Who do you want?
You want for President!
-Because he’s nastier.
-Because he smells like fish.
-Because he can swim.
-Because he loves icecream.
By Hobo Highbrow, email@example.com
When I first met the author Pauli Ahtisaari he was sitting on a bench in a park in Helsinki feeding the ducks. He had just finished volume 20 of his autobiographical work “My Life”. Now was the time to sit down for a couple of minutes before diving into work again with a new novel he was planning called the “The Clumsy Ballerina from Tampere”.
One day Marketta Kaukolinna finds a dead body in her garden. Chief Inspector Kaari Vainikainen has to leave her tennis lesson to start investigating a possible murder. The body turns out to be the ballerina Taina Paasio from the Helsinki Balley. Marketta Kaukolinna’s
Pauli Ahtisaari as a young writer at the time when he had already finished the first ten volumes of his autobiographical work “My Life”. Photo: Antero Ahtisaari
neighbours, Anita Suntila and Teemu Repo, claims to have seen nothing, but Chief Inspector Vainikainen isn’t sure about that. She and her partner Emilia Karonen start out on what shall turn out to be a dangerours travel through the world of classical balley.
– What do you think? said Ahtisaari when he had finished.
– Sounds good, I said.
– Do you like Pizza with pepperoni? he asked.
– No, I said.
– Very well, he said and went away in the direction of a shop selling vacuum cleaners and umbrellas.
The writer Pauli Ahtisaari working on his novel “The Clumsy Ballerina from Tampere” in his office in Helsinki. This is the only photo of Ahtisaari as an adult. Photo: Kari Nummi
The conversation with Mr. Ahtisaari had put me in a strange mood. I stayed there on the bench in the park until the darkness surrounded me and I couldn’t see any of the ducks anymore.
Why had he asked whether I liked pizza with pepperoni?
And who had murdered the ballerina Taina Paasio?
The questions went through my mind over and over again on the way back the hotel where I sat down with my laptop on my knees and googled the name Pauli Ahtisaari.
“Ahtisaari was born in 1957 in a little village in Karelen in the South-East of Finland. He ran away from home already as a three year old because his father gave him strange names like “Little Cucumber” and “Lazy Squirrel” and his mother only made one dish for every meal: porridge. He travelled around Europe and settled in the south of France. Later he studied potato print in Aix en Provence before publishing his first novel “No more porridge please” in 1962. This was an autobiographical novel about his love-hate relation with his mother, father, brother, sister and dog back in Karelen.”
View from Pauli Ahtisaari’s working room in Helsinki.
It took 15 years from when my poetic and naivistic novel Humle & Honning was published by Tiden Norsk Forlag in Oslo to it finally being translated to German and being published as an e-book by Saga Egmont this year.
I remember when my publisher Tiden Norsk Forlag went to the Frankfurt Book Fair in 2001. They had made big posters of the covers of the two titles they would expose most heavily at the fair. Humle & Honning was one of them. The posters were glued on cardboard, and I wondered how they would manage to bring them all the way by plane to Frankfurt without damaging them.
The publisher had awarded me, the author of Humle & Honning, with their own literature prize that year, Tidenprisen, for authorship and for Humle & Honning especially. This novel doesn’t resemble any other Norwegian novels, really. A quote from the Danish writer Jens August Schades novel „Sie treffen sich, sie lieben sich, und ihr Herz ist voll süßer Musik“ in the start of the book indicates a poetic playfulness, but also a little darkness underneath it all.
I use to call the book a children’s book for grown ups and a romantic novel. In the 80-ties and 90-ties I had translated a heap of romantic Harlekin-novels to Norwegian, and in Humle & Honning the story more or less follows the same standard pattern as in a romance, but the language and the characters are following their own ways completely.
Tiden Norsk Forlag didn’t suceed in Frankfurt at that time. I think I saw the big poster later stowed away somewhere in my publisher’s offices, and I regret I didn’t ask them to give it to me so I could take it home with me. Actually the publishing house was going through turbulent times, and I don’t think they had the connections to sell a book like Humle & Honning to the right publisher in Germany or anywhere else…
A few years ago I was on the lookout for a publisher of e-books for my novel Die Ordnung der Worte, published as hardcover in German with Rockbuch/Edel in 2007 and translated by Christine v. Bülow. Another translator, Gabriele Haefs, pointed the Danish publisher Lindhardt & Ringhof in Copenhagen out to me, a publisher who recently had established an imprint for e-books and audio books by Scandinavian authors in German – Saga Egmont. Within short time Die Ordnung der Worte was on the market both as audio book (read by Sebastian Dunkelberg) and eBook.
