Thursday, 23 August 2007

What is passion?

In the Aristotelian rhetorics, passion equals to pathos, a mode of speaking opposed to ethos and logos. Speaking passionately, raising feelings. Listening to a lecture this week, I was suddenly asked how I understand passion, and the question struck me truly.

Passion is not simply knowledge or feeling, it's a way of being in this world wholeheartedly, deeply. I think people of all cultures, walks of life and temperaments can be passionate, their ways of expressing passions just differs. There are shy and quiet Pasionarias, and there are those who talk for hours foam coming from their mouths. There are passionate lovers and passionate miniature railway collectors, passionate gardeners and passionate militarists - what matters is the degree of devotion to one's passion: the long hours devoted to cultivation, the risks, the obstacles, the small pleasures, the sweetness of success after hard work and struggle.

Passion is mostly about faith, and quite much about spirit. It means trusting in the constant emergence of life, walking barefoot and admiring the weakest buds, talking equally to people and flowers, the visible and the invisible. A passionate person is sensitive to the fact that our everyday life consists of endless choices, and that small choices may matter more than big ones. When we breathe well and stop to think for a second before saying possibly catastrophical things, then we are walking on the path of passion. When we are able to focus on the essentials in our lives, when we feel our day hasn't been wasted, but we have done something to build on for tomorrow, then it's probably been a passionate day. And the wonder of waking up to the sound of fairy tinkles in our ears, that's even better.

The Persian poet Rumi's slogan was: "To hear the song of the reed, everything you have ever known must be left behind." These words are my wallpaper, the kind of phrase that translates to me every day in a different way. In relationships it means that you can't build lasting love without having courage to let go of past affairs - and we cannot expect to enter love with too many pieces of unclaimed luggage. In writing and other creative work passion means that every day is a promise, and the reed orchestra plays within only if we allow the unexpected to call in. I don't know much about other arenas, as my biggest passion seems to be writing with love, but my idea of devotion is crystallized in the figure of the swirling dervish: endless circles in the worship of the Beloved.

When the lecturer asked me about passion, all I could answer at that moment was that I understand passion not only as neverending talk but the ability to sometimes remain silent, and the skill to make this busy world quiet down, when necessary. Most people would argue that silencing people is totalitarian, and the end of politics, but I think the most political thing one can do nowadays is to calm oneself and others down, to make us stop running, buying things we don't need, getting hyped in the media, drunk by our own power, uninterested in the powers of others.

Being silent together with others is the biggest intimacy one can think of, the greatest honour you can give to the ones you love. And then, after silence, let's play some music that lifts us up.

Thursday, 16 August 2007

Kun Shivani otti rastat

Miksi koskaan kiljuimme riemusta,
miksi ikinä tanssimme häitä,
meidän lintumme
lensi pesästä ja
hän lensi
kauas pois

Mistä astrologit kirjoittivat,
mitä kartoistaan lukivat,
että lintu naisi
jumalan ja
toisi sukuun kunnian

Kaikki päivät
he tanssivat
toreilla ja
viidakkokeihäs palaa

Kaikki yöt
he riekkuvat
katoilla ja
räkättävät turhaa

Vesipiippuja ja
tukka täynnä
märkää villaa

pelkkä laatikko,
jonne sateet
saapuvat suojaan

Tuesday, 14 August 2007

Kanada tulee käymään

Ehkä Kanada tulee käymään tällä viikolla.

Mieleni seikkailee päivittäin mitä eksoimmissa paikoissa,
mutta kun kuulen sanan Kanada,
olen täynnä ristiriidatonta mielihyvää,
johon ei liity antropologinen uteliaisuus,
ei poeettinen draivi,
ei eroottinen lataus,
vaan joku lapsellinen Peek-a-boo,
joka saa koko kehon hytkymään.

Ehkä Kanada tulee käymään, mutta
pelkään pahoin,
mitä vierailu saa aikaan.

PS: Kirjoitelman tarkoitus oli opetella kuvien lisääminen Bloggeriin. Jos onnistuin, saatte lisää Kanadaa loppuviikkoon mennessä!

Sunday, 12 August 2007

Outrageous writing (Thrity Umrigar: The Space Between Us)

There are writers primarily motivated by beauty and other writers by social justice. There are writers burning with desire to explain their unknown culture to the outside world, and other writers writing from within that culture, focusing rather on what can be universally understood as social. Thrity Umrigar (b. 1961) is a social writer, who in an interview claims to write mainly of issues that cause in her rage and fury. The first such issue in The Space Between Us is class, which even in highly divided India remains an unspoken territory.

