Tuesday, 20 October 2009

Inclusions and exclusions

It's sometimes instructive to follow the patterns of inclusion and exclusion that characterize the relations between the Nordic countries and their neighbours, and these are often evident as in the field of literary activity and publishing. The Helsinki Book Fair opens on Thursday - a large-scale, 4-day event, each year it chooses a theme to bind together the various strands of interest that are represented by the numerous readings, mini-seminars, presentations and  discussions that supplement the static exhibition of books and other material.

This year, it looks as though one can take one's pick as to what the theme really is, for according to the English-language version of the advance publicity it is "What is really happening? - the question set in Pentti Saarikoski’s collection of poems published in 1962... The aim of the Book Fair is to give a comprehensive view of today’s reality and future visions. The starting point is the writers, the people involved and the books: the whole spectrum, from humor to science. There will be more than 900 performers and 600 programmes: interviews, seminars, panel discussions, debates and events."

On the other hand, looking further down the page, one reads that "In recognition of the anniversary 1809, Sweden is the Helsinki Book Fair country focus", and indeed on exploring the enormous schedule of events, it's possible to find a few Swedish authors (billed for talks and readings, and some other events, including a government-sponsored one, which have a more or less Swedish flavour. But it's hard to find confirmation of the claim that "more than thirty Swedish writers are attending the fair."

For the first time, one or two Russian authors and publishers are taking part in the fair. Yet the primary focus is surely, as usual, on Finnish writing and publishing - there's a truly vast array of writing talent on show, but one wonders if it can be appreciated by the foreign guests who may have come to acquaint themelves with the contemporary Finnish scene - for the language of nearly all of the events is Finnish, with a few in Swedish or Finland-Swedish.

On a different subject, though in some ways it's related, Sweden's prestigious literary August Prize has  presented its nominations for the 2009 award. Names on the fiction list include Eva Adolfsson, Johannes Anyuru, Per Agne Erkelius, Aris Fioretos, Ann Jäderlund and Steve Sem-Sandberg. But one looks in vain for any Finland-Swedish names: in particular, the absence of Monika Fagerholm and Kjell Westö, both of whom published major new works this autumn, is striking.

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