Wednesday, 30 September 2009

The Silence

In the uneasy quiet which has followed the publication of the Aftonbladet article, and the Swedish government's refusal to condemn it, Sweden's Chancellor of Justice, Göran Lambertz, has played a leading role by justifying the refusal on the basis of Sweden's Constitution.

At Harry's Place, Paul Leslie examines an earlier intervention by Lambertz in a case which caused a similar degree of alarm. In 2006, the European Jewish Press published an opinion from four leading members of Sweden's Jewish community about Lambertz's decision in the same year to discontinue the preliminary investigation of the great mosque in Stockholm. Excerpt:
Cassette tapes had been sold in the bookshop of the mosque with a violently Anti-Semitic content. After a couple of broadcasts on the 26 and 27th November last year, the Stockholm mosque was reported to the police.

In his decision to discontinue the preliminary investigation Lambertz wrote that “the lecture at hand contains statements that are strongly degrading to Jews, among other things, they are throughout called brothers of apes and pigs.” Furthermore a curse is expressed over the Jews and “Jihad is called for, to kill the Jews, whereby suicide bombers - celebrated as martyrs - are the most effective weapon”.

The Chancellor raises the question whether the statements “should be judged differently, and be considered allowed, because they are used by one side in a continuing profound conflict, where battle cries and invectives are part of everyday occurrences in the rhetoric that surround the conflict.” Lambertz thought that the “recently mentioned statements in spite of their contents are not to be considered “incitement against an ethnic group according to Swedish law”. His conclusions were that the preliminary investigation should be discontinued because this case of incitement against Jews could be said to originate from the Middle East conflict. That is, in spite of the calls for ”killing the Jews”, these statements are not a crime in the legal sense in Sweden, because of the current conflict in the Middle East, according to the Chancellor of Justice. The logical conclusion is clear. If one mentions Palestine in hate speeches and calls for mass murder against Jews, one risks nothing in Sweden.
The authors of the opinion concluded:

The most frightening thing about this decision is the resounding silence that it has generated.
 See also: Aftonbladet not to face legal probe

The Moomins and the Great Flood - 5

(continued)

'But I'm so horribly hungry,' said Moomintroll. 'Me too,' said the small creature and Tulippa, and then they all looked at Moominmamma. 'Well - all right, then,' she said, and then she went up to the tower and knocked on the door. After a little while a hatch in the door opened and a boy with completely red hair looked out. 'Have you been shipwrecked?' he asked. 'Almost,' said Moominmamma. 'But we're quite certainly hungry.' Then the boy opened the door wide and invited them to come in. And when he caught sight of Tulippa, he made a deep bow, for he had never seen such beautiful blue hair before. And Tulippa curtseyed just as deeply, for she thought his red hair was quite charming. Then they all followed him up the spiral staircase, all the way to the top storey made of glass, where they could see out over the sea in all directions. In the midst of the tower-room was a table on which there was an enormous, steaming sea-pudding.

'Is it really for us?' asked Moominmamma. 'Of course,' said the boy. 'I keep look-out here when there's a storm out at sea, and all who escape into my harbour are invited to sea-pudding. That's how it's always been.' Then they sat round the table and after a very short while the whole basin was empty. (The small creature, who sometimes did not have very good manners, took the bowl with him under the table and licked it completely clean.)

'Thank you very, very much,' said Moominmamma. 'You must have invited a lot of people up here for sea-pudding, I should think.'

'Oh yes,' said the boy. 'People from every corner of the world. Snufkins, Sea-ghosts, Little Creeps and Big Folk, Snorks and Hemulens. And the odd angler fish, too.'

'I suppose you haven't seen any Moomins, by any chance?' asked Moominmmma, and she was so excited that her voice quivered.

'Yes, one,' said the boy. 'That was after the cyclone last Monday.' 'I wonder if that could have been Papa?' cried Moomintroll. 'Did he keep putting his tail in his pocket?'

'Yes, he did, actually,' said the boy. 'I remember it quite particularly, because it looked so funny.' Then Moomintroll and his mother were so happy that they fell into each other's arms, and the small creature jumped up and down and cried 'hurrah'.

'Where did he go?' asked Moominmamma. 'Did he say anything particular? Where is he? How was he?'

'Fine,' said the boy. 'He took the road to the south.'

'Then we must go after him at once,' said Moominmamma. 'Perhaps we'll catch up with him. Hurry, children. Where's my handbag?' And then she rushed down the spiral staircase so fast that they could scarcely follow her.

'Wait!' cried the boy. 'Wait a bit!' He caught up with them in the doorway. 'You must forgive us for not saying goodbye properly,' said Moominmamma, who was hopping with impatience. 'But you see...'

'It's not that,' said the boy. 'Fair Tulippa, I suppose you wouldn't like to stay with me, would you?'

'Oh yes,' replied Tulippa at once, and looked happy. 'All the time I was sitting up there, I was thinking how well my hair might shine for seafarers in your glass tower. And I'm very good at making sea-pudding.' But then she became a little anxious, and looked at Moominmamma. 'Of course I would terribly like to help you to look, as well...' she said. 'Oh, we'll manage, I expect,' said Moominmamma. 'We'll send you both a letter and tell you what happened.'

Then they all hugged one another goodbye and Moomintroll went on his way southwards with his mother and the small creature. All day they walked through the flowering landscape, which Moomintroll would have liked to explore on his own. But his mother was in a hurry and would not let him stop. 'Have you ever seen such funny trees?' asked the small creature. 'They've got such terribly long trunks and then a little puff on top. I think it they look silly.'

'It's you who's silly,' said Moominmamma, who was nervous. 'Actually, they're palm trees and they always look like that.' 'By all means!' said the small creature, and was offended.

It had become very hot late in the afternoon. Everywhere the plants drooped, and the sun shone down with a dismal red light. Even though Moomins are very fond of warmth, they felt quite limp and would have liked to rest under one of the large cactuses that grew everywhere. But Moominmamma would not stop until they had found some trace of Moomintroll's Papa. They continued on their way, even though it was already beginning to get dark, always straight southward. Suddenly the small creature stopped and listened. 'What's that pattering around us?' he asked.

And now they could hear a whispering and a rustling among the leaves. 'It's only the rain,' said Moominmamma. 'All the same, we must crawl in under the cactuses.'

All night it rained, and in the morning it was simply pouring down in bucketfuls. When they looked out, everything was grey and melancholy.

'It's no good, we must go on,' said Moominmamma. 'But here is something for you which I've been saving until it was really needed.' And then she produced a large bar of chocolate from her handbag. She had taken it with her from the old gentleman's wonderful garden. She split it in two and gave them each a piece. 'Aren't you going to have some?' asked Moomintroll.

'No,' said his mother. 'I don't like chocolate.'

(to be continued)


translated from Finland-Swedish by David McDuff

The Moomins and the Great Flood - 1
The Moomins and the Great Flood - 2
The Moomins and the Great Flood - 3
The Moomins and the Great Flood - 4

"Tough Vikings"

At the U.N. General Assembly last week Israel's foreign minister Avigdor Lieberman criticized Norway for, among other things, its recent commemoration of Knut Hamsun, the Jerusalem Post reports:
In response, [Norwegian foreign minister Jonas Gahr] Støre denied the allegations of anti-Semitism, explaining that the commemoration was not political in nature and that a distinction was made between Hamsun's work and his world view.

However, former Foreign Ministry director-general Alon Liel told Army Radio that "Norway is trying to send us messages on different fronts" through its talks with Hamas and "intolerance toward settlements."

"They are tough Vikings and are not intimidated, not even by Lieberman," concluded Liel. "[Norway] is an ideological opponent which has decided to teach us a lesson."

Tuesday, 29 September 2009

Eva Tind Kristensen: Two Poems

the first lake

I stare down at a korean lake. it is so big that it has no
end. my korean lake creates an inner korean pressure. I spread
my korean arms out and put them round the bottomless korean
lake. I place my head in the lap of the korean lake
let myself be rocked to sleep in blue-black korean water. when I wake up,
I sit at the edge of a korean sea. my korean hair is now
blue. my korean shoes are



the second lake of sorrow

I stare down at a danish lake. it is so big that it has no end.
my danish lake creates an inner danish pressure. I spread my danish
arms out and put them round the bottomless danish lake. I place my
head in the lap of the danish lake, let myself be rocked to sleep
in blue-black danish water. when I wake up, I sit at the edge of a
danish sea. my danish hair is now blue. my danish shoes are

translated from Danish by David McDuff
 
From Do, Gyldendal, Copenhagen, 2009
 
See also in this blog: Do

Do

Eva Tind Kristensen's first collection of poetry (from Gyldendal) is titled Do, a Korean character and word-sound which, as a prefatory note states, has 121 different meanings, including a province, a district, a town, a religion, a moral teaching, a way (tao) to ultimate perception, insight, redemption, truth, justice, a principle, a sword, an art form, a craft, a diagram, an image, a chart, a map, a person, a group, a year, a board game played in Korea on New Year's Eve, and many others. "Do" is also the Jutland pronunciation of the Danish pronoun du (you). The book is a mingling of realities, in which autobiography, identity, family concerns and the subject of death play a dominant role. The poems, mostly in Danish and some partly or all in English, are interspersed with family photographs, and they constitute a quest not only for an individual person and her relatives but also for places and cities (Seoul, Copenhagen), people, things and countries, especially Korea, and also Denmark, where the adopted South Korean poet grew up. In another post I'll aim to translate one or two of the poems for this blog.

Monday, 28 September 2009

Hallgrímur Helgason: The Author of Iceland - 4

(continued)

We took part in it. We placed our words in the balance. We heaved those hewn stones onwards. We spent half our lives building the pyramid that was called communism, to the glory of the man who was never a communist. Who spent half his life shooting communists.

Anyone who was accused had to name another five. Within a very few years the whole nation had become guilty of a conspiracy against one man. The pyramid of communism was built on bullets. Each bullet from the barrel released another five bullets; twenty-five of them in all; and they released another hundred and twenty-five which became six hundred and twenty new bullets which became three thousand one hundred and twenty-five. Bullets fly pretty fast, and within a few years the web was complete: a dictatorship of fear reigned from Minsk in the west to Yakutsk in the east, from the north in Arkhangelsk all the way down to Tashkent.

Communism was a pyramid made of cordite.

When the census was taken in 1936, it turned out that 15 million Soviet citizens were missing. 15 million flies had spun their own web. My gospel was now only 80,000 words long. But under each of those words a person lay buried. I covered 80,000 deaths.

The Adventure in the East. The book I wished I had never written. I once borrowed it from a library, this was many lives later, and lost it. For many years I got regular reminders about my failure to return that book. My failure to return to its subject. In the end I tormented myself by preparing the book for a reprint. ‘Corrections to the language and style’ it said in the preface. ‘Corrections to a life’, would have sounded closer. Did I really have such loathing for myself to get involved in something like that? There are few sorrier sights than an old man of nearly eighty trying to make up for the pranks of his boyhood. It was the summer of 1989. The Wall came down that autumn. The spider’s web unravelled in five minutes. But of course the flies were just as dead as before.

How could I have been so mistaken? I was able to travel widely, I travelled all over the Soviet Union in the winter of 1937-38, but the only word I could find for the society that was the closest thing to hell the earth had ever seen was ‘Sunday school’. I should have been shot for that alone. Shouldn’t I have been able to see through the great illusion? True, everyone spoke according to the author’s script. True, the ‘dictatorship of the proletariat’ was completely in the hands of the dictator of the proletariat. True, it was forbidden to make fun of him. True, no opposition to the government was allowed. True, the words ‘tolerance’ and ‘freedom of expression’ did not exist in the language. True, some authors were banned. But also true: they were probably not very good. True, Christmas was forbidden. True, everything was forbidden except what the Party allowed. True, necessities were in short supply. True, ten people slept in one room. True, all conversations were monitored. (Even the love talk of a boy and a girl in the middle of the night. There was always someone awake. Woe to anyone who spoke ill of Stalin in their sleep.) True, the Party had got rid of what was called private life. True, one’s whole life was in the service of the Party. True, people didn’t even go to the toilet unless they did so for the Party. True, most would have shat on the Party if they could. True, people were locked up just for saying that the streets of Copenhagen were cleaner than those of Vladivostok. And true, the streets were filled with the most ragged crowd of people I have seen in my life, though I had been in both Naples and Palermo. My friend Axel Lorens informed me, however, that there were far fewer of them than there had been when he was here last, in the autumn of 1935. The ‘dirty folk’ had largely disappeared, he said. The purges had done their work.

(to be continued)

translated from Icelandic by David McDuff

The Author of Iceland - 1
The Author of Iceland - 2
The Author of Iceland - 3

Friday, 25 September 2009

Versions of Strunge

At Kiiltomato, Barbro Enckell-Grimm reviews the Swedish edition of Knud Munck's biography of Michael Strunge, finding it to be a somewhat modified version of the original Danish book, focused more on the details of Strunge's life rather than on the analysis and presentation of his work. But she also finds fault with the stylistic character of the translation, and calls the original Danish text "more generous", as it goes more deeply into the literary, cultural and poetic wellsprings of Strunge's inspiration. The Danish edition is better and more clearly written, and less concerned with trying to popularize Strunge's pop-oriented but also deadly serious personal and existential quest.


The "Red Line"

Sweden's foreign ministry announced yesterday that "certain criteria" had been set for when EU delegates would leave the chamber during Iranian President Ahmadinejad's speech to the UN General Assembly on Wednesday, and that Ahmadinejad did not cross the "red line" which would have prompted a walkout by all EU states, AFP reports. Yet Germany, Poland, the Netherlands and Italy decided to boycott the event from the start, and the Czech delegation walked out at the opening of the speech, with Britain, France and Hungary following. The Swedish delegation did not walk out, and remained in the chamber throughout the entire speech.

Update: Finland's UN Ambassador, Jarmo Viinanen, was present at the UN General Assembly during Ahmadinejad's speech. According to the Secretary for the Finnish Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Katariina Prepula, "Finland was present during the Iranian president's speech due to following the EU's Common Instructions". (via TT)

Thursday, 24 September 2009

The Moomins and the Great Flood - 4

(continued)

It was a mass of small, pale creatures, pushing a sail-boat out. Moominmamma looked at them for a long time, and then she called loudly: 'Those are the wanderers! Those are the Hattifatteners!' and began to run towards them as fast as she was able. When Moomintroll, the small creature and Tulippa got there, Moominmamma was standing in the midst of the Hattifatteners (who only came up to her waist), talking and asking questions and waving her arms, and very excited. She asked over and over again if they really had not seen Moominpappa, but the Hattifatteners only looked at her for a moment with their round, colourless eyes and then went on pulling the boat towards the water. 'Oh dear,' Moominmamma exclaimed, 'I was in such a hurry that I forgot they can't speak, or hear anything!' And she drew a handsome Moomintroll in the sand with a big question-mark after him. But the Hattifatteners did not care about her at all, they had got the boat down into the sea and were busy hoisting the sails. (It is also possible that they did not understand what she meant, for Hattifatteners are very stupid.)

The black bank of cloud had now risen higher, and waves were beginning to move on the sea.

'There's nothing for it, we shall have to go with them,' said Moominmamma, at last. 'The shore looks gloomy and deserted, and I don't feel like meeting another ant-lion. Jump into the boat, children!'

'Well, it's not on my head!' mumbled the small creature, but he climbed on board after the others all the same. The boat steered out to sea with a Hattifattener at the helm. The sky grew darker and darker all around, the tops of the waves had white foam on them, and far away thunder was rumbling. As it fluttered in the gale, Tulippa's hair glowed with a very faint light.

'Now I'm frightened again,' said the small creature. 'I'm almost beginning to wish I hadn't come with you.'

'Phooh,' said Moomintroll, but then he lost the desire to say any more and crept down beside his mother. Now and then came a wave that was bigger than all the others and splashed in over the prow. The boat sailed on with stretched sails at a furious speed. Sometimes they saw a mermaid dance by on the crests of the waves, sometimes they glimpsed a whole flock of little sea-trolls. The thunder rumbled louder and the lightning ran criss-cross over the sky. 'Now I'm sea-sick, too,' said the small creature, and then he was sick while Moominmamma held his head. The sun had set long ago, but in the gleam of the lightning they noticed a sea-troll that kept trying to keep abreast of the boat. 'Hello there!' cried Moomintroll through the storm, to show that he was not afraid. 'Hello, hello,' said the sea-troll. 'You look as though you might be a relation.'

'That would be nice,' cried Moomintroll, politely. (But he thought it was probably a very distant relation, because Moomintrolls are a much species than sea-trolls.)

'Jump into the boat,' Tulippa called to the sea-troll, 'otherwise you'll be left behind!'

The sea-troll took a leap over the edge of the boat and shook the water off himself like a dog. 'Grand weather,' he said. 'Where are you bound for?'

'Anywhere, as long as we can go ashore,' groaned the small creature, who was quite green in the face with sea-sickness.

'In that case I had better take the helm for a bit,' said the sea-troll. 'If you keep to this course, you'll go straight out to sea.'

And then he took over from the Hattifattener who sat at the helm, and made the boat alter course. It was strange how much easier it was now that they had the sea-troll with them. The boat danced along, and sometimes it made long leaps over the tops of the waves.

The small creature began to look more cheerful, and Moomintroll shouted with delight. Only the Hattifatteners sat staring indifferently at the horizon. They did not care about anything except travelling on from one strange place to the other.

'I know a fine harbour,' said the sea-troll. 'But the entrance is so narrow that only superior navigators like myself can manage it.' He laughed loudly and made the boat make a mighty leap over the waves. Then they saw land rising out of the sea under the forked lightning. Moominmamma thought it was a wild and dismal land. 'Is there anything to eat?' she asked.

'There's anything you like,' said the sea-troll. 'Hold on, now, for we're going to sail right into the harbour now!'

At that same moment the boat rushed into a black ravine where the storm howled between the enormously high faces of rock. The sea foamed white against the rocks and it looked as though the boat was plunging straight towards them. But it flew light as a bird into a large harbour where the transparent water was calm and green as in a lagoon.

'Thank goodness,' said Moominmamma, for she had not really trusted the sea-troll. 'It certainly looks nice here.'

'It depends on how you judge it,' said the sea-troll. 'I suppose I like it more when a storm is raging. I'd best be off out there again before the waves get smaller.' And then he somersaulted down into the sea, and was gone.

When the Hattifatteners saw an unknown land before them, they livened up; some began to furl the slack sails and others put out the oars and rowed eagerly towards the flowering green shore. The boat put in at a meadow that was full of wild flowers, and Moomintroll jumped ashore with the mooring-rope.

'Now bow and thank the Hattifatteners for the voyage,' said Moominmamma. And Moomintroll made a deep bow, and the small creature wagged his tail gratefully.

'Thank you very much,' said Moominmamma and Tulippa, and they curtsied down to the ground. But when they all looked up again, the Hattifatteners had gone on their way. 'I expect they made themselves invisible,' said the small creature. 'Funny folk.'

Then all four of them went in among the flowers. The sun was rising now, and there was a glittering and gleaming in the dew. 'I should like to live here,' said Tulippa. 'These flowers are even more beautiful than my old tulip. Besides, my hair never really matched it properly.' 'Look, a house made of real gold!' shouted the small creature suddenly, pointing. In the middle of the meadow stood a tower with the sun reflecting itself in its long row of windows. The top storey was made entirely of glass, and the sunlight gleamed in it like burning red gold. 'I wonder who lives there,' said Moominmamma. 'Perhaps it's too early to wake them.'

