Sunday, September 23, 2018

Pekka Tarkka: Onnen Pekka / [Lucky Peter] (a book)

Pekka Tarkka: Onnen Pekka. Muistelmia / [Lucky Peter. Memoirs]. Helsinki: Otava, 2018. 575 p., ISBN: 9789511288114

When I started to understand anything about anything, around 1965–1966, Olof Lagercrantz was the editor-in-chief, with a special emphasis on culture, in Dagens Nyheter, the biggest and best newspaper in the Nordic countries.

Lagercrantz's ambition was the greatest possible: the newspaper could be a cultural and political force with full coverage on all aspects of culture and a lively debate section with conflicting views on topics of the greatest importance. It was electrifying, and although I was only a schoolboy, it was impossible not to be influenced by this spirit of grandeur.

The same spirit inspired also Finnish newspapers. My father at the time held a job whose benefits included subscriptions of over ten newspapers, many magazines, and access to all books: he was editor-in-chief of a magazine with an extensive coverage of books.

I spent a lot of time reading those papers, also learning Swedish from Dagens Nyheter and Hufvudstadsbladet. Those were wonderful years to read the cultural sections in both countries. (And I understand also in other Nordic countries).

Pekka Tarkka was a key figure in that glorious period, in newspapers such as Uusi Suomi and Helsingin Sanomat. During his years Helsingin Sanomat even surpassed Dagens Nyheter. Little could anyone have anticipated that the inability to adjust to the internet revolution and the listing of Sanoma in the stock exchange in 1999 would reduce the formerly magnificent newspaper to a shadow of its former self.

The same thing happened in all Nordic countries. An important survey, and a well-known university textbook, is Tomas Forser's Kritik av kritiken, about the "journalistization" and tabloidization of the cultural sections.

But a period of grandeur will remain as a challenge for the future. What was possible then must be possible to achieve again.

I don't agree with everything and don't even understand all terms in Mr. Tarkka's excellent book, for instance about the political bubbles of the period. For me, the key years politically would be 1958 and 1964. Much is still unknown, much left unsaid.

Pekka Tarkka finishes his memoirs in the 1980s when he resigned from his position as the head of the cultural section in Helsingin Sanomat. He focuses on the happy years until then. This is a rich and rewarding book with profound insight in cultural history and amusing anecdotes on fascinating figures. This book is also a great piece of literature.


Vannoutuneen kirjallisuusmiehen elämä ja teot – lahjomatonta muistelmaa kulttuurielämän näköalapaikalta.

Papin poika Pekka Tarkka innostui painomusteen tuoksusta jo nuorena, ja tie vei sanomalehden toimittajaksi ja yliopistoon. Pitkän uransa aikana hän on kokenut ja myös nostattanut monet kirjalliset myrskyt.

Tarkka taustoittaa terävästi modernismin läpimurtoa, kirjasotia, kulttuurin radikalisoitumista – monien uusien aatteiden esiinmarssia. Asemassaan hän on kohdannut kaikki, jotka "ovat jotain". Tarkka kuvaa sukutaustaansa ja yliopistossa ja kirjallisuusarvostelijana kohtaamiaan ihmisiä elävästi ja humoristisesti, elämänmittaisen kirjallisuuden rakkauden siivittämänä.

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