When this was done I thought the time was due to let Humle & Honning finally be available in German, as eBook first. A test translation was made by Christine Von Bülow some years before and Saga Egmont agreed to let her translate the rest and publish it as eBook first, then probably as audio book later this year.
Saga Egmont is also planning a print-on-demand service for all their their eBook titles. But most of all I would like to get a proper hardcover edition published with a traditional publisher in Germany.
I knew from the start that this book has a great potential with readers abroad, and of course Germany had to be the first stop.
According to the Brazilian Igor Brito his translation of Pål H. Christiansens novel Drømmer om storhet is being undertaken with great care and affection to all Portuguese language readers in the world. He is trying to approach a language that triggers doubt, curiosity, reflection and inspiration, an invitation to the reader to the universe of words and their various meanings and senses, which is the soul of the book. We had a chat with him just before Christmas about the progress of the work.
– Hi Igor. You have been so kind to work with the translation of Pål H. Christiansens novel Drømmer om storhet in your spare time for a while. Can you give us an update? How much work is left with the translation?
Well, I’ve had a tough time with my teaching responsibilities, other translations, appointments and personal matters that I had to reorganize my schedule. In the meantime, I could read the English and Italian translations of Drømmer om storhet, as well as the original book. It was a profitable and rewarding time because I needed to mature and perfect my skills as a translator, to provide Portuguese language readers a unique experience, honoring the stylistics, pragmatics and symbolism of the three works merged as one, without losing Pål’s essence, which is the seasoning of the Portuguese version for me. From now on I want to work at a good pace. It’s hard to set a deadline for the final result, but I’m working hard to have one chapter done every two or three weeks.
-You have been learning quite a bit of Norwegian during the recent years. Do you find Norwegian difficult? What is really different from Portuguese?
Portuguese is a Romance language and Norwegian is Germanic. They are in different branches of the great tree of language, but they belong to the same root of this tree. Both Portuguese and Norwegian are Indo-European languages, and both suffered great influence of Latin and Greek. I don’t know exactly how each linguistic phenomenon occurred in the course of time, but they share many morphological and phonetic similarities, as seen in words like interessant, trist, gravid, ferie and dozens more, and have similar isochrony in their syllables. I’d not say difficult is the right word. I consider written Norwegian more tangible than spoken Norwegian. Learners need some time to master listening skills.
– What challenges have you met in the translation of the novel?
When a literary work is translated into another language, it is necessary to use many linguistic resources, since every language has its own way of expressing themselves. That’s when stylistics, pragmatics and symbolism come in because there are parameters or paradigms, and nuances that may or may not sound good to a certain word, phrase or even a whole thought compared to the other language.
– Can you describe why this novel should be interesting for the Portuguese reading audience?
Drømmer om storhet has Waaktaar-Savoy as the core and foundation for the unfolding of the plot, highlighting his mastery with words and how he was the driving force and inspiration for the turning point in Hobo’s life. In particular, Brazilians have huge admiration for Waaktaar-Savoy’s work, and I believe that his image linked to a novel will bring attention to Portuguese language readers, not only in Brazil, but also other Portuguese speaking countries.
-Apart from the Waaktar-Savoy theme, what qualities in the novel would you point at for any reader of fiction as such?
Pål H. Christiansen and Hobo seem to be the same persona when you go through the novel. He embodies Hobo’s saga in his writing with such passion and creativity that both seem to have the same dream. We can sum up the novel as the pursuit for dreams through the making of words as an art form as though they were paintings or pottery. Pål was so avant-garde with the stylistics and his own features in the book that it would make a very sophisticated prose-poetry work. Without any doubt, Drømmer om storhet is source of inspiration for anyone who can make life worth living and has the words as a mighty weapon to create or change anything for better.
– It still remains to find a publisher for the work. What are the chances in Brazil you think?
