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for Books and Writers
by Bamber Gascoigne

Hannu Niklander (b. 1951)


Finnish poet, short story writer, critic, and essayist, whose style is marked by irony and subtle humour. Niklander has also worked as a creative writing teacher and edited several anthologies of works of aspiring writers. In his short stories he has depicted modern day country life and everyday misfortunes that turn out to be more or less prosperous. As a travel essayist, his work display a keen eye for cultural and historical detail.

Valoisa yötaivas,
toukokuu pudotti tähdet.
Katso ruohikon tummaa vihreyttä,
voikukkien tuikkivia sikermiä,
ojanreunan linnunrataa.

(from Kauniisti niiaava tytär, 1983)
A white night sky,
May dropped the stars.
I'm looking at the dark green of the grass,
the twinkling clusters of the dandelions
on the Milky Way of the ditch edge.

Hannu Niklander was born in Helsinki. His father, Veijo Kaarlo Niklander, was a manager of an estate and mother, Maija-Liisa (Suomalainen) Niklander, a nurse. At an early age, Niklander developed a love for opera. His father took him to see Leevi Madetoja's opera Pohjalaisia, and a year later he saw Charles Gounod's Faust. Among Niklander favorite composers are Puccini and Tchaikovsky.

As a poet Niklander made his debut with Kotiinpäin (Homeward bound), which came out in 1974. It was followed by Maakuntalaulu (Provincial song) in 1979. Before becoming a full-time writer, Niklander studied at the University of Helsinki, receiving his M.A. in 1983.

Niklander has published critics in several newspapers, among others in Länsi-Uusimaa, Porvoon Seutu, Helsingin Sanomat, Etelä-Suomen Sanomat, Suomenmaa and other papers. He has contributed to such publications as Kirjastolehti, Suomen Luonto, Parnasso, Finland's most importanant literary journal, Kanava, a highly influential socio-political discussion forum, and Kaltio, a regional culture journal.

Since learning about de Gaulle's speech in Montreal ending with the famous phrase "Vive le Québec! Vive le Québec libre!" Niklander wanted to visit this French-speaking Canadian province. From the 1980s Niklander, has traveled widely in three continents, and written several travel essays and books. Among them are Tuokiokuvia Euroopasta  (1990) and Vaahteranlehti ja vaakunalilja (1996), in which the narrative voice is that of a lonely traveler, and Kolmelta mantereelta (2016), a collection of travel writings, in which Niklander is accompanied by his family.

Vaahteranlehti ja vaakunalilja is based on Niklander's rail journeys in Canada in 1991 and 1993. It combines personal observations and experiences with wide knowledge of literature and culture of the past and present. Among central themes are Canadian-Finns and French heritage of the country. The writer linms in his humorous way also the nature and rail transport. His literary voice is that of an outsider; Niklander often shows interest in things and words that are out of date, but he doesn't make a point of it. An observer by nature, he often finds himself in a cafe or a train, continually collecting impressions about the world around him. As a tourist he is genuinely interested in museums, churches or other attractions. Many essays have a timeless quality – Niklander has seldom paid close attention to souvenirs, shopping centers, and stylish restaurant dining. Along with Leif Salmén, he has kept alive the tradition of literary travel essay in Finland, a small genre now almost extinct.

In 1999 Niklander received the State award for literature for his novel Aurinko katsoo taakseen (1999), a Bildungsroman with autobiographical elements. It is a tragi-comical story about a father, who tries to find his self-respect from the liquor, and his son, Hannu, who sees through his father's pitiful character. The third person in the family drama is Hannu's mother, disappointed in her life. Hannu, the narrator, grows in the milieu of military traditions, operetta music, and sports, which are cherished by his father. But these cultural settings form a more or less empty social facade. Hannu's father has lost the bottom of his middle class life – reflecting the intellectual and social period of transition in Finland after the war. Hannu Waarala noted in his review of the book (Savon Sanomat, 21.10.1999), that in his narration Niklander consciously rejects fashionable literary trends, and approaches the modernist narration of the 1950s, familiar from the works of Antti Hyry.

Radan varrella varjo (2003) continued Niklander's autobiographical story, now set in the 1970s. The young Hannu serves in the army and then attends a creative writing course. He plans to become a writer. Again Niklander shows his skill in extracting telling insights from small everyday details. The third volume of the series, Kuu jättää jäljen (2006), focuses on Hannu's studies at the University of Helsinki and the years of left-wing radicalism. With Nuoriherra (2019) Niklander enlarged the perspective of his family story. This time the protagonist is his father, Weio, seaching his place in the world after the Finnish civil war of 1918. Unobtrusively, the series seems to be evolving into a micro history of Finland in the 20th century.

Leskimiehen kevät (2000) is a collection of short stories in which a piece of liver sausage becomes a symbol of class distinctions, the last words of a father to his daughter are about a Persian hooker, and a widowed man suspects that his wife was unfaithful. Niklander's humor is again gentle – he doesn't mock his characters but lets them keep their basic human dignity in spite of their follies. "Parhaimmillaan hänen novelleissaan tuntuvat ihmisen arkiset järistykset, jotka tunteiden avoimella asteikolla voivat yltää kauas, vaikka ulkopuoliset eivät niitä huomaisikaan." (Pertti Lassila in Helsingin Sanomat, 21.10.2000)

Niklander is married with Kirsti Salmi-Niklander, who has published studies on folk poetry. They live in Karkkila, a small town about 70 kilometers North-West from Helsinki. Hannu Niklander has also spend long periods in Switzerland, Uppsala (Sweden), and Québec (Canada).

