We asked fans to vote for their favourite Finnish book. Here are the rankings.
The Finns’ active cultural life is especially evidenced by their literary vitality. Many Finnish literary works are translated into multiple languages for global audiences, and the reputation of Finnish writers is expanding worldwide.
1. Tove Jansson: Tales from Moominvalley
A Swedish-speaking Finn, Tove Jansson (1914–2001) is primarily known as the creator of the imaginary Moomin characters, which she wrote about and illustrated in novels and comic strips. Books such as Tales from Moominvalley and Comet in Moominland continue to enjoy worldwide success among audiences of all ages. She also wrote novels and short stories for grown-up readers; many of these works have recently been re-released in English. In 2014 she becomes more relevant than ever as Finland celebrates the centenary of her birth.
2. Elias Lönnrot: Kalevala
Originally a rural physician, Elias Lönnrot (1802–1884) took advantage of time spent in Kainuu, northeastern Finland, by collecting Finnish poems sung in popular oral tradition. Impassioned by his discovery, he published the fruits of his labour under the title Kalevala. The vast mythological epic helped awaken and cement the Finnish national consciousness of the 19th century. The Kalevala themes, complemented by trips to Karelia, have influenced many Finnish artists, including the composer Jean Sibelius.
3. Mika Waltari: The Egyptian
One of Finland’s most renowned writers, Mika Waltari (1908–1979) created novels, poems, plays and screenplays. After the publication of his first novel, and inspired by a visit to Paris in the late 1920s, he published many thrillers. In the wake of the Second World War he produced what many consider his best work, a historical novel called The Egyptian, noted for its faithful reconstruction of the lives of the Egyptian pharoahs.
4. Sofi Oksanen: Purge
Born in 1977, Sofi Oksanen became known in 2003 for the novel Stalin’s Cows. In 2008 came Purge, which follows two different generations of women in Estonia during and after the Soviet occupation. The novel earned Oksanen international recognition, including the European Book Prize and the Prix Femina Étranger. Known for her feminist sensibilities, Oksanen regularly comments on social issues in the Finnish press. She is also a playwright.
5. Arto Paasilinna: The Year of the Hare
Arto Paasilinna was born in 1942 in Lapland. He found his place in literature after practising various trades. Author of numerous novels, he gained international praise for The Year of the Hare, a story of pastoral tribulations by a narrator who befriends a hare. Translated into over 20 languages, this novel became the first in a long series of literary successes, particularly in France. Critics praised him for his use of sarcasm combined with an extraordinary sense of narration and farce, qualities that give his stories an unmistakable tone.
6. Väinö Linna: Under the North Star
Väinö Linna (1920–1992) forms one of the most influential Finnish writers of the post-war era. Originally a worker from a simple background, he took part in the Fenno-Soviet wars of 1939–1944. This experience led him to write a realistic novel, The Unknown Soldier, that earned him great success. In another book, Under the North Star, he painted a historical portrait of a Finnish family across many generations attempting to describe the social reality in familiar settings. Many of Linna’s novels have been adapted into films.
7. Riikka Pulkkinen: True
Born in 1980, Riika Pulkkinen caused a sensation with the 2006 release of her first novel,The Border, in which she featured characters struggling with violent internal conflict. The book also covered topics such as Alzheimer’s disease and euthanasia. She later confirmed her literary talent with two more novels, including True, in which she continued to explore struggles of the human soul. Highly regarded as a novelist, she also regularly writes columns in the Finnish media.
8. Aleksis Kivi: The Seven Brothers
Aleksis Kivi (1834–1872) began as a playwright. Of all his plays, Heath Cobblers continues to be the most popular. He spent ten years writing The Seven Brothers, which was published in 1870 to mixed reviews. It forms a scathing, yet truthful depiction of Finnish rural life. Exhausted by work and illness, Kivi passed away as a destitute man at the age of 38. Today he has been promoted to the rank of national writer, for he is reputed to have paved the way for Finnish-language literature (before him, the bulk of Finnish literature was written in Swedish). He also left behind many poems, some of which have been turned into songs.
9. Hannu Mäkelä: Mr Boo
Born in 1943, poet and novelist Hannu Mäkelä has had a particularly productive career. His works for children, based on the imaginary Mr Boo, a farcical character who appears to children at night, earned him much success and international recognition. Since 1973 Mäkelä has published a series of stories based on this popular character. Mr. Boo’s popularity has been amplified in the music of M.A. Numminen, a singer of unbridled imagination, who transcribed the adventures of this imaginary character into music, to the delight of young Finns.
10. Leena Lehtolainen: My First Murder
Since her first novel was published at the age of 12, Leena Lehtolainen (born in 1964) has become known for her thrillers, such as My first Murder, Her enemy and Copper Heart, which feature police inspector Maria Kallio. Acclaimed for their well-crafted intrigue and captivating atmosphere, Lehtolainen’s books have been translated into over 20 languages; some have been adapted for television and theatre.
By René-Philippe Thomas, October 2013