Country Focus: Finland (Suomi in Finnish)
Troll: A Love Story
by Johanna Sinisalo (Finnish)
Translated by Herbert Lomas
Originally published as Ennen päivänlaskua ei voi, Tammi, 2000.
My edition: Grove, 2003. 278 pgs.
Acclaim: Winner of the Finlandia Prize for Literature; Sinisalo has won the Atorax Prize for best Finnish science fiction or fantasy story 7 times
In Johanna Sinisalo’s fantasy novel Troll, the title character is an endangered species, one of only 400 still roaming the forests of present-day Finland. Angel is astounded to find a sick cub laying among the dumpsters outside his apartment. Despite having to keep his rare pet a secret from everyone, he manages to restore the troll’s health and names him Pessi.
Angel, a graphic designer, can’t resist featuring an action shot of Pessi in an ad campaign for jeans. When Angel’s business partner Martes finds out that Angel’s work is not a Photoshop trick but an actual photo of a real live troll – and that it’s Angel’s pet – Angel must decide what to do with the increasingly dangerous animal.
Sinisalo intersperses her brief, fast-paced chapters with excerpts from troll-related literary works and scientific and media references. It’s to Sinisalo’s credit that it’s difficult to tell which ones are fabricated and which ones are real – I thought that “Calvin Klein stimulates ocelots” was pure fiction but turns out I was wrong…
Troll explores sexuality and our animal nature. Angel is a blond Adonis whose beauty attracts gay men, straight men and women alike. He’s introduced as suffering from a huge crush on Martes, a historically straight man who can’t decide whether or not to return Angel’s affection. As another character says, homosexuality is “an untamed wilderness it takes a lot of guts to step into.”
While Martes vacillates, Pessi’s overwhelming pheromones divert Angel’s attention. The boy-like creature’s lithe beauty, intrinsic wildness and his pungent juniper-like smell elicit an unexpected response from Angel.
Angel’s and Pessi’s relationship is interestingly juxtaposed with that of the couple who live in the downstairs apartment – an all but enslaved mail order Filipino bride and her much older, abusive husband.
Despite its potentially controversial themes, Troll‘s sexual content is pretty low-key; the novel leans more toward sci-fi/fantasy than adult fantasy. Trolls figure prominently in Scandinavian mythology and folklore; this tale documents one living in the modern city of Tampere. Sinisalo’s Troll is movie-ready – a Gremlins for adults.
In my book (or what Finland means to me and maybe you, too)
A Finn in the family
Our dog trainer took one look at our orange pointy-eared mystery mutt and declared her part Finnish Spitz. The Finnish Spitz is the national dog of Finland and looks like a tall, fluffy fox that has just been blowdried. Finland seems like an appropriate homeland for our dog, as she does not travel above walking speed if the temperature is over 50 degrees. Luckily for her, Montana is the Finland of America (especially this spring – snow on the last day of April!). The Finnish Spitz is known for its incredibly rapid bark – up to 160 barks per minute! We are psyched that the bark got bred out of our dog – she is silent as the snow. Hyvä koira!*
*Good dog! in Finnish
The dog is my shepherd, I shall not want garbage
Our dog’s boyfriend is a Karelian Bear Dog, another Finnish breed. Paws dangling, they lay together on their raised platform at doggie daycare and survey all of the daycare attendees below with disdain. Karelians are pretty much the only dog breed that our dog cares to associate with and I can hardly blame her. Their black and white coats are very becoming and they’re uncannily smart.
The Karelians she hangs out with are unique and somewhat famous for being owned and trained by the Wind River Bear Institute, an organization that pioneered “Bear Shepherding.” WRBI’s highly trained dogs teach bears how to recognize and avoid humans and human hangouts. The result? Reduced conflicts between humans and bears, which means fewer dead bears. As Carrie Hunt, director of WRBI, would say: “Opeta karhuja hyvin.”*
*”Teach your bears well” in Finnish
Up next: The Hakawati by Rabih Alameddine (Lebanon)