Wednesday, 29 April 2009

Lars Sund wins the Svenska kulturfonden book prize

Lars Sund (born 1953) has just won the annual Svenska kulturfonden cultural prize worth €20,000. He will be accepting it in Vasa this evening (29th April 2009). This is the latest in a number of book prizes, including the Runeberg Prize, and a nomination for the Nordic Council Prize.

But first of all: what is Svenska kulturfonden? It is the Finland-Swedish fund based in Helsinki (aka Helsingfors) that supports literature written in Swedish in Finland. Such a fund is necessary, as Finland-Swedish authors can sometimes fall between two stools, especially if they emigrate to Sweden itself. (Sund lives in Uppsala.) And the once powerful Finland-Swedish minority has dwindled to a mere 6% of the population of Finland.

Lars Sund has written a series of novels, mostly set in Ostrobothnia. He began as a poet, some 35 years ago. But he is best known for his novel trilogy "Colorado Avenue" (idem; 1991), which has recently been filmed, followed by "Lanthandlerskans son" (Son of a Country Shopkeeper"; 1997) and "Eriks bok" (Erik's Book; 2003). There is more about Lars Sund and his works here in Swedish Book Review.

Today's article in the daily Vasabladet says, among other things:

Sund will be adopting a new genre. "I am principally a novelist, but my next book will be something else. Perhaps something between a novel and non-fiction."

Sund is also an eager participant in what he himself calls the first digital cultural debate in what is termed Svenskfinland, i.e. the parts of Finland where Swedish is spoken as first language. He points out that Finland is not unique in that cultural and literary debate has shifted from the columns of the press to blogs and e-mail, since about the year 2000.

And commenting on other Finland-Swedish authors, Sund notes that there are exciting new ones, such as poets Catharina Gripenberg and Heidi von Wright (some of whose poems are on this blog in English translation), plus the novelist Emma Juslin.


I myself published a translation of a poem by Lars Sund back in 1979 in the publication Swedish Books:

To Marilyn Monroe if ever I should meet her

stuck fast with chewing-gum to my wall beloved marilyn
with your eyes full of hollywood cancer
worn dusty under the studio lights
still a child with breasts as soft as san francisco hills

you should never have come here
where we turn heads inside out and make ideals from the contents
where everything we'll ever dream up has been ready for ages on 35 mm reels
& where there are canyons between the hotel rooms

but it's too late now I feel
because you hardly got to heaven
& in hell there are
far too many like you
we all helped to build the pool for you to drown in
& the heroin was refined on the poppy of our twinkling eye
by men who could stand only the darkness of the movie house

all we have to remember you by beloved marilyn
are the pictures
& your shrill voice on the sound-track hoarse with T.B.
but I sometimes wake up in the night in a cold sweat from your accusing presence
and switch on the lamp to look at you
stuck fast with chewing-gum to my wall beloved marilyn

Translated from Swedish (in 1979) by Eric Dickens


David McDuff said...

Do you know if there's a detailed biography of Lars Sund on the Web anywhere, Eric? I remember that he made his "breakthrough" (genombrott,läpimurto, the favoured term of Finnish bio-notes) with Colorado Avenue in 1991, at a relatively late stage in his career (he has born in 1953). I've always found his novels a little on the "social realist" side, though he has a good sense for local colour and dialogue.

I wonder what he was doing before the 1990s?

Eric Dickens said...

In November 1977, Sund was sitting opposite me in a kitchen in Åbo. He had only published poetry up to then and was full of plans. That's how I came to translate the Marilyn Monroe poem, a couple of years later. He was certainly in those days what the Americans term a motor-mouth. Whether his friends took him seriously at the time, I do not know. Some poets become novelists. Others publish a collection, then stop. He has certainly developed over the three decades.

I can put up with his social realism, as I lived happily in Vasa and Jakobstad in the 1970s, and heard on many occasions (from the Red side) how deep the divisions between Reds and Whites, and the historical hatreds, still were. Sund's whole view of life and politics seems to have been moulded by these divisions. For some reason I never did read "Lanthandlerskans son", which I am now going to do.

Sund writes occasionally for Ny Tid (about e.g. cluster bombs, nuclear energy), and looks to still be on the left of the political spectrum, maybe even by Ny Tid standards. His style is certainly Sprache und Boden when describing Österbotten. Which is a curious thing, as he has been living in Uppsala for several decades now. Maybe absence makes the heart grow fonder. I myself lived in Uppsala for six years, but curiously we never met there.

The tough mother figure in his books (Dollar Hanna) is based on his own mother. She was widowed fairly young, but became quite a force in Jakobstad. On the town council, if I remember rightly.

I shall write to him and ask whether there is a detailed biography of him on the web, as I haven't found one yet either.

David McDuff said...

It's a pity about the left-wing politics of these Finland-Swedish writers and poets - one feels that it has weighed them down and restricted their vision in some ways. Yet the best and most talented of them seem to be able to overcome the politics and write outside any ideological framework, and that's a good and hopeful sign, I think.

Eric Dickens said...

Some poets are blinded into doggerel while others rise above their politics. I suppose the same could be said of right-wing poets, in the days when it was trendy to be a member of the affluent classes and read anodyne verse in drawing-rooms.

I think the Finland-Swedish fisherfolk-farmer background, especially that of Ostrobothnian poets, represents a genuine closeness to labour that makes them cling to working-class values. When upper-middle-class Helsinki authors become lefties (i.e. not those from genuine working-class district of Kallio / Berghäll), this can be regarded as somewhat less genuine.

But even Eva Wichman, once member of the Communist Party and immune to suggestions about the GULag, wrote some beautiful nature poems, mood poems and other things not connected to agit-prop. In the same way, Gösta Ågren writes about personal matters. In the 1960s, Lars Huldén wrote somewhat overtly political poems, but has moved on.

No younger Finland-Swedish poet I know of is writing Nerudian poems praising the Struggle and Evo Morales, Raúl Castro or Hugo Chávez. Nor are they drooling over that great Putinian democracy, Russia. Leafing through copies of Ny Tid, Horisont and Kontur, my touchstones for what is going on in Finland-Swedish poetry, you will find Susanne Ringell discussing God and Meister Eckhart; and recently, the Estonian self-styled "conservative feminist" and tongue-in-cheek satirist Elo Viiding has had several poems translated and published in "Swedish Finland".

The Commies have become Green, the Greens take on board beyond-this-Earth spirituality. All is not lost. If there's anything wrong with them, they've become too New Agey.

Only the old guard, mostly male, continues to be stuck in the Sixties and mired in a safely Finlandised brand of lashing out at the USA and global capitalism. I sometimes think that in Finland, also in the Swedish-speaking part, the women have nowadays got more gumption than the men. This is certainly true of the arts, with some exceptions.