Luon katseen luoteeseen (2014) is a collection of travel essays about the Nordic countries. As in the previous books, Niklander draws attention to the small, concrete details of everyday life; he is overwhelmed by the amount of shoe horns available in his hotel in Spitsbergen, and while in Reykjavik he notices that the water has a strong sulphur smell; "it sticks on the hair and the clothes, it is the characteristic smell of Iceland." On the 500th Anniversary of the Reformation in 2017, Niklander went again to Germany. While in Dresden, he was astonished how the rebuild Frauenkirche was "spotted like a Dalmatian dog": old fire-blackened stones had been incorporated into the fabric of the new church. ('Saksan radanvarsilta,' in Kulttuurivihkot 1/1918) - See also: other Finnish writers who have published travel books: Sakari Pälsi, Olavi Paavolainen, Pentti Saarikoski, Henrik Tikkanen, Antti Tuuri, Mika Waltari

Selected works:

  • Kotiinpäin, 1974 (poems)
  • Maakuntalaulu, 1979 (poems)
  • Kössi Kaatran elämää ja lohjalaisvaiheita: 100-vuotisjuhlajulkaisu , 1982 (essays)
  • Kauniisti niiava tytär, 1983 (poems)
  • Kenkää enolle: uutta lyhytproosaa, 1983 (anthology, with Anja Kauranen and Kosti Sironen)
  • Martti muuttaa / Inge Fischer Sørensen, 1985 (translator; original title: Morten flytter; illustrated by Beatrice Henriques)
  • Suksien surujuhla, 1985 (poems)
  • Köyhä mies ja omena / Janosch, 1986 (translator; original title: Das Apfelmännchen)
  • Klovni sanoo ei / Mischa Damjan, 1986 (translator; original title: Der Clown sagte nein; illustrated by Józef Wilkon)
  • Seitsemän kuutaalaria / Anneliese Lussert, 1987 (translator; original title: Die 7 Mondtaler; illustrated by Józef Wilkon)
  • Sateenkaariniitty / Bolette Bonfils, 1987 (translator; original title:  Regnbueengen; illustrated by Jan Mogensen)
  • Muodonmuutoksia, 1987 (poems)
  • Kahvilavieraan muistiinpanot, 1987 (travel essays)
  • Esko ja Jokiäijä kalassa / Nils Hartmann, 1988 (translator; original tilte: Eske og Åmanden på fisketur; illustrated by Palle Bregnhøi)
  • Öinen kävely: lyhytproosaa, 1989 (short stories)
  • Taikapähkinä / Marbeth Reif, 1989 (translator; original title: Die Zaubernuss)
  • Vackert nigande dotter, 1989 (selected poems, translated into Swedish)
  • Tuokiokuvia Euroopasta, 1990 (travel essays)
  • Sairaskertomuksia, 1994 (short stories)
  • Vaahteranlehti ja vaakunalilja, 1996 (travel book)
  • Aurinko katsoo taakseen, 1999 (novel) - "Romaanin minäkerronta välittää pojan herkän ja ristiriitaisen suhteen isään. Niklander kehittää isästä kaksoiskuvan, joka auttaa myös ymmärtämään otteensa menettänyttä, onttoa ja kärsivää ihmistä." (Vesa Karonen, Helsingin Sanomat 24.10.1999) - "Niklander on tarkkailija ja filosofi, ja hänen oivalluksiaan lukiessaan kokee uein riemastuttavia ahaa-elämyksiä. Myös lempeä, elämänmyönteinen huumori miellyttää." (Pirjo Paloranta, Kouvolan Sanomat, 4.2.2000)
  • Leskimiehen kevät, 2000 (short stories)
  • Radan varrella varjo, 2003 (novel)
  • Kuu jättää jäljen, 2006 (novel)
  • Hopeatornien maa, 2008 (poems)
  • Ille: viimeiseltä jäälautalta / Morten Dürr, Gerd-Karin Nordlund, Ivar Silis ja Boel Werner, 2009 (translator; illustrated by Boel Werner)
  • Ansionsa mukaan: novelleja, 2009 (short stories)
  • Luon katseen luoteeseen: matkakertomuksia Pohjolasta, 2014 (travel essays) - "Esseistä henkii kiireettömyyden, tiedollisen uteliaisuuden, hiljaisesta muutoksesta nauttimisen arvomaailma." (Matti Mäkelä, Helsingin Sanomat, 17.10.2014)
  • Kuinka saa sanoa, 2015 (essays) - "Niklander havannoi herkästi valtasuhteita, muttei jää jankuttamaan niistä. Hänellä on levollinen vieressäseisojan katse." (Ville Hänninen, Parnasso, 6-7/2015)
  • Kolmelta mantereelta. Matkakertomuksia maailmalta, 2016 (travel essays) - "Nopein yksityiskohtahuomioin etenevällä kirjailijalla on norsunmuisti, reportterinsulka ja kirjojen tuntemusta." (Teppo Kulmala, Savon Sanomat, 11.11.2016)
  • Rikottua lasia, 2017 (short stories) - "Keskiajan runoudet, Tshaikovskin viulukonsertot ja oopperat risteilevät luontevasti tarinoiden sisällä. Teoksessa on Torgny Lindgrenin henkistä veijarimaisuutta."  (Rauha Kejonen, Keskisuomalainen,  10.11.2017) 
  • Nuoriherra: loivaa alamäkeä, 2019 (novel) - "Kaiken kaikkiaan Hannu Niklanderin Nuoriherra on sympaattinen ja mukaansa tempaava sukutarina, jonka jatkonkin haluaisi mielellään lukea." (Marjatta Hietaniemi, Kulttuurivihkot 2/2020)

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