(to be continued)

translated from Finland-Swedish by David McDuff

The Moomins and the Great Flood - 1
The Moomins and the Great Flood - 2
The Moomins and the Great Flood - 3

Wednesday, 23 September 2009

Hallgrímur Helgason: The Author of Iceland - 3

(continued)

Little Nína was down on the floor and wanted to get up on the chair between Lena and me. Her mother helped her and then said, a bit too loudly and clearly: ‘Stand on the chair, Nína!’ in Swedish, three times, until Kristján hushed her up, looking quickly around him. ‘Stol, Nina!’ sounded dangerously like ‘Stalina’.

‘It’s very important to be able to keep quiet here. But don’t tell anyone,’ he once told me with a serious look. He had lost some of his earlier playfulness. One summer ago, at Siglufjörður, he’d been the most entertaining person in the north of Iceland and had turned into his favourite character, Bourgeois Bourgeoisson, at Hotel Hvanneyri every night. In one sweep his face was transformed into that of an obese herring speculator who talked like an elderly Mongol on his third glass: ‘Listen, my lads, we don’t always need to be locked in battle like this, you know, the only difference between you and me is that… I’m fat and you’re thin. Otherwise our aims are exactly the same: to build up Bourgeois Bourgeoisson Incorporated.’

One evening a famous actor was standing at the bar. Stjáni: ‘There you see one of our foremost actors. He always acts at the front of the stage. And in the film that Knudsen made last year he put all the other actors in the shade during the filming because he always stood at the front, always right in front of the camera!’ We all laughed and the actor turned round, I felt sorry for him, he came over to the table where we sat. ‘Look! He’s trying to push himself forward again!’ I felt sorry for anyone who tried to get the better of Red Stjáni. He could outwit them all. And always so flaming red in the face. But here in Moscow he’d become a different man.

Axel Lorens. Room 247, Hotel Lux, 10 Gorky Street.

What was more, I had to call him Axel, even though we were sitting alone in the park, the last evening of summer, and I fresh from the train, having just told him all the new from home, all about the violence at the docks up in Skagi and the disputes in the party. I concluded with one of Bourgeois Bourgeoisson’s most famous lines: ‘One man’s profit is the bread of all.’ He made no reply, looked in front of him and said at last: ‘Yes. It’ll be nice to get home.’

We sat there in Moscow’s Ring Road Park, in the autumn of 1937: two soldiers of truth in that war of words that was now being waged all over the world, two evening-sweaty Icelanders determined to lift the Icelandic people from herring level to the next one, two sold souls beneath the Gogol Monument. But how could a man be anything else but a communist in the years after 1930? No one could be neutral in the class war. Only the most depraved villains could remain at home standing on their balconies, looking down on the workman who was toiling to dig a ditch for the sewer, to shovel away their for one króna an hour. No one walked unmoved from an unemployed family’s house in Reykjavik during the years of the depression, lacking WC and shower, with frost-patterned windowpanes and porridge served for dinner, the smell in your coat all the way down Laugavegur. To be a communist was to be a human being.

And we went east. To the model state. A journey of pilgrimage. Redeemed men in jobtraining in Heaven. How could we ever have suspected that we had landed in Hell?

For seven months I lived in the greatest realm of darkness in human history, and came back with a gospel-like manuscript about ‘the perpetual Sunday school that stretches from the Baltic to the Pacific’, where the greatest educational project in history was underway, where the schoolmaster ‘summoned by means of Marxism millions upon millions of people out of the darkness of stupidity and despair.’ In reality it was the greatest theatrical performance in history, a performance that deceived not only those who watched it but also all those who played a role in it, painted scenery, controlled the stage lights, whispered the correct line. Even the principal characters swore loyalty to the author in their final statements, which were, however, pure spinning, spun from a blind derangement of despair, confessed to their non-crimes and were then shot, to thunderous applause. I was in the courtroom. For ten days I sat following the trial of Bukharin and his comrades, and never suspected that that it was all a theatrical performance. The devilish spider had spun such an ingenious web that every fly that was caught in it continued to spin that web, which finally reached across half the planet. Koba sat in the middle of the web; alone in that pyramid he had spent his life constructing, making half of mankind construct it for him, as a mausoleum for himself, the great Pharaoh in leather boots: a monument to the next thousand years.

(to be continued)

translated from Icelandic by David McDuff

The Author of Iceland - 1
The Author of Iceland - 2

Monday, 21 September 2009

Hallgrímur Helgason: The Author of Iceland - 2

(continued)

And now, as an initiated member of the Comintern, he stood on the special platform that had been erected beside the Lenin Mausoleum on Red Square for the anniversary of the revolution, within earshot of the Leader himself, the Sun King, the Pharaoh, the Emperor. And I, his comrade, beside him, a 26-year-old kid with a book in the making. What was I? What was I doing there? I was writing The Lights of Peace. And I was acquainting myself with the onward-marching success of communism. It was a big parade. We stood there for three hours, while the Soviet republics marched past one by one, my God there were a lot of them. Whole factories strode past, army divisions, coalmines, collective farms, schools, athletes, children and women. A hundred thousand copies of the super-worker Stakhanov, smiling triumphantly in the face of socialism, the tanned and pockmarked face of socialism, the one with the big moustache that overshadowed all our lives. And everyone was ordered to keep their arms folded on their chest so that no one would go and shoot the fellow. The danger of this might possibly have disturbed the Leader’s concentration as he peered at this endless procession and selected the face of the next person to shoot.

From an ash-grey sky finely-wrought snowflakes descended, fluttering angularly in the calm air like the scraps of paper that Americans pour over their heroes – God was blessing the Revolution – and fighter planes flew overhead in formation, while others flew low over the highest towers of Russian history. All of it a magnificent spectacle, but painfully long-drawn-out. However, we put up with it and stood there for three hours in 5 degrees of frost. People did not walk out of shows that Stalin directed.

‘What must take place is the plain and simple overthrow of the social structure. We must dissolve it in order to be able to attain the dictatorship of the proletariat. Anything else is just rightocracy. The rightocrats are the road-layers of fascism.’

‘But what about democracy? Hasn’t it a…’

‘According to Lenin, in capitalist states the so-called democracy is an empty illusion, a means of oppression. The true democratic republic is the power of the people, the proletariat, a republic is a res publica, and it must be organized by good people. People like Comrade Stalin, Vyacheslav Molotov, Beria…’

We sat on hard bast chairs in the café of Hotel Metropol, trying to slurp away the chill after the march-athon on Red Square. He was teaching me. I drank in every word. We spoke Icelandic even though Kristján’s fiancée, the Swedish Lena, had now joined us. She was pretty but far too guillemot-like for my taste, with a long neck and a beak nose, as thin as a rake. To tell the truth, I could never get rid of the notion that Lena Billén’s body was just too bourgeois. She didn’t even know how to dress in a proletarian manner, with a far-too Parisian hat on her boyish head and long pearl necklaces at her throat, which I knew got on Stjáni’s nerves. One of these days those necklaces would probably strangle her. From time to time I smiled at the Swedish guillemot and looked at the two-year-old girl she held in her arms. A dark-haired moppet, powerfully built. Her name was Nína, and I sometimes suspected that Kristján was her father, but we never discussed it. Another more important matter preoccupied our minds. At the tables around us sat stately party men – with such strangely iron expressions in these imperial surroundings – and silent women who like Lena looked out of the windows, out at the November-grey Pushkin Square, which the first snow of the winter was quickly turning white. Kristján looked quickly around him after he spoke these last words. ‘Stalin, Molotov, Beria.’ Yes, he had spoken them in a positive way, without any mockery. This was his third time in Moscow, and he had now been here for ten months, well-schooled in circumspection. One thoughtless word could wipe out twenty years’ work. I was still trying to get used to this.

‘Kristján, have you any plans for this evening?’ said Lena, in Swedish.

‘Yes, Einar is going to have dinner with us. In our room.’

(to be continued)

translated from Icelandic by David McDuff

The Author of Iceland - 1

Sunday, 20 September 2009

The Moomins and the Great Flood - 3

(continued)

'Well, that was the best I could do,' said the old gentleman, offended. 'But you like the garden, don't you?'

'Oh yes,' said Moomintroll, whose mouth was full of pebbles just then. (They were actually made of marzipan.) 'If you would like to stay here, I will build you a cake-house to live in,' said the old gentleman. 'I get a bit bored here sometimes all on my own.'

'That would be very nice,' said Moominmamma, 'but if you won't be hurt, I think we must be on our way. We were actually thinking of building a house in the real sunshine.'

'No, let's stay!' cried Moomintroll, the small creature and Tulippa. 'Well, children,' said Moominmamma. 'We'll see.' And she lay down to sleep under a chocolate bush.

When she woke up again she heard a fearful moaning, and realized at once that it was her Moomintroll, who had a sore stomach. (Moomins get sore stomachs very easily). It had become quite round from all he had eaten, and it was dreadfully sore. Beside him sat the small creature, who had got toothache from all the sweets, and was moaning even worse. Moominmamma did not scold, but took two powders from her handbag and gave them each one, and then she asked the old gentleman if he had a bowl of nice, hot porridge.

'No, I'm afraid not,' he said. 'But there's a bowl of whipped cream, and another one of jam.'

'Hm,' said Moominmamma. 'Porridge is good for them, you see: hot food is what they need. Where's Tulippa?'

'She says she can't get to sleep because the sun never goes down,' said the old gentleman, looking unhappy. 'I'm truly sorry that you don't like it here.'

