A small country with a huge geographic diversity, as it has a number of mountains, jungles and lakes. The population, too, is very low even in urban areas. Although Finland is surrounded by Sweden, Norway, Russia and the Baltic Sea, the Scandinavian country has developed its own culture. Scandinavia’s red-coloured wooden house and chatting with friends while enjoying coffee and cardamom bun have become an integral part of the Nordic life here! One can also notice the influence of Russian and Baltic culture in Finland. Diversity exists in all aspects of Finnish life – language, literature, art etc. The people of Finland have been practising their culture for hundreds of years.
Nokia had introduced GSM mobile phones in the 1990s… courtesy Finland. The Finnish multinational corporation – founded on May 12, 1865 as a single paper mill operation – helped boost the national income due to the global popularity of its mobile sets. However, a rival company took control of the world market in 2007 and shocked the Finnish economy. The development not only hit the treasury hard, but also the confidence of the tiny nation. Helsinki realised that it needed something new that could help the nation make a steady recovery. Finland was in real trouble as the entire world was experiencing the recession at that time. The Finnish experts advised the government to concentrate on branding of a product in order to recapture the global market. But, what will be the product… technology? culture?
In the meantime, Finnish-Estonian author Sofi Oksanen’s (born January 7, 1977) novel –Purge – gained the widest recognition (in 2008). She received several international and domestic awards for her literary work which has been translated into more than 40 languages and sold more than two million copies. All of a sudden, Oksanen herself became a brand! Her emergence as a noted writer and playwright helped the Finnish literature secure its place in the world of classics! The world literature, too, started waiting for the post-Oksanen era in Finland. The nation realised that it would be important to promote the Finnish literature (and culture) globally.
The history of Finnish literature is 600-year-old. Historical evidence of the establishing of Swedish rule in Finland exists from the late 13th century onwards. The period of Swedish rule ended on September 17, 1809 as a result of the Finnish War. For more than 500 years, the aristocrat Finnish people used to speak the Swedish language. However, Finland had its own folklore and the majority of them are mythological romaunts. In the late 18th century, the northern European nation got The Kalevala – a work of epic poetry compiled by Elias Lönnrot from Karelian and Finnish oral folklore and mythology.
Finland became an autonomous region of Russia in the 19th Century. Immediately after getting the autonomy, the nation tried to enrich its literature through the Swedish language. Johan Ludvig Runeberg (February 5, 1804-May 6, 1877) portrayed the nature and lifestyle of Finland in his works, and encouraged many others to do the same. Aleksis Kivi (October 10, 1834-December 31, 1872) was one of them. His works provided the Finnish literature with a new dimension. Gradually, the Norwegian and French culture started influencing the Finnish poetry, music, novels and plays, and the literary works became the mirror of the society. Later, Minna Canth (March 9, 1844-May 12, 1897) and others created the modern trend in Finnish literature. In a rare first, the Scandinavian literature started telling the real story, such as the oppression of women and the pain of working class – and criticised the Church’s role.
The Finnish literature separated itself from Swedish literature in the late 19th Century and the literary world of Finland was divided into two at the beginning of the 20th Century. Writers in both the languages brought the touch of modernity in their stories, verses and plays. The Finnish authors experimented with different aspects of life and covered various issues, such as magic realism, Nordic crime etc. Meanwhile, Frans Eemil Sillanpää became the first Finnish writer to be awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1939.
Come back to 2008… Oksanen’s success prompted former publisher Elina Ahlback to establish an international literary agency mainly for representing Finnish authors’ and illustrators’ books, films and TV rights in international markets. Ahlback realised that literature could become the most profitable business and increase the export of books by 10 times in the next decade. Elina Ahlback Literary Agency – Finland’s leading and first independent, international literary agency – was established in 2009. In the next five years, the Finnish publishing industry concentrated mainly on commercial agreements, foreign rights and other types of writings. The industry also came out with a new slogan: Finland Cool. Finally, Finland participated in 2014 Frankfurt Book Fair.
As readers in Germany and some Anglo-American countries slowly fell in love with the Finnish literature, Finnish novel Unknown Soldiers secured its place in ‘Penguin Classics’ in 2015. Now, Elina Ahlback Literary Agency is the only Nordic agency that has offices in two American cities – New York and Los Angeles!
Why the Finnish literature became so popular?
Both readers and the publishers opine that Finland’s literature is completely different and that it’s USP! In her novel ‘Core of the Sun’, Johanna Sinisalo narrated the sterilisation of self-reliant women and the sex life of underprivileged women in the Eusistocratic Republic of Finland. This publication helps readers know about the contemporary Finland in a better way. International readers also appreciated Pajtim Statovci’s first novel ‘My Cat Yugoslavia’ in which the author described the fall of Yugoslavia from a completely different angle. Readers also appreciated the confabulation between seven women as described by Laura Lindstedt in her novel ‘Oneiron’.
The literacy rate has always been very high in Finland, where the people love to read books even in the era of Internet! Apart from the publishers and the literary agency, the government is also trying hard to help the publishing industry boost its business. The development has helped Finland get a number of young writers, like Arto Tapio Paasilinna, Rosa Liksom, Leena Lehtolainen and Riikka Pulkkinen, in recent times.
The two main weapons of the Finnish literary revolution are: exorbitance of female writers and strange contents. Undoubtedly, publishing is the growing industry in Finland!
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