It is back to Finland for today’s Women in Translation post. Leena Krohn is one of Finland’s most respected writers. Like Johanna Sinisalo, she was won the Finlandia Prize (Finland’s equivalent of the Booker) and her career dates back to 1970. I remember that when the VanderMeers came to Finncon Jeff was absolutely ecstatic to get to meet her.
I reviewed Tainaron: Mail from Another City for Emerald City #111 back in 2004, and I’m including that review below. However, the book I’d recommend is Datura, of which Ann & Jeff published an English edition fairly recently. It is a very, very strange book about a young woman who gets a job working for a Fortean-style magazine and, at the same time, accidentally becomes addicted to the psychotropic Datura plant. I think you can imagine how weird that gets. Krohn’s descriptions of the various obsessives who frequent the magazine’s offices are an absolute delight.
Leena Krohn is a successful mainstream writer from Finland with a long track record of novel publication stretching back to 1970. Like many European writers, having not grown up in an Anglo culture that suffers from an obsessive desire to distinguish between “good” mimetic fiction and “crap” fantastical works, she is comfortable writing weird stuff. Finally we English speakers are able to sample some of her work, and very interesting it is too.
The book we have on offer is Tainaron: Mail from Another City. It is a short book made up of letters sent by an un-named narrator from the fabled City of Insects. It is very odd, and it reminds me of something that Italo Calvino might have written.
Each letter tells of some encounter between the letter writer and some inhabitant of Tainaron. To begin with these are fairly straightforward, if very strange. Thankfully our guide to Tainaron has the benefit of her long-suffering friend, Longhorn Beetle, to put right her foolish, humanocrentic views before she can cause too much offense. As time goes on, however, Tainaron becomes more and more terrifying. The buildings in which the ants live are for the most part merely alien, but the beach of the ant lions are another matter entirely.
I confess that I am at something of a loss to understand what I am supposed to take away from this book. I don’t think that it is supposed to be merely a tale of creeping horror. But neither is the sort of intricate social satire that you can see in Čapek’s play, The Life of the Insects. It isn’t even clear whether we are supposed to view Tainaron as a real place, because our heroine complains constantly that her friend back in the human world never replies to the letters. Possibly Krohn is simply trying to get us to question some of our cultural norms. Or possibly she is simply playing with an interesting idea for creative writing. All I can say for certain is that this doesn’t appear to be in any way the fault of the translation, which reads very smoothly despite the weirdness of the content. Whatever, Tainaron is a fascinating little book and a welcome introduction to a fine writer whose works have thus far been unavailable to anyone who does not read Finnish.