Perhaps this question is the most difficult of all. A short-term speculation would be dishonest of my own. In this digital age, you need to analyze a number of pros and cons, and cost-benefit to release a physical book, especially in the case of Brazil, which has very little appeal and incentive to the purchase of books. For now, my intention is to publish chapter by chapter on social networks and spread the work, to see the public acceptance. Once the translation is completed and proofread, we’ll see what happens.
Igor Brito is making progress with his translation of Drømmer om storhet to Portuguese. We are happy to present chapter III of Sonhos de Grandeza, where Hobo Highbrow is reflecting about being a struggling artist – just like Magne, Pål and Morten of a-ha in their early days in London. Here are Igor Britos own words on the translation of Drømmer om storhet (Sonhos de Grandeza) to Portuguese:
“Este trabalho está sendo feito de com todo o cuidado e carinho para todos os leitores em língua portuguesa do mundo. Estou tentando abordar uma linguagem que cause dúvida, curiosidade, reflexão e inspiração, um convite ao leitor para o universo das palavras e seus significados variados, que é a essência do livro.”
“This work is being undertaken with great care and affection to all Portuguese language readers in the world. I’m trying to approach a language that triggers doubt, curiosity, reflection and inspiration, an invitation to the reader to the universe of words and their various meanings and senses, which is the soul of the book.”
For chapter 1-2 and chapter 3 of Sonhos de Grandeza and other news about fan translations read here
-Heard the news? said Haagen in the other end of nowhere.
I was walking down Havreveien at Manglerud towards my terraced house, mobile to my ear, sniffing the air like some child on the outlook for winter. There was definitely winter in the air but no snow to be seen.
-I soon will, I said.
-How come? said Haagen.
-When did you ever keep a secret for more than five minutes? I asked.
I stopped by the house where Paul used to live. The windows were staring empty at me, but I could imagine how Paul and Magne met here and made some of their first songs in the basement. How they walked this street as young boys with their dreams throbbing along with the rhytms of their longing hearts.
-They say a-ha will split up, said Haagen.
-So you have finally read yesterdays newspapers? I said. –May I send you my most deeply felt congratulations?
-If that makes you feel better, yes, said Haagen.
-Consider it done, I said.
There was a silence in the other end. What was he up to? And where was he up to something? Was he talking in his mobile in the chapel again? Sitting on the floor by the organ with his saxophone in his arms like it was a silly little dog? I had a growing feeling that he was going to be rude again, against me and God and a couple of other chaps from Manglerud.
-They say a-ha will give in on the top. But if “Foot of the Mountain” is the top, Mount Everest is the ground floor of Empire State Building, Haagen burst out.
-I’m glad you didn’t study architecture as you once was thinking of, I said.- An architect must surely now where to put the roof on a house.
-Never to late to follow a dream, said Haagen. –But this a-ha thing is only about the money, be sure.
-They deserve every penny, I said.
-I thought retirement at around 50 was for firemen and prostitutes, said Haagen.
-Wash your mouth! I said.
-What about a beer today? said Haagen then.
-I’m a family man now, Haagen. –I only drink beers in weekdays with an r in it.
-Ok. What about Saturday, then?
-Good idea, I said.
A musical based on my Fjodorbooks with songs by Felix Janosa was staged in Landshut in Germany in December 2014. I had a little chat with director Barbara Pöschl who was in charge of “Fjodor frecher Kabeljau”.
Pål: – Why did you want to stage a musical about Fjodor in Landshut?
Barbara: The idea to do Fjodor came through my search for a new childrens musical with music by Felix Janosa. We had a success with his Ritter Rost a few years ago. So I asked Stephanie Böhm at Terzio if they had a nice story to offer. She suggested Fjodor and told me how much she liked him. I read the books, liked him also and decided to try.
Pål: Was it difficult to find a good actor for Fjodor, and how did you make him behave and appear as a naughty fish?
Barbara: The Singer-Actor of my Fjodor is the perfect cast. He also was my Ritter Rost. The kids liked him a lot, also as Fjodor…even if it really was not so easy to create a fish-figure for the stage. I always had in mind that he has to be funny, nasty, a little obnoxious and mean – but loveable. He should be a showoff. Kids intuitively classify that and put his actions in the right order… I think.
