Mission Estonia. On Estonian Literature in Finnish

by Hannu Oittinen

Mission Estonia

On Estonian Literature in Finnish


Hannu Oittinen

The translation of Estonian fiction into Finnish dates back approximately 150 years. The first book ever to be translated from Estonian was a small collection of fairy-tales, Wiron satuja, in 1847. It was considered to be a work by Fr. R. Faehlmann, even though it also included tales that were not his own and which had already been published in J. H. Rosenplänter's Beiträge in the 1820s.

Nowadays, the total number of Finnish translations of Estonian fiction published is at least 209 titles. According to a list compiled by Jouko Vanhanen, 119 titles were translated previous to 1985. According to Juhani Salokannel, 25 translations were published during the period 1986-1988, which was the peak of translations after the Second World War. Since 1988 and up to the end of 2001, 65 new titles have been issued. These statistics also include translations made in Estonia, and in the Soviet Union, but they do not include reprints, manuscripts, internet publications, nor texts published in the press, e.g. the translation in Johannes Semper's novel Punased nelgid which was published in Työkansan Sanomat 1955-1956.

Judging by the number of translations and numbers of pages, the Estonian writer who has been translated most to date is Jaan Kross with 12 Finnish translations. Surprisingly enough, Eno Raud also has 12 translations - though far fewer pages. The next places go to Friedebert Tuglas (9 translations), Mati Unt (6) Valev Uibopuu, A. H. Tammsaare, Jaan Kaplinski and Mats Traat (with 5 each).

During the last decade of XX century, Finnish translations have been giving the reader insights into historical and (semi-) autobiographical prose (Jaan Kross), but also into our times and current problems (Emil Tode). In many translations, the problematic Soviet era is dealt with and criticized (Heino Kiik, Raimond Kaugver, Viivi Luik, Maimu Berg, Kaur Kender), but the new era of independence has not yet been reflected in translations.

Estonian prose - and even poetry - seems to be mostly written by men. A tendency for men to do the writing can even be seen in the few translations of children's literature! In prose, only Elo Tuglas, Maimu Berg and Viivi Luik have been able to break this front of male authors during the 1990´s. ???The notion of male-orientation sharpens in the framework of all the Finnish translations from Estonian.NE PONIMAYU??? Does the reason lie in Estonian literature itself or is this merely a matter of the texts chosen?

In translations of poetry in the 1990´s, male poets Aivo Lõhmus, Karl Ristikivi, Jaan Kaplinski, Sass Suuman and Jan Rahman were translated, and women's poetry was represented by Ellen Niit, Kauksi Ülle and Elo Viiding. The only anthology of poetry, Salatanssia tilantyhjää (1990), was dominated by angry young men - the only woman of the seven authors being Merle Jääger. This number of translations (8) could only offer a glimpse of Estonian poetry - but it did of course reflect its object much better than the translations made from literature produced in the other Baltic countries in the same period: only one book from Latvian, and none at all from Lithuanian. This also reflects the general trend: in translations of Baltic literature in Finland, Estonia is an oasis, Latvia and Lithuania are the desert, "death's twilight kingdom…"

In poetry, translation competitions are a Finnish peculiarity, which have been organized by the Oulu city newspaper Kaleva since 1982. As a result, books of poetry by Debora Vaarandi (Tuulen valossa, 1982), Hando Runnel (Punaisten iltojen purppura, 1988) and, more recently, Karl Ristikivi (Ihmisen matka, 1998) have been published.

To the outsider, the popularity of Estonian detective stories in Finland may seem surprising. In the 1990s, a total of 5 Estonian books of this popular genre by Juhan Paju, Elmar Valmre and Mati Unt were translated, even though it would seem that the Estonians themselves have paid little attention to them.

The latest translations are both traditional and modern. Halleluja, an anthology of short stories, and Wikmannin pojat, both by Jaan Kross, continue the long line of translation's of work by that author, a tradition that began in Finland as early as 1982 with the novel Keisarin hullu. The works by Ervin Õunapuu Piirrä minulle kaupunki (Eesti gootika) and Ekke ja Sirlimai (Väike palveraamat, both translated by Matti Panula-Ontto) and by Kaur Kender (Itsenäisyyspäivä, Hannu Oittinen) give an insight to the latest Estonian prose by male writers. A short story called Karthagon pikajuna by Mats Traat, was published by the translator, Martti Rauhala, himself.

This last translation may seem marginal because of its bibliophilic character (the total print run is only 120), but actually the number of translations is increased even by these kinds of small, alternative, publishing ventures such as that of Rauhala. Activities of this kind not only enrich the versatility of translations but also serve as an example to some eastern Finnic cultures.

In the near future, there will be translations of works by A. H. Tammsaare, Andrus Kivirähk, plus anthologies of Estonian poetry and prose.

Nowadays, Estonian literature is also being presented on the Finnish internet. The Illimar web-magazine, to be found on the Tuglas Society homepage, publishes a number of Finnish translations of new Estonian texts (www.tuglas.fi/illimar).

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