'We'll come back again,' Moominmamma consoled him. 'But now I think I must see to it that we get out in the fresh air again.' And then she took Moomintroll by one hand, and the small creature by the other, and called for Tulippa. 'You'll do best to take the switch-back railway,' said the old gentleman politely. 'It goes right through the mountain and comes out in the middle of the sunshine.'

'Thank you,' said Moominmamma. 'Goodbye then.' 'Goodbye then,' said Tulippa. (Moomintroll and the small creature were not able to say anything, as they felt so horribly sick.) 'Don't mention it,' said the old gentleman.

And then they took the switch-back railway through the whole mountain at a dizzying speed. When they came out on the other side they were quite giddy and sat on the ground for a long time, recovering. Then they looked around them.

Before them lay the sea, glittering in the sunshine. 'I want to go for a bathe!' cried Moomintroll, for now he felt all right again. 'Me too,' said the small creature, and then they ran right out into the sun's beam on the water. Tulippa tied her hair up so it would not go out, and then she followed them and stepped in very cautiously.

'Phooh, it's so cold,' she said.

'Don't stay in too long,' called Moominmamma, and then she lay down to sun herself, for she was still quite tired.

All at once an ant-lion came strolling across the sand. He looked very cross and said: 'This is my beach! You must go away!'

'We certainly shan't,' said Moominmamma. 'So there!' Then the ant-lion began to kick sand in her eyes, he kicked and scratched until she could not see a thing. Closer and closer he came, and suddenly he began to dig himself into the sand, making the hole deeper and deeper around him. At last only his eyes could be seen at the bottom of the hole, and all the while he continued to throw sand at Moominmamma. She had begun to slide down into the hole, and was trying desperately to climb up again. 'Help, help!' she cried, spitting sand. 'Rescue me!'

Moomintroll heard her and came rushing up out of the water. He managed to catch hold of her ears and pulled and struggled with all his might while he shouted rude names at the ant-lion. The small creature and Tulippa came and helped too, and then, at last, they managed to haul Moominmamma over the edge, and she was rescued. (The ant-lion continued to dig himself in out of pure annoyance, and no one knows if he ever found the way up again.) It was a long while until they got the sand out of their eyes and managed to calm down a little. But by then they had lost all their desire to bathe, and instead went on their way along the seashore in order to look for a boat. The sun was already going down and behind the horizon threatening black clouds were gathering. It looked as though there was going to be a storm. Suddenly they caught sight of something moving further along the shore.

(to be continued)

translated from Finland-Swedish by David McDuff

The Moomins and the Great Flood - 1
The Moomins and the Great Flood - 2

Aftonbladet not to face legal probe

The Aftonbladet article issue doesn't go away. Now Sweden's Chancellor of Justice Göran Lambertz has  decided that the article didn't violate Swedish law, and that therefore the paper won't face a legal probe over the article. Writing in the New Republic, Benjamin Birnbaum comments acerbly that
Reinfeldt has professed no regrets, nor has he expressed any desire to defuse the situation by meeting his Israeli counterpart. (Foreign Minister Bildt already cancelled a scheduled visit to Jerusalem.)

How, then, does Sweden handle hate speech? When does it prosecute the offenders, when does it merely apologize for them, and when does it rally to their cause while pretending that that's what the country always does? In short, whenever Sweden pleases and for whatever reasons suit the moment.

Abba in Latma's Studio

The video now has 600+ comments.

Echoes of the Arctic Sea

Writing à propos of Thomas Berglund's recent article in Svenska Dagbladet on the occasion of the 200th anniversary of the Treaty of Fredrikshamn, at which Sweden had to sign away its territories east of the Gulf of Bothnia to Imperial Russia (Berglund calls it a "national trauma"), Tobias Ljungvall looks back on some of the less well-known aspects of the Finnish independence struggle. He discusses the role of a later independence activist, the writer and revolutionary Konni Zilliacus the elder (1855-1924), whose life, Tobias says, "ought to merit a film or television series". Zilliacus, the author of such venerable but probably now little-read works as Det revolutionära Ryssland, Från ofärdstid och ofärdsår, Korruptionen i Ryssland, and Moskoviter och finnar, was actively involved in the so-called "Grafton Affair" , which involved an unsuccessful attempt to smuggle arms to the Finnish resistance by ship along the Baltic in 1905.

The comments to Tobias' post make rather sad reading: someone has posted part of Silmien Välliin, a Finnish wartime song from 1942, which talks of "shooting the Russians between the eyes", and another (Russian?) commenter has responded with what purports to be a Russian translation of the song's words, but is in fact a totally different text accusing Finns of racism and Nazi sympathies.
See also: The Landmark Year

Friday, 18 September 2009

Hallgrímur Helgason: The Author of Iceland - 1

The Author of Iceland (Höfundur Íslands) is a novel by the contemporary Icelandic writer Hallgrímur Helgason about a famous Icelandic author who dies at the age of 88, only to wake up in a novel he wrote some 40 years earlier. At first, he is unaware both of his death and of the fact that he is now living in a world of his own creation. The novel is set on a remote farm in the eastern part of Iceland. One day the old man is found lying out in the fields, as if he had just fallen to earth. The farmer carries him into the house, where the writer gradually comes to terms with his afterlife. The character of the writer is based on the personality (and biography) of the Nobel prizewinning twentieth century classic Icelanndic author Halldór Laxness, and the fictional novel is actually Laxness's own Independent People. Helgason's narrative becomes in some sense a reappraisal of Laxness - especially of Laxness's infatuation with Stalinism and Communism, which Helgason takes great pains to document and revisit in circumstantial detail (Laxness even visited Moscow in 1937 to attend the purge trials, and - by his own later admission - misrepresented them for fear of offending the Soviet government). But the book also goes beyond the biography of one man, and becomes a commentary on the twentieth century itself, and the response of Western writers and intellectuals to the vast upheavals and insoluble moral dilemmas that marked it.


The following excerpts (together, they make up Chapter 33) relate to Laxness's time in Moscow during the 1930s.

Stalin stands on a shelf. He stands on a shelf, waving to the crowd. He has stood there for two whole days and nights, waving. Everyone went home long ago. Everyone but me. I lie here on the bed in the yellow room in the Chimney House and pass the light nights with Comrade Stalin. He stands over there on the shelf high up on the wall beside a dusty old candlestick and a vague-looking jug. Now and then he raises his stiff arm and waves, squints and almost smiles. Just as he did on the roof of the mausoleum the other day. My thoughts march past him, stare up at him, one after the other, there seems to be no end to them, they stream forward across the blood-red square.

Stalin stands there alone. He has murdered everyone else.

‘The death of one person is tragic, the death of a million a mere statistic,’ said Count Sosso. That figure was probably 40,000,000, the most recent historians say. The Icelandic nation would fit four times into each of those zeroes. But many more were the souls he murdered. I was one of them. I was a victim of Stalin.

‘Hail to thee,’ I say to him. But he doesn’t hear, so far away. ‘Koba!’ I call. Then try: ‘Sosso!’, ‘Joseph!’ Then finally, ‘Stalin!’ but then recollect myself and remember Jóhanna who is sleeping, or not sleeping, on the ground floor here. The lodger who makes a noise. The lodger with bats in the belfry. Suddenly started invoking the Man of Steel in the middle of the night, and without having paid the rent, too. Still, I’m not really sure that she expects me to pay it. When I came upstairs this evening she lay in my bed with her hand under her chin, and for the first time she looked at me, before saying mockingly:

‘Do you know Davið Stefánsson?’

‘Yes, I’ve met him,’ I replied, not knowing where to put myself, and finally sitting down on a fusty, decayed upholstery-chair facing the bed. She lay there like a little girl trying to be provocative. One of the strangest things I have ever seen. The old crone smiled at me like a frog at a fruitfly. I guess she expected me to jump on top of her like a dog on a bitch.

‘He’s good-looking, that Davið.’

Did she really think this was the right way to chat me up?

‘Yes, he… was good-looking.’

‘Yes, that’s true. He’s a getting on a bit now, is Davið,’ she said, looking at me with eyes that said: ‘But you’re still young.’ How old was she, anyway? Eighty?

‘Aren’t you going to be with me this winter?’ she went on.

‘This winter? Aye… I don’t know…’ I said, trying to look out of the window as though I was expecting a coasting vessel.

‘Well, you might be wanting to go to bed, maybe?’

‘Yes, maybe… maybe I’ll just take a nap,’ I replied as dispassionately as I could, and noticing that Stalin was still standing up there on the shelf. The damned devil. With that infernal Georgian grin. I looked at the woman, this old object lying on ‘my’ pillow. She frowned again:

‘Well, you just go right ahead. I don’t need much space.’

‘Oh?’

‘I won’t be needing much space myself.’

What exactly was she, this old woman? She flitted her eyelids, two ancient moths. I looked at the Leader again. He’d grown awfully small, the poor fellow. I could stand up and take him in one hand and throw him out of the window. But I’d never be able to do that. You don’t throw Joseph Stalin out of a window, not from the second floor.

‘He’s smoking,’ I said.

‘Eh?’ said the old woman.

Stalin stood smoking incessantly, spitting now and then. He stood on top of the Lenin Mausoleum, together with all his men. On Red Square, 7 November 1937. Celebrating the 20th anniversary of the Revolution. I stood there like a Nordic mouse. We stood there like a hundred thousand mice staring up at the cat, the one with the hunting whiskers. The Georgian tom. He looked out across the herd and made his choices. Suddenly two soldiers came up to us on the platform, cleared a way through to some kind of box of honour, to a small, bald man with a sharp nose and a Napoleon forelock, and made him accompany them up to the mausoleum, to the leaders. Someone whispered: ‘Bukharin’. I recognized the name. Six months later he had been shot. But now he was raised up to the high seat. The cat wanted to smell the mouse.

