There are a lot of books, in which Helsinki is in a main or supporting role. The Deep´s top 3 books focus on history and the essence of Helsinki. These books do not discuss modern Helsinki.
1. Kjell Westö;
Where We Once Walked (2006)
This Finlandia prize awarded novel was Westö’s breakthrough. The book describes Helsinki from 1905 to 1938, and a transition which took place during those years. It starts when Finland was ruled by Russia, moving through the civil war into an independent nation approaching the second world war. Westö’s way of describing the citizens of Helsinki and the different layers of the society in the midst of huge political changes is warm, touching and genuine. A TV-series and movie were made based on this book, too. Helsinki plays an important role also in Westö’s other production.
The book includes the Finnish Civil war´s dramatics in the city divided by Pitkäsilta bridge and an interesting description of the secret saloons during the prohibition era. The history of Helsinki, the streets and city districts play an important role on Westö’s writing.
2. Bo Carpelan / Pentti Sammallahti;
Staden/Kaupunki/La Ville/The City (2006)
This little 4-language illustrated book of poetry is absolutely beautiful. The rhythm of the pictures and texts bring out quintessential Helsinki. Or maybe the streets of Helsinki, the sea, the people and the buildings inspired two artists to create snapshots and sentences that are not dependent on time or place.
Anyway, the book is a really fantastic souvenir for someone, who can appreciate Scandinavian art, or who understands Finnish, Swedish, French or English. The translations are all in the same book, and easy to follow.
3. Jukka Viikilä:
Watercolours from a Seaside City (2016)
A Finlandia prize awarded book about the building of Helsinki starting from 1816. The German architect Johan Carl Ludvig Engel was instructed by the tsar of Russia to build a new capital city on the isolated and unreachable area near the Baltic Sea. Engel’s fictive diary shows gentle aquarelle sceneries of the city and of the main architect back in the 19th century.
After reading this book your thoughts of Helsinki as the beautiful pearl of the Baltic Sea may change a bit. At least the starting point 200 years ago was not very flattering:
… this is the most repulsive place, I’ve ever travelled to. One could say that when something is put aside, it is dumped to Helsinki.
Do you want to read Finnish literature? Try these:
● Väinö Linna: Under the North Star (1959-1962)
(better understandig to Finnish history and culture)
● Old literature classics: Aleksis Kivi, Mika Waltari, Arto Paasilinna
● New literature classics: Tuomas Kyrö, Sofi Oksanen, Ilkka Remes, Anja Snellman, Juha Seppälä, Pirjo Hassinen, Katja Kettu
● Literature for children: Kirsi Kunnas, Tove Jansson, Mauri Kunnas, Sinikka ja Tiina Nopola, Linda Liukas
● Poetry classics: Eino Leino, Edith Södergran, Lauri Viita, Pentti Saarikoski