Rosa Liksom: Dark Paradise
When I think of Finland, the impressions I get are twofold. The first, as should be obvious, is of a country covered with lakes and forests touching upon the Arctic circle, which was the case in Arto Paasilinna’s The Howling Miller. The second is of its darker side, of how it has one of the higher suicide rates in Europe and how bleak the impression it gives. During a recent browse of a book shop I happened across Dark Paradise (1989) by Rosa Liksom, a Finnish author, artist, and filmmaker, and on picking it up I’m happy to report that it falls into the latter camp and, rather than dwell on the darker side of Finland, it revels in it.
Dark Paradise is a collection of untitled short stories, most of which rarely stretch as far as four or five pages. They are split into two sections, Domestic and Foreign, and provide sketches of Finland’s dark underbelly, covering all manner of nefarious subjects, a mere sample of which includes murder, suicide, drugs, and sex abuse.
The stories tend to be told in the first person by unnamed narrators, a trick that offers out a multitide of voices ready to be claimed by the people of Finland who may sympathise in this or that direction, such as the militant:
I’m a sixth-generation nationalist, and proud of it. I’ve made it my mission to lead the country forward, to promote its traditions and ideologies, and I intend to do so at every opportunity. At school I tried to explain to my class that one day those goddamn Russians are going to come and stain red our blue-and-white flag, but something must be wrng with them, because they didn’t pay attention.
And when the rare third person story comes along, the prose continues with unnamed characters, always getting involved in the scene yet maintaining its distance:
The sun was shining behind the factory, coloring the water turquoise by the shore. A boy stood barefoot on the pier with a broom in his hands, squinting in the sunlight. On the pier there were chunks of meat being washed by small waves. The planks were sticky with blood, and white blubber floated on the edge of the shore in long strips. The boy felt small and dejected…He felt sad. All these ice-covered mountain, surrounded by water on every side, the sticky blood and stinking meat would be his fate, too. He would live only in order to lose his life.
The stories of Dark Paradise take place all over Finland, in is cities, fish factories, and churchyards; its bedrooms and prisons; and the tone remains icy throughout, as it brings, with a few broad strokes, the broken lives of its people. Where the Domestic section tends primarily to people’s inner turmoils, the Foreign stories explore when people collide. Amazingly, no matter what happens – shop keeper killed for small change, a rapist subverted, someone living with their dead mother – there’s the sense that what’s happening is right, not in a moral way, but that there couldn’t be any other way for the story to go. It brings the reader to accept these strange people, to accept their strange ways.
As a journey through the underbelly of Finland, Dark Paradise does an interesting job of bringing voices to the disillusioned and unhinged, to the depressed and dependent, although some cases are extreme and stretch credulity. What Liksom does is somehow make these short portraits believable and, with the occasional epiphany thrown in, dliver stories that somehow linger long after they’ve ended, partly for their strangeness, partly because they could happen. If this is Liksom’s idea of paradise, then it belongs to the lost.
December 30, 2007