Saturday, May 17, 2008

A Reader from Kokemäki

At the bottom of her blog post reviewing Pentinpeijaiset, CatharinaL adds a comment (in Finnish, my translation): "The book is part of my permanent collection, but is out on loan to Komentoora." Komentoora (in Kokemäki, near where I spent my first summer in Finland), wrote on March 10 "I'm looking forward to what this book has to offer with great interest. Thanks for the book to CatharinaL." Then, today, Komentoora posts a brief review:

Pentinpeijaiset is Douglas Robinson's debut novel about the life and work over three decades of the great Finnish poet and translator Pentti Saarikoski. Fact and fiction blur in the book: the raven, the bear, the spirits, the dreams, the wives, and the landscapes.

When the book came out in the fall of 2007 my first thought was, could anything new be said about Pentti Saarikoski, so gnawed to the bone did the subject seem. But Pentinpeijaiset was in fact surprisingly intelligent and funny. The author has truly familiarized himself with Finnish culture and literature and done a lot of background work for the book.

An excellent addition to the books about Saarikoski.

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Christmas Reader

CatharinaL at Catharina's Journal was given my novel for Christmas, and posted an intelligent review of it on Christmas day. Here's my English translation:

Shoot, Pentti! or, the Transformations

I got the book as a present and started reading it immediately on Christmas Eve.

Robinson (1954-) has worked at the Universities of Jyväskylä and Tampere and published numerous books on translation theory and literary history. A familiarity with Saarikoski, Finland, and Finnishness is evident in the text. Translation and Saarikoski's life in various languages is the novel's central theme.

The work, which blends magic realism and literary biography, follows Pentti Saarikoski's life for three decades. Among the strands of fact and fiction gleaned from various sources are also unique layers of fantasy. A raven and bear follow Pentti through the various stages of his life. They stress his imagos at various ages and the seer's role he adopted during his final years. It would, however, be difficult to justify adding fictional characters to the otherwise biographical tale.

As a whole the book is very readable but problematic. The problematic aspects of the work would appear to be conscious creative choices. There are jeux d'esprit hidden in the details, in the shifting narrative voices and "spirit guides" and "adages for translators." On another level constant attention is given to problems of language and translation. Pentti's role as translator is emphasized at the expense of his poetry. The genre the author has chosen is nevertheless lightly chronological throughout. In the same way the themes of Saarikoski's works appear as passing flashes, elements of the fictional narrative. The life of this enfant terrible, who lived a legend, finally becomes a superficial legend in this novel.

The novel's form is collage-like. The edges and seams of quotations and fiction are not concealed. Thus the work contains both the basic legend and many quoted anecdotes. Saarikoski's life is recounted pretty much purely on the basis of biographies and memoirs. The reader who knows these sources well will recognize most of the novel. The forms of the chapters, for their part, vary with the big translations Saarikoski was working on, his wives, and his drinking. The canny Joyce chapter, for example, delves into the unfinished translation in Finnish and English. The technique the author uses does not so much deepen the characterization of Saarikoski as it does present transformations: the life of this media golden boy becomes text, pages, literary history. Thus the work constantly plays allusively with itself and its own genre.

The book was published by Avain; the cover was designed by Jussi Jääskeläinen. Minus visual points for the book's photographic tearsheet-like appearance and the imprecise text. There are some errors in the pages, too. On the famous trip to Greece the "metafora" text painted on the side of a truck has been typeset as 9+I!M?XA.

This fall was the 70th anniversary of Saarikoski's (1937-1983) birth.