Saarikoski's Home was the Finnish Language
An author is faithful only to his or her mother tongue. Especially when he is Pentti Saarikoski.
Douglas Robinson’s (b. 1954) Pentinpeijaiset is an exhilarating biographical novel, because it avoids belaboring the obvious. The story, which runs from the fifties to the eighties, is based on actual events and Saarikoski’s own works, but Robinson throws in invented material from Agricola, Frank Zappa, and Heraclitus for spice.
Saarikoski’s internal interlocutors include Bear and Hipponax.
One of the novel’s narrators is Raven, who scrutinizes Saarikoski’s life from a distance. The meaning of that life consists of a love for language.
Over the years the wives change and the number of kids increases, but Saarikoski’s reality is not ordinary life but poetry.
The Translator as Bloodhound
Robinson’s mother tongue is English, but he has lived in Finland and translated Eeva-Liisa Manner and others into English.
Saarikoski’s work as a translator is interestingly illuminated against the backdrop of Robinson’s own work as a translator.
The translator sniffs out words in search of the best.
Both Robinson and Saarikoski have good noses.
In the sixties Saarikoski translated Henry Miller’s Tropic of Cancer. In Pentinpeijaiset the chaotic translation process inspires carnal orgies.
Life and art merge. In addition to the translation, the result is a stay in a mental hospital.
Saarikoski’s restless life is not glossed over in the novel, but Robinson refuses to build around Saarikoski’s alcoholism an inevitable poetic fate.
The work is a stylish mixture of the low and the high.
Especially noteworthy is the absence from the novel of an artificial closeness.
A fictional biography that tries to delve too deeply into its subject’s head begins to stink.
Pentinpeijaiset is a novel that spins out intellectual associations and trusts its reader’s understanding, and that despite its autobiographical nature shifts meaning from author to text.
Thursday, December 13, 2007
A review by Saara Kesävuori appeared in Aamulehti on Monday, December 10. It's not up on the Aamulehti website yet; I'll post the link here when it is. In the meantime, here it is in my English translation: