Estonians, and immigrants in general)--which sure is healthy.

So, after reading these two very heavy books about history, eating disorders related to personal growth and confusion, I borrowed Oksanen's chronologically second novel, Baby Jane. Most people told me it's the worst of the three. I can see why: the subject matter is much, much lighter and less analytical and poignant than in the two previously mentioned books, but... Had I read this book as my first Oksanen, I still would've wanted to read more, because it felt like a breath of fresh air in the Finnish literary scene.

The novel is narrated by a woman with no name, the "I" of the story. She moves to Helsinki and becomes involved with the gay scene (I know, what is with me and these gay books today!), and begins to date Piki, a lesbian everyone seems to be familiar with and with whom nobody has any intents to mess with. Both the "I" and Piki suffer from depression, but in various degrees. It takes the narrator a while to realize the extent of Piki's mental problems, which also include panic disorder. To survive after the public health care system has tossed her out the door, she has created a crazy, abusive system with her ex-girlfriend Bossa, who enables Piki's problems for the privilege of still being able to control Piki's life. Also the narrator realizes how she has been lured in to enable Piki's disorders without even actually realizing it. Day after day she feels more constricted (also literally!), until something has got to give. To those readers familiar with old Hollywood movie classics, the title says it all.

Although drenched in sex and violence, the story is ultimately about mental disorders, and how those who have not experienced the disorders themselves are unable to recognize them, or relate to them. It is also about safety nets not holding for people with invisible disabilities. As per Oksanen's style, a rough read.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Drunken genius, exposed.

36. Kilpikonna ja Olkimarsalkka by Tuula-Liina Varis ("The Turtle and the Straw Marshall")

First in the line of many books on the Finnish poet and national drunk treasure, Pentti Saarikoski, this time from the point of view of his ex-wife. One of them, that is.

I admit it: I have never read anything by Pentti Saarikoski, except by randomly encountering his poems or witty columns. I always see his name involved in translations of Greek classics, or modern American novels (such as The Catcher in the Rye).

Saarikoski was this romantic, bohemian hobo-like alcoholic who enjoyed an immense popularity in the Finnish writing scene in the 1960s and 1970s. Many myths of his alcoholism, womanizing and writing processes were created, and partly this book corresponds to them. Tuula-Liina Varis, Saarikoski's 2nd wife, writes a raw account of their 8 year relationship, which seems doomed from the beginning onward, mostly because of Saarikoski's narcissistic ways. The motivation for writing this book for Varis is thus cathartic: she has a chance to clear some issues and myths up, analyze her own behavior and reasons for being so infatuated with Saarikoski and tolerating his antics that would often seek to shame her (such as him appearing in a restaurant breakfast table from a hotel room, shoving a finger under Varis's nose and asking, "Can you smell cunt?"). Although their story is one that could really gorge on the alcoholism, the women, the shaming, and bring Saarikoski down as a terrible, terrible human being, somehow Varis manages to still create an image of Saarikoski that can be understood and even sympathized with. At the end, where Saarikoski comes to visit Varis and her husband in Finland, and dies during that trip, one can't but feel sorry for how a single person's life can go so wrong. There seemed to be nothing anyone could do. None of the wives turned out to be that Special Person who could cure Saarikoski from his alcoholism. Nobody could cure his narcissism but himself--and he flatly refused.
Reading the book gave me an image of Saarikoski which corresponds powerfully to a cliché, that of a light that burns bright for a moment, bringing meaning to many people's lives, and then burning out. I am now more interested in his poems than before, especially as Varis reveals that hardly any of them are metaphorical--usually they would just describe something in detail that they witnessed, but people thought the poems were deeper than what they actually were. Somehow this makes those poems even more interesting to me; his courage in writing what he actually sees instead of trying to hide it in layers of language.

37. Veljeni Pentti by Sirkka Garam ("My Brother Pentti")
Continuing in the realm of social porn…

So everyone wanted to write a book about Pentti Saarikoski, once he was gone. There was a lot to say about an abusive, supposedly genius man. So, his sister did not want to be left behind and published a book about how Pentti was before he became famous. Sirkka details the oddities of their family, such as the curious family publication which the family wrote as if it was a "real" newspaper, but which mainly talked about how the kids are doing in school. Pentti's literary talents became obvious in this endevour, as he began to mock his father and other family members in a fairly snooty manner on the pages of the family paper. Was a more passive-aggressive family communication method ever invented?
As for reading the book… I felt sorry for Sirkka. She keeps on bringing up how her brother told her to become an author as well, and she does not forget to remind the reader of this every now and then (while humbly saying that she was not quite as good as Pentti…), but just somehow life didn't play its cards that way for her... So the aftertaste of the book was similar to that of Salinger's daughter: the book was written by someone who tries to desperately get approval from a now-gone family member by trying their hand at the same art form.