We stood there, the two of us, Kristján and me. Me and Stjáni. Kristján Jonsson. He was seven years older than me, a definite and determined leader in the Communist Party back home, and employed here on its behalf in the House of the Comintern, as a kind of telegraphist whose job it was to send the party line home. The Moscow line. I looked up to him, though looking up to people never quite suited me. He was an enthusiast, powerfully built and pleasant-natured, with fair, tousled hair that rose like flames from his fiery red head, alert, straightforward, a good dancer with a zest for life, a mimic, the only real humorist in the party. A good lad. With his heart in the right place. His name was on the lips of all Icelanders during the Nóva dispute in Akureyri in March 1933. Red Stjáni cut to shreds the rope the White gangs intended to use in order to keep the workers away from the pier. And in the siege that followed he slept for two nights standing up, the story went. All the way until a final victory was won against the ‘employers’ gang’. How colourful words were back then.

(to be continued)

translated from Icelandic by David McDuff

Serial readers

Over at Books from Finland, Teemu Manninen talks to science fiction author Michael Stackpole about publishing innovations:
Of course, Stackpole doesn’t take the problem of quality control into account. After all, the ‘job’ of most publishers is not just to deliver content but to find the best writing out there; good publishers are also reliable critics. But he does intuit, and I believe correctly, that digital publishing is already having an impact on the nature of what we read. He cites the example of the ‘commuter market’: people who read one or two chapters on their way to work or home. This kind of reading, Stackpole surmises, could point the way to a return to 19th-century publishing models, such as serial fiction (think of Dickens, whose fame and wealth was based on serialised novels which appeared in literary magazines).

Íslandsferð - 3

Chad Post has written up his account of the Reykjavik Literary Festival for the online magazine Publishing Perspectives, where he says that A Year After the Meltdown, Iceland is Hot:
The events were very well attended, which shouldn’t be that surprising, considering there’s been increased sales of Icelandic fiction in the domestic market. Most publishers figured that in a time of great economic upheaval, self-help and nonfiction would dominate the best-seller lists, but instead, it seems that most Icelandic readers are looking for an escape. According to Úa Matthíasdóttir of Forlagið — Iceland’s largest trade publisher — there was a surge in sales for fiction last Christmas that went against conventional wisdom.
At Three Percent, Chad also has a post about new and established Icelandic authors.

Thursday, 17 September 2009

The Moomins and the Great Flood - 2

(continued)

At last Moominmamma said solemnly: 'Thank you very much for your help, miss.' And Moomintroll bowed more deeply than he had ever done before, for the blue-haired girl was the most beautiful he had seen in all his life. 'Were you inside the tulip all the time?' asked the small creature, shyly. 'It's my house,' she said. 'You may call me Tulippa.'

And so they paddled slowly over to the other side of the swamp. Here the ferns were thick, and below them Moominmamma made a nest in the moss for them to sleep in. Moomintroll lay close to his mother, listening to the song of the frogs out on the swamp. The night was full of strange, desolate sounds, and it was a long time before he fell asleep.

Next morning Tulippa led the way for them, and her blue hair shone like the brightest ultra-violet lamp. The path climbed steeper and steeper, and at last the mountain rose straight up, so high that they could not see where it ended. 'I expect there's sunshine up there,' the small creature said, longingly. 'I'm so dreadfully cold.' 'So am I,' said Moomintroll. And then he sneezed. 'What did I tell you?' said his mother. 'Now you've got a cold. Please sit here while I make a fire.' And then she gathered together an enormous heap of dry branches and lit it with a spark from Tulippa's blue hair. They sat, all four of them, looking into the fire while Moominmamma told them stories. She told them about what it was like when she was young, when moomintrolls did not need to travel through fearsome forests and swamps in order to find a place to live in.

In those days they lived together with the house-trolls in the houses of human beings, mostly behind their stoves. 'Some of us still live there now,' said Moominmamma. 'But only where people still have stoves. We don't like central heating.'

'Did the people know we were there?' asked Moomintroll.

'Some of them did,' said his mother. 'They felt us mostly as a cold draught in the backs of their necks sometimes - when they were alone.'

'Tell us something about Moominpappa,' asked Moomintroll.

'He was an unusual Moomintroll,' said his mother, thoughtfully and sadly. 'He was always wanting to move, from one stove to the next. He was never happy where he was. And then he disappeared - took off with the Hattifatteners, those little wanderers.'

'What sort of folk are they?' asked the small creature.

'Little troll-creatures,' explained Moominmamma. 'They're mostly invisible. Sometimes they can be found under people's floors, and you can hear them pattering about in there when it's quiet in the evenings. But mostly they wander round the world, don't stay anywhere and don't care about anything. You can never tell if a Hattifattener is happy or angry, sad or surprised. I am sure that they have no feelings at all.'

'And is Moominpappa a Hattifattener now?' asked Moomintroll.

'No, of course not!' said his mother. 'Surely you realize that they simply tricked him into going along with them.'

'Imagine if we were to meet him one day!' said Tulippa. 'He'd be pleased, wouldn't he?'

'Of course,' said Moominmamma. 'But I don't expect we shall.' And then she cried. It sounded so sad that they all began to sob, and as they cried they began to think about a lot of other things that were sad, too, and that made them cry more and more. Tulippa's hair turned pale with sorrow and lost all its shine. When they had gone on like this for a good while, a stern voice suddenly rang out, saying: 'What are you howling for down there?' They stopped at once and looked around them in all directions, but could not discover who it was who was talking to them.

At the same time a rope-ladder came dangling down the rock face. High up there, an old gentleman stuck his head out through a door in the mountain. 'Well?' he shouted. 'Pardon me,' said Tulippa, curtseying. 'But you see, sir, it's really all very sad. Moominpappa has disappeared, and we're cold and can't get over this mountain to find the sunshine, and we haven't anywhere to live.'

'I see,' said the old gentleman. 'You'd better come up to my place, then. My sunshine is the finest you could imagine.'

It was quite hard to climb up the rope-ladder, especially for Moomintroll and his mother, as they had such short legs. 'Now you must dry your feet,' said the old gentleman, and drew the ladder up after them. Then he closed the door very carefully, so that nothing harmful could sneak inside. They all went up a moving staircase that carried them right inside the mountain. 'Are you sure this gentleman is to be trusted?' whispered the small creature. 'Remember, on your own heads be it.' And then he made himself as small as he could and hid behind Moominmamma. Then a bright light shone towards them, and the moving staircase took them straight into a wonderful landscape. The trees sparkled with colour and were full of fruits and flowers they had never seen before, and below them in the grass lay gleaming white patches of snow. 'Hurrah!' cried Moomintroll, and ran out to make a snowball. 'Be careful, it's cold!' called his mother. But when he ran his hands through the snow he noticed that it was not snow at all, but ice-cream. And the green grass that gave way under his feet was made of fine-spun sugar. Criss-cross over the meadows ran brooks of every colour, foaming and bubbling over the golden sand. 'Green lemonade!' cried the small creature, who had stooped down to drink. 'It's not water at all, it's lemonade!' Moominmamma went straight over to a brook that was completely white, since she had always been very fond of milk. (Most moomintrolls are, at least when they get a bit older.) Tulippa ran from tree to tree picking armfuls of chocolate creams and candies, and as soon as she had plucked one of the glowing fruits, another grew at once. They forgot their sorrows and ran further and further into the enchanted garden. The old gentleman slowly followed them and seemed very pleased by their amazement and admiration. 'I made all this myself,' he said. 'The sun, too.' And when they looked at the sun, they noticed that it really was not the real sun but a big lamp with fringes of gold paper. 'I see,' said the small creature, and was disappointed. 'I thought it was the real sun. Now I can see that it has a slightly peculiar light.'

(to be continued)

translated from Finland-Swedish by David McDuff

The Moomins and the Great Flood - 1

Wednesday, 16 September 2009

The Moomins and the Great Flood - 1

In the original Swedish its title is The Little Trolls and the Great Flood. It was written by Tove Jansson in 1945.

It must have been late in the afternoon one day at the end of August when Moomintroll and his mother arrived at the deepest part of the great forest. It was completely quiet, and so dim between the trees that it was as though twilight had already fallen. Here and there giant flowers grew, glowing with a peculiar light like flickering lamps, and furthest in among the shadows small, cold green points moved.

'Glow-worms,' said Moominmamma, but they had no time to stop and take a closer look at them. They were searching for a nice, warm place where they could build a house to crawl into when winter came. Moomins cannot stand the cold at all, so the house would have to be ready by October at the latest.

So they walked on, further and further into the silence and the darkness. Little by little, Moomintroll began to feel anxious, and he asked his mother if she thought there were any dangerous creatures in there. 'Hardly,' she said, 'though we'd perhaps better go a little faster, anyway. But I hope we're so small that we won't be noticed if something dangerous should come along.'

Suddenly Moomintroll gripped his mother tightly by the arm. 'Look!' he said, so frightened that his tail stuck straight out. From the shadows behind a tree-trunk two eyes were staring at them. At first Moominmamma was frightened, too, but then she calmed down: 'I think it's a very small creature. Wait, and I'll shine a light on it. Everything looks worse in the dark, you know.'

And she picked one of the big flower-lamps and shone it into the shadow. Then they saw that there really was a very small creature sitting there, and that it looked friendly and a little startled. 'There, you see,' said Moominmamma.

'What are you?' asked the small creature.

'I'm a moomintroll,' answered Moomintroll, who had got his courage back. 'And this is my mother. I hope we didn't disturb you.' (You can see that his mother had taught him to be polite.)

'That's all right,' said the small creature. 'I was sitting there feeling very sad and was longing for company. Are you in a great hurry?' 'Yes,' said Moominmamma. 'You see, we're looking for a nice, sunny place to build a house in. But perhaps you'd like to come with us?' 'Rather!' said the small creature, leaping out towards them. 'I'd got lost and thought I would never see the sun again!'