Toni, that’s my actor’s name, has the right feeling for it and he is very good with the kids, exactly sensing how far he can go, not to scare them.
Of course, the outfit had to be more a phantasy-fish than a ‘cold’ fishcostume. It took me a while, to figure out, how to do it. But then it was very easy, also to create Siri, Maike and Finja. With their pastelcoloured, fluffy, shiny costumes they became a contrast to the ‘real people’ on stage.
Pål: – Did you use playback music or live music?
Barbara: I used the playbacks. Everything else would have cost to much money and time.
But I arranged the music for my chorus girls Siri, Maike and Finja – who cannot talk! And so it became a nice different sounding touch. The chorus comments everything by singing.
Pål: – You have even made the script for the Fjodorplay that is distributed by Musicals on Stage. What did you do to make the stories and songs about Fjodor work on stage?
Barbara: I actually wrote two different textbooks. One, which allows children as actors, and the other one which I did in Landshut with adult actors.
The childrens setting is a combination of your first and third book and many children can participate. The adult setting is a mixture of your first and second book, where you only have 7 actors to manage. This aspect was important to me. And also: I chose the second book, because it’s the only one where Palles mama appears as a real person- not only being talked about. Well, I think a theatrical setting for children should show a whole Family, not? In your third book we have the kabeljau family, by the way.
Going along the stories I created dialogs, which allow to put the different episodes into action ….in which Siri, Maike and Finja play an important part….
I think the adult stage concept is working nicely.
Pål: – There was a third show in January this year. Will there be even more?
Barbara: I like to push Fjodor at least in Landshut by trying to bring him back on stage at the end of this year.
My problem is, that neither my Fjodor-, nor my Palle-actor, have time to participate. So I have to find substitutes. Well, I’ll see and let you know.
Are you interested to bring Fjodor on stage in Norway? A nice idea, isn’t it? But in any case, if we play Fjodor again here, it would be very special to have you as our guest.
Pål: – Can you tell me a little about yourself, your background with music and your work in Landshut?
Barbara: Professionaly I am an opera singer… not being into opera anymore. Several years ago I got into coaching musical-groups and doing my own music-shows with a classical touch. I always was very interested in music-theater and how to organize everything – staging, singing and the technical parts.
And, with the experience of success, you start to try more, don’t you?
So we’ll see what adventures the future will bring.
From Pål H. Christiansen novel “Harry var ikke ved sine fulle fem“, Gyldendal Norsk Forlag 1989
Translation by Ingerid White
I am not very good at crossing streets in the full light of day, when the traffic is heavy and there are a lot of things going on in the city. It’s then that I can stand transfixed on the first white stripe of a street crossing, or squeezed between the bumpers of two parked cars as I look over toward the other sidewalk with what I expect someone would call a spellbound expression on my face. In the big city I normally conducted my life in sync with the cars. I let the sidewalks guide me to the traffic lights, where small green men are employed to lead me safely across the street.
Today I walk straight across, without looking in either direction. A large delivery truck approaches from the left. I see it out of the corner of my eye when I’m in the middle of the street. The driver shouts at the top of his lungs, his wheels screech, and his horn blasts some hoarse sounds that remind me of another time on a foreign continent, and as these memories flash through my mind, I walk on. I must admit that I was a bit startled when I saw that the car had stopped where I’d been just an instant before, but now I’m on the other side of the street, on the sidewalk actually, and see no reason to turn around. I am on an errand and cannot stop to see what might have happened if I now lay plastered to the window of a delivery truck.
I continue straight ahead and through a door. Then up a couple of steps and through some hallways. I keep going until an office worker stops me.
“Wait a moment. Mr. . . . ?”
“The name is Highbrow,” I say. “I have an appointment with the publisher.”
“He’s busy at the moment. Would you like to have a seat and wait?”
I sink into a chair with the suitcase safely clamped between my legs.
“I’m here to deliver a manuscript,” I say.
“There are plenty who try,” she says, and looks more closely at me. “Have you been here before?”
“Highbrow. Hobo Highbrow,” I reply.
“Now I remember you,” she says. “It was you who wrote the book on the herring fisheries in the Barents Sea.”
