What Happiness Is / Mitä onni on

Otava 2008, 191 pp.

From Petri Tamminen. Tamminen (b. 1966) is known in Finland as a master of short prose and laconic humor. His work has often consisted of page-length vignettes, and even when writing in longer formats, as in the short novel What Happiness Is, the focus remains on trenchant observations of individual phenomena. To summarize What Happiness Is very briefly: two friends set out to write a book about happiness. In the process, the protagonist manages to destroy much of what might have formed the basis for his own happiness.

As a reader, Tamminen’s work speaks to me. He captures the experience of being a man in contemporary society in a way that few authors do. Although there is little in common on the surface, I associate him strongly with Hermann Hesse in his ability to capture the essence of the masculine experience. But whereas with Hesse the struggle is generally of the lone man, the academic or the ascetic, Tamminen’s man is man in context–above all the young to middle-aged father, the man interacting with other men, and the man with nothing in particular to recommend him to anyone, yet with the necessity of getting from one day to the next. In this regard, I also associate his work with Steinbeck’s The Winter of our Discontent, although Tamminen’s humor tends to make his visions more bearable.

Tamminen’s other works include Elämiä (‘Lives’, 1994), Miehen ikävä (‘Male blues’, 1997), Väärä asenne (‘The wrong attitude’, 2000), Piiloutujan maa, (Hiding Places, 2002, trans. 2007 Aspasia Books), Muistelmat (‘Memoirs’, 2004), and Enon opetukset (‘Learning from my uncle’ Otava 2006). In addition to English, Tamminen’s work has been translated into Swedish, German, Latvian, and Czech. Tamminen has previously been awarded the Kalevi Jäntti Prize (2002) and been nominated for the Finlandia (2006) and Runeberg (1997 and 2000) Prizes. Tamminen is a journalism graduate of Tampere University. He lives in Vääksy, Finland, and works as a freelance writer.

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Books from Finland Review

Hiding Places / Piiloutujan maa

Aspasia Books. 2008. 109 pages.

This is a themed set of short stories by Petri Tamminen (Otava 2002). The starting point is the impulse toward seclusion–the original title is literally “land of the hider”.

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Article by Soila Lehtonen in Transcript.

Some of the pieces from the book were also previously translated by my colleague David Hackston and can be read in the Books from Finland archive here.