Cosmopolitans from a linguistic minority:

Finland-Swedish non-fiction

For a linguistic minority group, writing – that is, literature – plays an important role in affirming that group’s identity. The same also applies to non-fiction books and essays whose perspective is rooted in the unique intersection between the Swedish language and the country of Finland. Finland-Swedish non-fiction can be regarded as being part of Finnish writing as well as Swedish (with the majority of the latter category being published in Sweden). It can also be seen as a contribution to a universal literary culture with a Nordic or northern European basis.

Of the 180 titles categorised as ‘non-fiction’ in the Finland-Swedish Bokkatalogen 2011 (‘2011 Book Catalogue’) nearly half are listed under the headings of history, biography, local history or cultural history. This tendency to look back on the past tells of a need to give one’s own version of a larger narrative. In many cases, the impetus may be a remarkable individual life – and it is precisely that biographical aspect that features strongly in the Swedish-language books included in this brochure. Two Finnish legends – the Egyptologist Georg August Wallin and Marshal Carl Gustaf Emil Mannerheim – were born as Russian subjects in the 19th century, when Finland was a Grand Duchy of the empire whose natural hub was located in St Petersburg. Mannerheim had a hand in creating an independent Finland, while Vivica Bandler (1917–2004), a leading light of the theatre world, was a third captivating figure who, like those two men, contributed towards shaping something that was less inward-looking, something more cosmopolitan.

The books on Mannerheim and Bandler were conceived of, written and published in Swedish, each with a parallel Finnish-language edition; the Mannerheim book was also published in Sweden by a publisher based in that country. This division of labour between two or three publishers for one and the same book is quite common, at least for the most talked-about titles. The publishers of Swedish-language non-fiction in Finland are a varied bunch, with numerous small players and a few larger ones. The merger of the two main commercial Finland-Swedish publishing companies prompted fears of a monopolistic situation and a squeeze on opportunities for publication. The new, post-merger publisher, known since 2012 as Schildts & Söderströms, argues that its pooled resources provide greater strength to make an impact.

Among the non-commercial publishers of non-fiction in Swedish are of course the University of Helsinki and Åbo Akademi University presses. The Society of Swedish Literature in Finland, which has a sizable endowment, provides a vigorous complement to them. The Society’s financial muscle enabled Sofia Häggman’s work on the above-mentioned G.A. Wallin’s research visit to Egypt to be realised in a format as attractive and visually impeccable as its fascinating subject-matter deserves.

Trygve Söderling, translation Ruth Urbom