I stand up. I’ve had enough.
“Where are you going?” she asks.
“To the john,” I reply.
I walk straight ahead toward a large, closed door that opens just as I am a few yards short of it, and a man walks through. I have never seen the man before. He’s about 30 years old, dark blond hair, average height, horn-rimmed glasses, and looks as if he’s just been told his book has been accepted and that it will be translated in 14 languages immediately. He looks as if he has a large advance in his breast pocket and Theatre Cafe is lighting up his eyes. He smiles confidently at me. I nod briefly and whiz into the publisher’s office.
He has just opened a window and headed for his desk. He looks at me with those sharp eyes of his.
“You?” he says, with as much enthusiasm as if I were a casual lover who has now suddenly and inconveniently shown up in his life again.
I don’t have a chance to answer, because I stumble on a wrinkle in the carpet and fall. The suitcase flies out of my hand and sails up into the air. It opens up, and white pages sift down like snow, just as a breeze blows in and takes a good number of them out the window.
But what is it that is blending into all that white? Something gray and glistening has crept far out of a plastic bag and is gliding in a long arc toward the publisher’s desk!
“Close the window, for God’s sake,” I yelled. But the publisher has taken refuge under his desk, and there’s little hope of help from there. It seems as if he’s sitting there, passively and deliberately, while my papers are being sucked out the window.
I crawl on the floor to the window and manage to close it. The papers fall, as one, like snow and arrange themselves in a thin layer over the entire room.
“What is this, may I ask?”
The publisher has appeared again. He is pointing to that which is lying littering the desk.
For the first time in my life, I don’t manage to say the word that otherwise runs like Cod Liver Oil out of my mouth. “It is a . . .,” I say.
“A . . .”
“It is a haddock,” I say.
The light bounces off his eyeglasses. “This is actually a cod fish.”
‘My God,’ I think. ‘Does the man think I’m stupid?’
But it seems as if the publisher had already made up his mind about something, before I’d even come through the door. I see it in his eyes. It’s as if someone has decided to count me out. Him and the guy I’d met on the way in, perhaps.
“What in the hell is this?” I ask. “A plot?”
I get down on all fours and gather up the papers that haven’t been blown out of the window. The relationship between a publisher and a writer must rest on trust, but already at this early and vulnerable stage the publisher has decided I’m dumb. I cannot let a man take charge of my book who thinks I don’t know the difference between a haddock and a cod fish – a book, incidentally, that with a little puff of wind has been reduced by two-thirds.
I stuff all the papers into the satchel. The cod fish finds its way back into its plastic bag. It looks a little the worse for wear, but now we will be going straight to a café and have ourselves a drink.
I turn in the doorway and look at the publisher. “I know a word that begins with the letter ‘k’ and rhymes with haddock,” I say. That word describes you.
The office worker looks at me coldly as I leave.
“Who was that arrogant shithead who came in before me?” I ask.
“They say he is promising,” she answers.
“No,” I say, and put my hands over my ears. “I don’t want to hear it; don’t want to hear it!”
“Kristiansen,” she says.
“What?” I ask. “Never heard of him. With a ‘C’ or a ‘K’?”
“With a ‘Ch’,” she answers.
In front of the café I stop and peer in through a window. I’m looking for Higgins. The windows are filthy. I write my name on the window pane, but rub it out with the back of my hand, making a little clear space to look through. I wipe the muck on my pants and take a look. Higgins is standing in there behind the counter.
He doesn’t see me come in. He’s standing with his back to me, doing something. Music is streaming out of speakers on the walls. When I get nearer, I see what he’s doing. He’s making open-faced sandwiches. He’s swaying his hips gently in time with the music.
He doesn’t seem surprised to see me. I find the reason why in the mirror over the sink.
“Ready?” asks Higgins.
“Absolutely,” I say. “It’s finished.”
“How many pages was it?”
“I don’t know. They’re scattered by the wind, most of them now,” I answer, and explain.
Higgins pours port into two glasses.
“Skaal,” he says.
“Skaal,” I say.
“You should have better luck at a different publisher.”
“Ha!” I say.
“Do you have a copy of your manuscript?”
“No,” I say.
“My condolences,” says Higgins.