So they continued, all three of them, taking a large tulip with them to light the way. But around them the darkness was growing deeper and deeper, the flowers glowed more faintly beneath the trees, and eventually the very last one went out. In front of them gleamed a black stretch of water, and the air was heavy and cold. 'How dreadful,' said the small creature. 'That's the swamp. I don't dare go there.'

'Why is that?' asked Moominmamma.

'Oh, because that's where the Great Serpent lives,' said the small creature in a very low voice, looking about him in all directions.

'Pah!' said Moomintroll, wanting to show how brave he was. 'We are so small that we probably won't be noticed. How will we ever find the sunshine if we don't dare to go across? Now come with us.' 'Perhaps a bit of the way,' said the small creature. 'But be careful. It's for your account and risk.'

So they stepped as quietly as they could from tussock to tussock. The black mud bubbled and whispered all around them, but as long as the tulip lamp burned they felt calm. At one moment, Moomintroll slipped and nearly fell in, but his mother caught hold of him at the last moment.

'We shall have to continue by boat,' she said. 'Now your feet are all wet. Why, you'll catch cold.' Then she got out a pair of dry socks for him from her handbag, and lifted him and the small creature up on to a big, round water-lily leaf. They all three stuck their tails in the water like paddles and then they steered straight out on to the swamp. Beneath them they glimpsed dark creatures that swam out and in between the roots of the trees, there was a splashing and a ducking, and the mist came stealing over them.Suddenly the small creature said: 'I want to go home now!' 'Don't be afraid, small creature,' said Moomintroll in a quavering voice. 'We'll sing something cheerful and...'

At that very moment their tulip went out and it was completely dark. And from the darkness they heard a hissing, and felt the water-lily leaf swaying. 'Quick, quick!' cried Moominmamma. 'The Great Serpent is coming!'

They stuck their tails in deeper, and paddled with all their might so that the water gushed at the prow. Now they could see the Serpent swimming behind them. It looked nasty, and its eyes were cruel and yellow.

They paddled as hard as they could, but it kept gaining on them, and was already opening its mouth, with its long, quivering tongue. Moomintroll put his hands in front of his eyes and cried: 'Mamma!' and then he waited to be eaten.

But nothing happened. Then he looked cautiously between his fingers. Something very remarkable had happened. Their tulip was glowing again, it had opened all its petals and in the midst of them stood a girl with bright blue hair that reached all the way down to her feet.

Brighter and brighter glowed the tulip. The Serpent began to blink, and suddenly it turned right round with an angry hissing and slid down into the mud.

Moomintroll, his mother and the small creature were so agitated and surprised that for a long time they were unable to say anything.

(to be continued)

translated from Finland-Swedish by David McDuff

Tuesday, 15 September 2009

Marie Under: Au Jardin du Luxembourg

Les murs s'écartent! Il y avait encore de la verdure sur terre!
Comme Moïse l'eau, quelqu'un a fait surgir un jardin du rocher.
Il y a de la terre! Le jardinier a ouvert la bouche de la terre de la vallée de vie
par un long tuyau il conduit l'eau sur le gazon.

Par tout le parc les platanes portent le ciel,
et quelques-uns dans leur cime l'oiseau espiègle du soleil.
Pigeons gris et bruns, gorge jaune renflée:
l'un tend le bec vers le bassin, l'autre frappe une pomme de pin.

Et les taches claires fuient, suivies de leurs ombres,
par l'ouverture de l'allée, sur le gravier humide.
Devant, par-delà une étincelante robe d'eau,
on voit des naïades la hanche qui s'étire.

Autour de la vasque de la fontaine, un million de fleurs
plus de couleurs et de nuances que l'arc-en-ciel
Là les enfants attendent des bateaux, qui dans l'île
sont allés, au milieu du lac plein de rires:

au-dessus vibrent les arcs des rayons d'eau,
Déjà là-haut des feuilles sèches se déchirent
plus bas s'ouvre une fleur tandis que les autres tombent:
c'est le duel vie-mort... automne-printemps.

Et les massifs de fuchsias: les flacons des fleurs
versent encore un brevage bleu et rose.
Là les artistes et leurs modèles
rompent le pain d'un nouvel amour.

Déjà par endroits a pali le drap vert du gazon,
mais le jet d'eau, clair, écume:
blanc de haut en bas comme un cerisier...
Les statues sont seules: la bouche qui chantait est fermée.

Mais les moustaches tombantes de Flaubert parlent d'ascétisme,
Verlaine est amer comme s'il buvait de l'absinthe;
George Sand, si féminine: les plis de pierre de la manche
ne laissent pas deviner l'encre sur ses doigts.

*

Les murs s'écartent et il y a encore de la verdure sur terre!
Comme Moïse l'eau, quelqu'un a fait surgir un jardin du rocher.
Il y a de la terre! Le jardinier a ouvert la bouche de la terre de la vallée de vie
par un long tuyau il conduit l'eau sur le gazon.

translation by courtesy of Leopoldo Niilus


LUXEMBOURGI AIAS

Et hargneb müüristik! Et veel on maa pääl haljust!
Kui Mooses vee, löönd keegi aia kaljust.
On mulda! Aednik avand maa suu: eluorust
vett juhib üle rohtmaa pikast torust.

Plataanid kandmas taevast pargist läbi,
ja mõne ladvas päikse edev lind.
Pruun-hallid tuvid, kummis koldne rind:
kel püüab vesiriba nokk, kel toksib käbi.

Ja helkjaid laike pageb, varjud järgi,
allee avausest üle rõske kruusa.
Ees läbi sätendava vesisärgi
on näha näkineitsi ringutavat puusa.

Fontääni vaagna ümber miljon lilli: värve
ja toone enam neil kui vikerkaarel.
Sääl lapsed laevu ootavad, mis saarel
käind, keset naerust kumisevat järve,

mis üle vesikiirte vibud värisemas, -
Ju ülal juivi lehti kärisemas,
all kargab lahti õis, kui teised pudenevad:
on elu-surma kahevõitlus - sügis-kevad.

Ja fuksiate tarad: õilmepudelid
veel kallutavad sini-roosat jooki. -
Sääl kunstnikud ja nende mudelid
on murdmas uue armu katsekooki.

Ju siin-sääl luitund muru roheline kalev,
on purskkaev aga vahutav ja valev:
see valge üleni kui kirsipuu...
Raidkujud endamisi: kinni laulusuu.

Askeetlusest kuid lausuvad Flaubert'i laskund vurrud,
Verlaine on mõru nagu rüübates absinti;
George Sand nii naiselik: need kivikäikse kurrud
ei lase aimata ta sõrmil tinti.

*

Et hargnes müüristik ja veel on maa pääl haljust!
Kui Mooses vee, löönd keegi aia kaljust.
On muida! Aednik avand maa suu: eluorust
vett juhib üle rohtmaa pikast torust.

Marie Under: Two Poems

Monday, 14 September 2009

The brown decade

Reviewing a recent book on interior design, Pia Ingström pauses to reflect on Minna Sarantola-Weiss's remarkable study of Finnish everyday life in the 1970s:
The most common 70s flashback is directed towards a certain type of pop music, or it's about politics, Finnish-Soviet trade and the Taistoists (or in some circles, the wonderful Finland-Swedish feminist avant-garde).

But Sarantola-Weiss writes about everything else. Then as now most Finns wasted relatively little mental energy on Marxism-Leninism, and didn't keep a "home Russian". 'When the 1970s are seen from the point of view of everyday life and consumer culture, the decade is coloured by optimism. Life was more secure and more predictable than before. The rising living standards meant a better quality of life for the vast majority.'
-----
The 1970s were the decade when the paradigm shift of the sixties was adapted to everyday life. The newly-arrived residents of the concrete suburbs would learn to live urbanely and consume the newly-found affluence, wash new kinds of textiles, dance new dances, cook new dishes. Furnish with new furniture - brown Manchester leather sofa sets, for example. "Brown connects both with the earthy agrarian society and with the dark, safe world of the bourgeois home. A calm and honest colour," writes Sarantola-Weiss.

And on the sofa a hirsute man with a permanent wave (male fashion was also changing), an electric mixer in the kitchen and a Jopo bike in the bike cellar.

Íslandsferð - 2

Chad Post is back from Iceland (slow link, but it does work).

Sunday, 13 September 2009

Postcard from Iceland

by Joseph Brodsky

(previously unpublished)

In general, the place is rather bleak.
The locals never learned to make a brick;
They build with corrugated iron.
Their talk is either morbid or oblique.
(Here goes my letter to Lord Byron).

Sun´s never setting. All night long
The natives and their guest are able
To read small letters on the label
Of liquid so distilled and strong
It sends you straight under the table.

They import everything (I wish
I had no reason to report it).
Potato´s Polish. Every dish
Has this potato. As for fish,
It´s also, in a sense, imported.

Still, I appreciate its summer´s cold,
These hills for being like this author bald.
Now I can take on lover after lover
And blame it all on the volcanic lava
(beware the crater though it´s gray and old!)

And then, those geysers! Glaciers! Countryside!
I hardly ever saw a vista greater!
They stretch the mind and can excite
A humble tourist and the creator
Himself, who´s briefly out of sight.

So is my boat to take me off, down south-
To guilt, to worry, to memento mori,
To rubbing shoulders, loosely uttered "sorry",
To politicians with their big bad mouth
Well matching, as a rule their story.

To you, my reader. Though you hardly fit
This title - in this life and hereafter.
And if I dare to call myself an author.
It´s not because I can display my wit
In order to extract a bit of laughter
But thanks for strolling Iceland for a bit.

