Thursday, February 27, 2014

The Kalevala

Tomorrow, February 28th, we celebrate our national epic, The Kalevala in Finland. It’s a compilation of 19th century poems collected by Elias Lönnrot (1802-1884). Before him, the poems had only existed in oral form, meant to be sung, but they were already disappearing. Lönnrot saved them and gave them the epic form. The first version was published in 1835. The first English translation is from 1888.

While never my favourite reading, The Kalevala is nonetheless part of my heritage. The stories are interesting. Complete with a creation myth, they depict life in the prehistoric Finland, with tribal clashes, lust, seduction, warfare and magic. It ends with an allegory of Christianity's arrival to Finland. They’re written in a unique Kalevala metric, but personally I like the stories best in prose form.

The Defence of the Sampo by Akseli Gallen-Kallela, 1886.

Here’s a small sample of the second rune, Wainamoinen’s sowing. The translation doesn’t do justice to the rhythm, but it’s the only one I could find.
Straightway rose a form from oceans,
Rose a hero from the waters,
Nor belonged he to the largest,
Nor belonged he to the smallest,
Long was he as man's forefinger,
Taller than the hand of woman;
On his head a cap of copper,
Boots upon his feet were copper,
Gloves upon his hands were copper,
And its stripes were copper-colored,
Belt around him made of copper,
Hatchet in his belt was copper;
And the handle of his hatchet
Was as long as hand of woman,
Of a finger's breadth the blade was.
Then the trusty Wainamoinen
Thought awhile and well considered,
And his measures are as follow:
"Art thou, sir, divine or human?
Which of these thou only knowest;
Tell me what thy name and station.
Very like a man thou lookest,
Hast the bearing of a hero,
Though the length of man's first finger,
Scarce as tall as hoof of reindeer."
Then again spake Wainamoinen
To the form from out the ocean:
"Verily I think thee human,
Of the race of pigmy-heroes,
Might as well be dead or dying,
Fit for nothing but to perish."
Answered thus the pigmy-hero,
Spake the small one from the ocean
To the valiant Wainamoinen
"Truly am I god and hero,
From the tribes that rule the ocean;
Come I here to fell the oak-tree,
Lop its branches with my hatchet."
Wainamoinen, old and trusty,
Answers thus the sea-born hero:
"Never hast thou force sufficient,
Not to thee has strength been given,
To uproot this mighty oak-tree,
To upset this thing of evil,
Nor to lop its hundred branches."
Scarcely had he finished speaking,
Scarcely had he moved his eyelids,
Ere the pigmy full unfolding,
Quick becomes a mighty giant.

Since last week, I’ve finished reading The Golem and the Djinni, and Do Unto Others. Click the names for my reviews of them. I enjoyed both books immensely. However, The Golem and the Djinni left me a little sad, and Do Unto Others mightily frustrated, like only short stories can. But both were well written, wonderful stories that I warmly recommend for everyone.

This week, I’m reading Wicked Business by Janet Evanovich. I have no excuse, other than wanting to give the series another try. There isn’t a third book in the series that I know of, perhaps mercifully so. The book is mildly entertaining, but it’s nowhere near the delightfulness of some of her earlier books.

Thursday, February 20, 2014


I have made a couple of changes to this blog. It has a new name, for one. It used to be All the Books that I Have Ever Read. I liked the name, imposing and pompous though it was. But I found the name somewhat limiting nonetheless. The new name of the blog is Susanna Reads – for now, anyway. I’m not entirely happy with it either, but Susanna’s Book Blog sounded equally dull. You may suggest a better name if you want. I might even use it.

With the name, I changed the concept of the blog slightly too. I will be writing about books that I’m currently reading, as well as about any reading related topic that catches my fancy. I’ll still be writing about the books that impressed me growing up, but they’ll be among the mix.

So, in that spirit, here’s what I’m currently reading.

I’m reading two books, in fact. One is The Golem and the Djinni by Helene Wecker. I had heard only great things about it, and for once all the praise turned out to be justified. It has been a wonderful read so far, a unique blend of magical and mundane with interesting characters and effortless narrative. The beautiful writing is a cause of true envy for me.

The other book is by my editor Lee Burton. Do Unto Others is a small book, less than a hundred pages, but only outwardly. It’s an intriguing story of a stranger arriving to a remote town to deliver a message. As befits a short story, no background is given and we don’t know what the message is; the reader has to work out the clues as the story unfolds. So far, I’m fairly sure it’s a dystopia, but it might turn out to be something completely different in the end. Like with Wecker’s book, what especially holds my interest is the narrative style and language. Both are delightful.

So, here it is, the new blog concept. I hope you like it. If you’ve read either of the books, let me know what you think of them. But since I haven’t finished them yet, no spoilers please.

Friday, February 14, 2014

A poem for the Valentine's

Here’s a brief interlude for the Valentine’s Day, a poem by John Donne. It’s somewhat cynical take on love, but I like the imagery. Plenty of analyses exist about the poem. Mostly it’s seen as an analogy on how the search for spiritual love is futile. Donne doesn’t have a great notion about women in love either. They are “but, Mummy, possest”, a body without mind.

Loves Alchymie 

Some that have deeper diggd loves Myne then I,
Say, where his centrique happinesse doth lie:
I have lovd, and got, and told,
But should I love, get, tell, till I were old,
I should not find that hidden mysterie;
Oh, tis imposture all:
And as no chymique yet thElixar got,
But glorifies his pregnant pot,
If by the way to him befall
Some odoriferous thing, or medicinall,
So, lovers dreame a rich and long delight,
But get a winter-seeming summers night.
Our ease, our thrift, our honor, and our day,
Shall we, for this vaine Bubles shadow pay?
Ends love in this, that my man,
Can be as happyas I can; If he can
Endure the short scorn of a Bridgegroomes play?
That loving wretch that sweares,
Tis not the bodies marry, but the mindes,
Which he in her Angelique finds,
Would swear as justly, that he heares,
In that dayes rude hoarse minstralsey, the spheares.
Hope not for minde in women; at their best
Sweetness, and wit theyare, but Mummy, possest.

John Donne, c.1595.