“Thank you,” I say.
And so we drink. I take the cod fish out of the satchel.
“Do you have something for this one? Does he need something strong?”
“I recommend a bath.”
“Anything will do. Water, I know, is something he’s familiar with.”
Higgins laid the fish under running water in the wash basin.
“What now?” he asked.
“Yes, what now?” I said.
“You’re not giving up, are you?”
“Maybe my time as a writer is past. Maybe I must find something else to do. I could be a bus driver instead of Henry.’
“Or work in a café in the capitol,” said Higgins.
“But you do that yourself.”
“Or a factory worker.”
“But where, then?”
“In a factory,” suggested Higgins.
I hesitate for a moment outside the café. I have the satchel in my hand, and there lies the cod fish, once again in its bag. I had asked Higgins if he wanted it, but he had nowhere to keep it, he said. The guy clearly didn’t like cod fish, either.
“What now? Shall I go up the street, or down?”
A sheet of paper blows past me down the street towards the park. I grip the satchel and pad after it. It’s a nice day, after all. In spite of the wind. In spite of the cod fish. In the park, I sit down and gaze at the blue sky.
The paper had gotten hung up in some bushes, but the wind has torn it lose, and it’s now actually making its way toward me, ending up my feet.
“Hey!” it says.
“Shut up,” I say. “I want to be alone.”
“Won’t you pick me up?” it says. “It is you, after all, who has written on me.”
“No.” I say, kicking it away.
The ducks down by the pond have gathered together in a corner. It looks as if they are in some way or other in deliberation over something. Now they are walking altogether in a flock over to me.
I tell them like it is, that I don’t have any bread for them. “Not a dried-out little scrap of crust,” I say. Maybe they don’t believe me?
It doesn’t look as if they do. They press close to me and look at me with those empty eyes of theirs. Do they intend to kill me?
“If you don’t believe me,” I say, “I can open my satchel and take out my underwear, and the papers you can’t read, that aren’t especially useful to ducks.”
Their bills are rooting around in my hands when I flip open the lock and uncover the plastic bag with the long object inside.
‘Aha!’ I think. ‘Cod fish and ducks, hand in hand.’
I let the cod fish slide out of the bag behind the bench, close the satchel, and leave without a glance back. I don’t stop before I’m standing outside the entrance door to a brick house, staring at a large panel of buzzers. One of them is mine.
“The funniest debut novel I can remember to have read ever,” the Norwegian critic and essayist Henning Hagerup wrote in his review of “Harry var ikke ved sine fulle fem” way back in 1989. Hobo Highbrow from “Drømmer om storhet” (2002), appeared as one of several main characters in this book.
Looking back to the end of the 1980-ties it’s hard to imagine that Hobo Highbrow, the protagonist of “Drømmer om storhet” (The scoundrel days of Hobo Highbrow), started out being just a name appearing in a piece of short prose that developed into my first novel «Harry var ikke ved sine fulle fem».
The novel was published in 1989 with Gyldendal Norsk Forlag. At this time I was living in Risør, a small town on the south coast of Norway, and I can still remember the moment the editor at Gyldendal, Oddvar Aurstad, called from Oslo and said that my manuscript was accepted.
Some of the shorte prose from the manuscript had already been published in the litery magazine Vagant the year before, and some more were accepted by Lars Saabye Christensen to be published in the antology Signaler later in 1989.
The first draft of this manuscript, at that point a collection of short prose where all characters had names starting with an H, was handed over to the publisher the year before. And since they liked my writing, they wanted me to develop the manuscript.
My response to this was to incorporate the collection of short prose into a kind of post modernistic, chinese box type of novel. This novel was a play with genres and writing styles and identities that tranformed. It started out as a detective novel where the detective is searching for the author of a short prose collection called “Harry var ikke ved sine fulle fem”.
The author’s name is Hobo Highbrow, a not so succesful writer, who in the final pages is trying to deliver his manuscript at his publisher, before he ends up before an apartment building, the same building he is moving from in “Drømmer om storhet”.
The cover illustration of “Harry var ikke ved sine fulle fem” is a painting by Nicolas de Stäel, the favourite painter of the writer. The painting belongs to Henie Onstad Art Museum, Høvikodden.