(written in English, in 1978)

Joseph Brodsky in Iceland

by Ólafur Gunnarsson

The door stood wide open to the sunshine on the veranda as he came walking up the steps and right into the parlor. He looked around and said, "I can see that there is some literature going on."

It was June 1978 and an English translator had come to Iceland to compile an anthology for which he had chosen one of my stories. We had translated the tale the day before and I was hammering it out on my Remington typewriter.

As often happens to Icelanders and Russians, and the occasional Englishman, we had shared the translator's bottle of duty free Cutty Sark, in one go, a week before, the very evening the translator came to the country. And, as the famous midnight sun had begun to rise on the horizon, without ever setting, in the course of the night the translator had announced at dawn, "I want to talk to Joseph."

So I had responded, "Well, call him up then."

Soon he had Joseph on the phone and was talking to him in fluent Russian. And then he gave the Russian a halt and said, "Joseph wants to come."

"Well then, tell Joseph to come over," was my response.

The translator conveyed the message and then looked at your correspondent again and said, "But he´s flat broke."

"Well that has never been a problem to us Icelanders," I said. "Tell him we will arrange for his ticket later in the day and he can pick it up at the New York office of Icelandair tomorrow."

When I had slept it off and woke up the next afternoon I wondered how it had come about that I had invited some Russian I had never heard of to fly over but it was a matter of pride not to go back on the invitation. So now, exactly a week later, he had arrived with his one bag of luggage.

Between his invitation and arrival I got, bit by bit, the high and low of Brodsky´s life. He had been a star poet in school. He had been the head of the intelligentsia in St. Petersburg. Later on he had been charged by the state with vagrancy. When he came before a judge, who asked him to state his occupation, he had replied, "I am a poet." And when asked to show some certification of his claim he replied, "I can't." And when the judge asked why not he had replied, "The ability to write poetry is a gift from God." This cost him some years in Siberia from which he finally got out through the persistent efforts of his colleague W.H. Auden.

Joseph Brodsky was a rather chubby fellow beginning to go bald. He had a good natured smile and a stomach bearing witness to his fondness for hamburgers. He was not at all keen on what he had seen of Iceland. He said, "When I landed out a Keflavik airport, I thought I was on the moon. When we got closer to the Reykjavik suburbs I was reminded of Riga in the USSR. And now, this looks like New York."

Joseph was suffering from jet lag so it was decided he would take a nap before partaking in a party in his honor later in the day.

I was at the time living in a large wooden house almost at the bottom of a street which, rather than New York City, brings San Francisco to mind. The house at the bottom of the street happened to be The State Monopoly of liquor and beverages. On a late Friday evening in June, when the sun was shining on the streets of Reykjavik, it was good to sit at the living room table with the parlor window open and watch the slow flowing stream of people and their popping heads coming down the hill to store up for the weekend. It was always a possibility that a friend would be among them, ready to drop in and share a bottle of red or white wine or, on occasion, strong liquor.

We had set the table for a late lunch when one of my friends and I went upstairs to wake Joseph. I knocked politely on the door and when he did not reply I opened the door ajar and there he was, struggling to sit up in bed and trying to get a pair of sleep eye shades, of some sort, off his head. I told him we were about to have lunch to which he replied, "Terrific!" and stretched out for his bag and drew forth two bottles of vodka. When he was putting on his pants he asked a question which surprised me. "Are there a lot of KGB men in Iceland?" he asked.

"What?" Was my startled response.

"KGB," Brodsky responded, "Are there a lot of them over here?"

"No, I don’t think so," I said. "But I can’t vouch for it. I´m not good at identifying them anyway."

"Leave that to me," said Joseph.

We went downstairs to the parlor. The flow of people coming down the street had intensified as The Monopoly was about to close. Suddenly I saw an acquaintance of mine, a failed actor, pass by the window with his large hat and sunglasses. His jaws were working vigorously on a piece of gum. He passed from view. A while later, having stocked up for the weekend, he rang the doorbell. When he saw Joseph Brodsky he asked, "Who is that?"

"A very famous Russian," I said. "And a great poet!"

Joseph was eyeing us both now, not quite knowing what to make of the situation.

"Well," said my friend, and sat down on a solitary chair by the wall. "I was once almost famous myself."

Joseph was all ears.

"It was in the city of Rome."

"Oh, yeah?" said Brodsky.

"Well it so happened," my friend said, pushing the sun glasses closer to his face with an index finger, "I was sitting in a night club in Rome when suddenly the famous Federico Felinni comes in. He notices me, walks up to my table and announces, 'You look like a movie star. I am a director and I am going to make you a star.'" My friend fell silent. When it became obvious that nothing more was forthcoming Joseph broke the silence and said, "So what happened next?"

"Nothing," my friend said after a pause. "I never saw the man again. I did not become a movie star."

"Well this was a sad story," said Brodsky and looked around. Then he took up a piece of dry fish, studied it intensely and announced, "Oh, I know what this is! It tastes like old shoe soles."

My friend, the actor, had been so struck by the naked details of his sad life, in the presence of real fame, that he had left the party to mourn in solitude.

"What´s his occupation these days? Joseph wanted to know.

"I don’t know," I said.

"My bet is the KGB," Brodsky said. "It´s written all over him."

"Have some herring, Joseph," said the translator, who wanted to change the subject.

Joseph lifted up a whole herring with his fork and inspected it. "It is called herring in English," he said. "Now as everyone knows, the letter 'H' comes out as 'G' when pronounced in Russian, which makes Hitler a Gitler. So this must be Goering. Herring, Goering, it even rhymes."

"How´s the KGB doing these days in Russia?" I asked.

"I can tell you a KGB story," said Brodsky. "Now listen. It was a while ago. I am not going to disclose the whereabouts of the factory because this is a true tale. Once upon a time it so happened, in a factory, that a large part of the production never made it to the stock room. This was a toy factory whose sole production was the manufacturing of iron ducks which, when a spring inside them was wound up, were able to walk a certain distance. Now, to solve this problem guards from KGB were stationed at the entrance of the factory. They thoroughly searched everybody but not so much as a single duck was discovered. But the ducks kept right on disappearing. At last it got so that some KGB brass was brought in from Moscow and after intense speculations he cracked the mystery. There was a drain in the floor and the pipe ended outside the factory in a ditch. Now, some worker had made a practice of lifting the lid, then he wound up a duck, put it in the pipe and then the duck took a promenade the length of the entire pipe and fell into the ditch where it could be picked up after work. But in the end the State decided, as no culprit could be found, that no charges could be brought as the ducks had left the factory by themselves."

When the table had been cleared and toasts were being made to various Russian writers of greatness the doorbell suddenly rang and a friend of mine and the head of the sect that still worships the old Norwegian gods Odin and Thor appeared with a crowd of people.

Joseph stared at the group. "This is right out of The Idiot," he said. “Rogozhin and his hundred thousand.”

When I had introduced Brodsky to the leader, the latter offered to lay Tarot cards for Joseph. He took up cards drawn by the magician Aleister Crowley. These are beautifully drawn cards, no matter what you may think of Crowley, and he spread them out on the table, right in front of the astounded Russian, in a ring-like formation. "At the center is the hanged man," he said. "That is bad news." He drew another card. "But here comes the sun. That means that in time the hanged man will turn and be crowned with more glory than he himself can imagine at the present time."

And then, just like in any Dostoevsky novel, the whole crowd took off for town. I soon lost track of Joseph who said the next morning that he had gotten tired of the party and had strolled along the coastline of Reykjavik just to witness the spectacle of the sun never setting and suddenly it had seemed to him that some supernatural being had stepped right out of its yellow disk. "I think I saw an angel," he said.

He gave a reading two days later and was much lionized when the intelligentsia of Reykjavik found out who had arrived. In the autumn I noticed on the calendar that the night following the day of his arrival had been the so called midsummer night, the very night you are supposed to see supernatural beings, if you are one of the chosen few. So I wrote him a note telling him what night it had been and received a letter some time later in which he expressed his intense joy.

Violence continues in Göteborg

With the Göteborg Book Fair less than a couple of weeks away, there are persistent and daily reports of violence in the city's suburbs, with cars being set alight and property damaged. The perpetrators of the violence seem to be mainly members of various criminal gangs and left-wing or Islamist extremist groups. There are also reports of similar but less intense disturbances in Stockholm and Malmö.

Friday, 11 September 2009

Changes

As of today, Nordic Voices is my own personal blog. For a while - since its inception half a year ago, in fact -  it was an experimental team blog, but differences of editorial opinion together with a general lack of input from most of the contributors have led me to conclude that it's time for me to take this step.

My intention is that the blog will  go on covering the same range of subjects and topics as before. Thanks are due to those who have contributed posts in the past, and I hope they will continue to follow Nordic Voices together with the rest of the readers. Comments are off for the time being, but I may turn them back on again once the changes have settled in.

David

Goliath

Jari Tervo's new satirical novel Koljatti (Goliath) has caused something of a stir in Finland, where the country's current prime minister has found himself mirrored in terms that are none too flattering. Commenting  in Parnasso on the book's portrayal of the clash between media and politics, Jarmo Papinniemi quotes one passage where the central character ruminates on the nature of political reporting:
This is modern journalism.

It uses the tools of crime scene investigators. No longer do they wear baseball caps with the word "PRESS" on them. Now the caps say "CSI". Politics is crime.

Journalism is a trial in which the media is both judge and accuser. The defence is a formality, and it should be confessional in nature.

Brecht At Night - 2

Eric's translation of Estonian author Mati Unts's Brecht at Night has been reviewed in the Los Angeles Times:
Unt's novel becomes a witty portrait of Brecht and a model of how to understand the devastating effects of Stalinism. Unt well knows, as did Brecht, that focusing too much on details of human awfulness becomes debilitating to the story, but if you can only find a way . . . and Unt does. He particularizes the murders, by way of quotation from actual historical documents, fragments, poems -- the narrative is organized like bits and pieces of a documentary -- and by way of his own imagining of how the Communist takeover of Estonia was implemented.
Brecht at Night

Thursday, 10 September 2009

The hare-man

By Lennart Sjögren

More and more often I think of the hares
fleeing across the fields

and when I think of the hares
I also think of the human beings
fleeing across the fields

When pain overtakes them
they cry shrilly and are similar in that,
but humans hunt humans
and in that are unlike the hare.

I who am hare-man and man-hare
I bear witness only to what I myself have seen
But I also have
a kind of clouded faith:

I believe in the hare’s bulging eyes
I believe in the hare’s hind-legs
which are also those of man.

translated from Swedish by David McDuff

Tuesday, 8 September 2009

Uppslagsverket Finland on the Web

The whole of the extensive 5-volume Finland-Swedish encyclopedia and reference work Uppslagsverket Finland is now available on the Web. Access is free of charge.

The official URL appears to be http://www.uvf.fi/, but this translates to Uppslag.kaapeli.fi/bin/view/Uppslagsverket/WebHome

Access was a bit patchy today, but hopefully these are just teething troubles. Hufvudstadsbladet has a feature on the project.

Kreetta Onkeli: Housewife - 3

...Sirre was the object of anticipation. To the others the news of a mother’s arrival was not important, but to Sirre it was: that someone called her Mummy. They both called her that: Vita and Assar. Sometimes she thought she was a mother to them both, but then she wanted quickly to forget about that idea, searched for the rouge and concealer pen in the make-up bag and compared himself to the other South Helsinki mothers. She could almost keep up with them.

Sirre tried hard. She did gym exercises, yoga. She took courses in Japanese flower arrangement and studied critical thinking at the Institute. She didn’t talk about her private life and didn’t ask other people about theirs. She tried to attain peace of mind and did concentration exercises when she was alone. She controlled her moods and hid her disappointments. The only matters she ever interfered in were connected with the activities of the maintenance man, and she often checked the time he began to sweep the courtyard in the morning. The noise woke Vita up too early, and Sirre went down to tell the man not to start work in their block before seven.

Clear-eyed, trusting Vita. She was straight as a pole, and taller than the other children of her age. She had her father’s strong bones and thick reddish hair. She was still a little unsure, in search of herself, but Sirre hoped that later on she would become conscious of her strength.

Mummy looked like a cartoon clown. Mummy stood on the edge of the playground looking spare. Mummy was useless. Mummy made Vita laugh. Her friends, too, some of them. Mummy was embarrassing. She really did look embarrassing as she stood there under the guttering. Water was dripping on Mummy’s head. Mummy didn’t notice it. Mummy had a fur hat on. Mummy looked like a new girl. Yes. She looked like a new girl and no one wanted to play with her. Embarrassing. Mummy probably had a bar of chocolate in her pocket. Or chewing gum at least. Vita wanted something sweet. Mummy gave her sweets.

A child's life ought to be secure and clearly marked out. Sirre hugged Vita, that children’s world with all its details, in which she was involved: the winter coat that smelt of frost, the addition and subtraction sums, the school class sizes, the pencils with horses on them, the magnetic pencil box, the baggy rucksack, the gym shoes, the bedtimes, the mini-cartons of fruit juice, the Japanese children’s movies, the playtimes. Vita put her hand in Sirre’s coat pocket. Sirre said no. Vita found a stick of chewing gum.

translated from Finnish by David McDuff

Housewife
Houswife - 1
Housewife - 2

Monday, 7 September 2009

Nature Study

By Per Kirkeby (1979)

The nature study is pebbles small twigs fragments of glass
like rocks trees water
Which the material scratches and tears
pure chaos
always takes on form
And surprises the painter
when he wakes up
Form is an accident
The material must be touched
even with long brushes
and evaporating turpentine

So what is the teacher to tell
of things great and small
All rock stone water
must be suppressed by the colour’s light
Form is chaos
Chance must be absorbed into the material
Clay that takes on form
which the wakening painter sees
Figures grow from the colour’s light

Light shadow
cold warmth
If colours have nature
material is landscapes

When colours displace shadows
the great repoussoirs become light
and the sky the cave’s ceiling
Landscapes with snakes
The colour is The Historical Landscape
Glowing foliage
broken rocky ground
the dying figure lies
in the depth and darkness of doubt
a shape is sensed

The movement of The Historical Landscape
The light changes with the material’s colour
shapes come and go
no proportions no harmony
the perspective burns
Colour and light are chaos
in the mechanical world
The landscape of disaster
A lonely wanderer
The panoramas of the battlefields
This landscape creates heroic colours
Unfamiliar emotions
overwhelm the wanderer
The painter is a great reptile
landscapes marblings
figures stains

Groups of figures like the fingers of a hand
heads like blisters
The holy inkblot
The great concentration
The great strokes
move hand and brush
breed accidental blots
The Landscape of Disaster
Thought is chaos
a dreaming wanderer
never a blotting swine
Make the most of chance
Use all the tricks
Calligraphy
Cakes of paint

One note holds everything in place
White breaks the perspective
The great glaciers
The white corpse

The chalk cliffs
The Landscape of Disaster
The Serpent Line
Whipsnakes dangle everywhere
protection is impossible
Like walking on water

The idea of light
is the mouth of the cave
The vaults of the great churches
an infinite series
The frozen water
filled with seagulls
A cave in the chalk cliffs
with its dark mouth

Walking on the ice
The wonderful fog of the northerly regions
The great brushstroke
over all details
wipes the tablet clean
for infinite clarity

Shadows Chiaroscuro Repoussoir
are overtaken by the colour’s light
mass has turned into material
The material is the true details
Shadows chiaroscuro repoussoir
the material’s ghosts
which are stiffening
the arrangement the scenery the Cave
The Forest Tunnel

Pebbles twigs glass splinters
Paintbrush finger knife
Landscapes

The landscape eclipses the figures
turns into
stems
steles
Foliage the cave’s light
Figures vanish in the doubtful darkness

White
The angel in a pool of blood
or tropical soil
The great torment
in every region
one colour must go
so that the others can live
Stand tied to the mast
while the storm breaks up the frozen sea
An eternal transition
The Metamorphosis
Time is the great brushstroke
the jutting brush hairs
details of the illusion
Time’s Gothic forebodings
The ship sails between the ice-fields of the cave
Indistinct
Forms rise from chaos
are transformed in chaos
Everything is remembered


translated from Danish by David McDuff

Sunday, 6 September 2009

Bildt cancels Israel visit

Sweden's foreign minister Carl Bildt has called off a planned visit to Israel this week, after refusing to condemn an article that was published in Sweden's Aftonbladet newspaper, AP reports.

Saturday, 5 September 2009

E-books and translation

Over at Three Percent, Chad Post is publishing in four parts the presentation on e-books and literary translation he will deliver at next week's Icelandic Literary Festival in Reykjavik. The first part can be read here, and the subsequent installments are appearing on a day-to-day basis.

Friday, 4 September 2009

Thursday, 3 September 2009

The gardener

[from Kristina Carlson's novel Herra Darwinin puutarhuri, ‘Mr Darwin’s gardener’, Otava, 2009)]

Thomas Davies walks to Down House, even though it is Sunday. He is Mr Darwin's gardener. Mr Darwin is a famous man, who has visitors from London and elsewhere in the world.

Nothing grows in the shadow of the old, thick-growing spruce-tree, but Mr Darwin is a tree that spreads light, Thomas Davies thinks. The wheelbarrow lies topsy-turvy on the lawn. Thomas lifts it up by its handles and pushes it to the holly hedge. Under one of the bushes lies a thrush with folded wings. Thomas bends down and picks the bird up in the palm of his hand, but he can feel only his own pulse, the mottled head hangs limp on bloody threads, the beak slightly open, the bird is dead, although its feathery body is still warm. Thomas guesses that the thrush is the prey of the young
ginger-striped tom. The cat does not eat the birds, it only practises killing.

The air smells of soil, decaying leaves and smoke. Low pressure drives the smoke from the house’s chimneys along the roof. In the grey light the cabbages and lettuces shine with a greenish glow. Thomas does not work on Sundays, but he prefers to be out and about because he feels hemmed in at home, even though he loves his children. He walks along the road and at the top and in the garden it is as if he were able to outpace his thoughts, the constraints of living are forgotten if there is something else to do.

Thomas gives a start when a shadow flits at one of the dark windowpanes of Down House. He straightens his back, thrusts hands in his pockets, and walks to the back gate. Herbs and cabbages rise from the borders where Mr Darwin grew common toadflax. The villagers said they were nothing but weeds, and anyway dahlias and asters were more beautiful, but what is beauty, not science, anyway. Beside the footpath grow hazel, alder, lime, birch, hornbeam, privet, dogwood and holly which Mr Darwin ordered to be planted decades ago. Thomas turns and goes across the meadow. As the heels of his boots press into the wet ground, the smell of mould rises from the long, flattened grass.

Thomas stops on the gently sloping hill. It rains large, heavy drops. He turns his face upwards and stretches his arms straight, the water flows from the brim of his hat onto his neck and into the collar of his jacket, he grimaces, neither laughing nor crying, he remembers Gwyn’s face which shrank small, yellow and wrinkled before her death. Thomas stands on the slope with open mouth, but the cry merely echoes within the shell of his skull: Release me! Help me! He swallows, coughs, shakes his orso, the drops fly off the woollen fabric: Be quiet! Come to your senses! The bells of St Mary's church are pealing. One can ask the heavens for help as they are the only place where there are no people. The raindrops fall, each drop carries the ringing of the bells and the reverberation is absorbed into the ground.

translated from Finnish by David McDuff