Arto Paasilinna

Arto Paasilinna (b. 1942) is a journalist and novelist living in Kittilä, a small town in Northern Finland a few hours North of the Arctic Circle. His books often have some setting or other connection with Northern Finland, but really his gift is a generally good eye for the Finnish character. They're generally humorous, but with a heart, too.

Here are the books of his I have read. I can't read Finnish, so I've read them in various translations. The only Paasilinna book that's been released in English, so far as I can tell, is "A businessman's guide to the Finnish Sauna." Most of his books are available in Swedish, and they seem to be rather popular in France, as a surprising number are available in French (try and you'll see a lot). I owe the introduction to Paasilinna to my wife, who stumbled across Le meunier hurlant in Akatemia Kirjakauppa while looking for some light reading. I found the rest on my own.


Ulvova Mylläri (The Howling Miller). I read this one in the French translation by Anne Colin du Terrail, in the Folio paperback edition (Le meunier hurlant). It is the story of Gunnar Huttunen, a large guy clever with his hands, who has been mustered out of the Finnish army after the end of the Lappland wars, and settles in a Northern village where he buys and fixes up an old mill. He has one problem, though, which is that he howls at night from time to time. He also upsets the bourgeois order of the village. The agricultural counselor, Sanelma Käyrämö takes his part (and indeed takes up with him) but the town fathers have their way and get Gunnar committed to an insane asylum in Oulu. He escapes, eludes a cruel search for a long time, then disappears into the forest, perhaps returning as a wolf, but then again maybe not. A tale of persecution by the petty and self-important, but not heavy handed and with a lot of humorous moments. This is my favorite of all Paasilinna's books, but then maybe it's just the stylish work of the translator.


Suloinen myrkynkeittäjä (The Happy Poison Cookeress) I read this in the Swedish Translation ( Den ljuva giftkokerskan) by Tomas Öhrn, in the Brombergs edition. It's the story of an old widow of an Army major, living outside Helsinki but exploited and persecuted by her awful petty-criminal son. She takes up a hobby interest in poison, and winds up inadvertently doing away with all the ones harassing her. This all makes me think of Tom Lehrer. It's not one of my favorites, but it has good characters.

Hirtettuyen kettujen metsä (The forest of hung foxes). I read it in the Swedish translation ( de Hängde Rävarnas Skog) by Camilla Frostell, in the MånPocket edition. This one is really great, maybe the funniest Paasilinna's written. The jacket describes Paasilinna as "The Finnish Woody Allen," but I would say more like "The Finnish Raymond Queneau." It has a lot of the absurdity of Zazie dans le metro, but out in the forest and without any of the violent overtones. The book starts out with the independent story of a Finnish gold thief living the life of luxury on his booty in Stockholm, and of a drunk Finnish army officer up North. Both wind up taking off, and they run into each other during maneuvers, whereafter they take up a rustic life together up in Lappland. This is a theme I find a lot in Finnish writing -- two guys having a good time living out in the woods hunting and fishing. These guys are a little different, and the gold thief winds up importing more and more of his urban life. It's funny, also insightful, but basically funny in a deep way.

Jäniksen vuosi (The Rabbit's Year). Read in Swedish (Hårens år), translated by Camilla Frostell, MånPocket edition. Reporter Vattanen is on a story with his photographer when their car runs into a hare on the road. Vattanen goes off into the woods to find it; it's OK but has a broken leg. But then, Vattanen decides he's not going back. He takes off, sells his boat by phone and with the money travels around Finland doing odd jobs. The hare gets better, and is his companion everywhere. Something like Travels with Charlie, except the hare is basically more intelligent than Charlie (and Vattanen is more competent than Charlie's companion; in fact though he's a city kid, turns out he can lumberjack, and salvage war scrap illegally from under the river, and so forth. Another Finnish guy myth and fantasy...) About my favorite part is when the rabbit gets a parasite infection from some visiting American diplomats, and Vattanen has to pretend to be a professor of veterinary medicine to get the rabbit treated at the Institute in Helsinki. This is just great. It would be worth learning Swedish just so you could read the translation. Very wry. If I had a weekend free ever, I might translate it into English, myself...