Sunday, April 15, 2012

Books on my nightstand

Göran Schildt: Nykyaika. Alvar Aallon tutustuminen funktionalismiin / Moderna tider. Alvar Aaltos möte med funktionalismen / Alvar Aalto: The Decisive Years. Translated from Swedish by Raija Mattila. Helsinki: Otava, 1985. One of the best biographies, of high literary quality, and film-relevant: the Swedish and Finnish titles refer to Charles Chaplin's Modern Times. Alvar Aalto loved Chaplin. Aalto was also the founder of the first film society in Finland, Projektio (1934-1936), during his decisive years.

Andrei Sergejeff: Afganistanin historia. Silkkitietä kulttuurien risteykseen [The History of Afghanistan. Along the Silk Road to the Crossroads of Cultures]. Helsinki: Gaudeamus, 2011. I have known that the history of Afghanistan is complicated, but reading this book I realize it's even much more complicated than one could deduce by the articles in the foreign affairs sections of newspapers.

Juha Koivisto & Vesa Oittinen (ed.): Mega-Marx. Johdatus uuteen Marxiin [Mega-Marx. An Introduction into a New Marx]. Tampere: Vastapaino, 2011. Everybody has an opinion on Marx but few have read him, and our knowledge, including those of us who call themselves Marxists, is usually biased. The latest project (Marx-Engels Gesamtausgabe = MEGA) to publish the collected works of Marx and Engels promises for the first time to give full access to the writings of the author of Capital: Critique of Political Economy.

Martin Loiperdinger (ed.): Early Cinema Today. The Art of Programming and Live Performance. London: John Libbey Publishing, 2011. Before WWI film programming was based on short films, and programming became a refined practice among cinema managers and other exhibitors. During the last decades the art of early cinema programming has been revived in the Pordenone and Bologna festivals and in special events such as Luxembourg's Crazy Cinema.

Leo Tolstoy: Tunnustuksia / A Confession / Исповедь (1882). Translated by Eero Balk. Helsinki: Basam Books, 2012. Leo Tolstoy's devastating account of his spiritual crisis after having published Anna Karenina and his way to God despite misgivings about the Church.

Jarl Hellemann: Kustantajan näkökulma: Kirjoituksia kirjallisuuden reunalta / [The Viewpoint of the Publisher: Writings from the Edge of Literature]. Helsinki: Otava, 1999. Topical again because of Hellemann's insider's account of the case of The Gulag Archipelago in Finland. Hellemann was the Finnish publisher of Alexander Solzhenitsyn and many other critical observers of Soviet reality. I couldn't resist re-reading the rest of the book, including Hellemann's remarks about the Nobel prize (he belonged to those who were able to predict it very well) and the fate of book publishing.

Rosa Liksom: Hytti nro 6 / [Cabin Number Six]. Helsinki: WSOY, 2011. The 2011 winner of the Finlandia Prize, the most prestigious literary prize in our land. Among other things, Liksom, a multi-talented artist, has been called a "post-gulag author" often dealing with the legacy of the late Soviet Union. Cabin Number Six is a prose poem, a shock montage of images, experiences and encounters on a train trip from Moscow to Ulan Bator in the late 1980s. The Soviet empire is in an advanced state of decay. The protagonist is a young Finnish woman student, and her main travel companion is a middle-aged male thug whose liberally exposed women-hating views are beyond hard-boiled. The thug is a son of a gulag veteran who sired him on his way to the WWII front. The tale is grotesque, macabre, horrifying. In Mongolia the woman finally finds what she was looking for, a mountain with ancient engravings. The Ulan Bator guide has failed to take her there, but instead he has given her a lecture about the Mongolian legacy in Russia. Mongols conquered Russia in 1242 and reigned for 240 years. "We built all the institutions of administration in Russia (...) We created a bureaucracy the function of which is to serve the power, not the people. We broke the moral backbone of Russians so thoroughly that they never recovered. (...) We taught Ivan the Terrible, and he taught Stalin, that the task of the individual is to submit to the crowd".

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