Although it took her only six months to complete The Space, Thrity Umrigar started writing her second novel in her mind already as a teenager. She was a self-proclaimed socialist since early teenage and rebelled against her relatives' ways to treat the servants. The first novel, Bombay Time, seems to be thematically interrelated, as a saga of the life of a middle-class Mumbai apartment building and its inhabitants. The Space is also situated in Mumbai, as a story of a mistress and maid. The protagonist is an elderly slum-dweller, Bhima, who travels daily to work for Serabai, a middle-aged widow living with her married daughter and son-in-law. Serabai's family belongs to the Parsi minority of India, an ethnic group originating from Persia, who escaped Muslim religious persecution, settling down in India ca. a millennia ago. Umrigar, herself a Parsi, does not write from a particular Parsi perspective as her more inward-oriented Parsi colleague, Bapsi Sidhwa, does. As a writer, her voice is more worldly than Sidhwa's; she seems to have worked out the issues of communal memory and belonging for herself before setting out to write. In a refreshing way, The Space Between Us, is not about minority rights or identity politics.

The protagonist Bhima is a lower-caste Hindu, which is not really a group denominator in India - Bhima's position in society is rather marked by the facts of her slum residence and lack of education. The space between the two women is not a gap both are eager to fill, but rather a space determined by hierarchical power relations and social distance. Umrigar portrays the mistress Serabai as the most benevolent and understanding employer, who even goes to the extreme of paying Bhima's granddaughter's college fees. However, this does not translate as an easy friendship across class. The notion of gratitude automatically steps in. The donor is not expected the same kind of loyalty as the recipient should express; the one who feeds can bite the hungry hand.

As class and caste are always intertwined in the Indian context, Umrigar tries to find more nuanced words to speak about the hierarchies. The keyword that feminist theorists nowadays cultivate, intersectionality, seems to be also on Umrigar's agenda. Brought to narrative, it becomes more than a mere political slogan. It becomes a way of studying details, such as why a domestic servant who has become a kind of family member is not allowed to sit on the sofa and is given separate utensils to eat with. Intersectionality helps us discover the content of "kind of, but not quite". It describes distance in people's bodies, how someone who through speech champions human rights can be disgusted by the lower class subject's ways of chewing tobacco or using foul language. Lack of hygiene, lack of sanitation. Universally, slums smell of shit. That's the bottom line.

Umrigar's "social" contains leftist messages, inasmuch as a writer based in the US and publishing through a high profile mainstream publishing house (HarperCollins) can do. She studies the possibilities of class struggle from the system within by asking, what are the limits of domestic servants' loyalty, where the loopholes for rebellion and opting out can be found. If in a country like India, there in fact are alternative jobs for illiterate elderly women like Bhima - the question is raised, but not answered. She also covers themes that are not particularly media-sexy in the neoliberalist literary marketplace: trade unionism (or its lack in India), literacy, domestic violence, abortion and HIV/AIDS (how many many HIV/AIDS-related novels or films have you come across since the higher availability of medication for patients in the West?). Her characters are not particularly politicized, not obvious change agents in their community, but people who perhaps in more ideal circumstances would have the power to mobilise others. Umrigar does not want to provide the reader easy characters, Hollywood heroines for white women to shed tears with, rather she gives us complexity, people with surprising edges. The political, then, is not demagogical, populist building of ideal types. It begins from what the reader makes out of such a novel, what kinds of afterlives it has "out there" at the street level.

As an ethnographer working with literacy issues, I admire Umrigar's courage to write from the perspective of an uneducated slum dweller. I would argue that the language she gives to Bhima is too fluent. However, the observations about class and power become crystallized, when Bhima examines her own helplessness with papers and language. Umrigar creates a pre-literate figure who is fully aware of her limitations as a worker and citizen, someone who monitors her speech in front of the more powerful and analyses her own difference from the educated in advanced ways. By living daily with the rich and powerful, she has the spectacles of reading power relations: her employers know exactly what to ask from the doctor, whereas she has never before heard the simple word "infection". The morning paper is one of the daily spaces that separates Serabai from Bhima; although Serabai sometimes reads the news out to her servant, it is the difficult words that build the gap. Bhima has, however, the meta-language to deal with her own situation. Many adults struggling with literacy problems don't.

If I were to include The Space Between Us in my teaching (which might indeed happen), it would not be a course on Indian women's writing. I find many affinities in Umrigar's writing with the African-American feminists (or some would prefer to be identified as "womanists"), who also write strongly about mixed emotions across race and class. Texts such as Maya Angelou's I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, Alice Walker's The Color Purple, and bell hooks' various autobiographical works, would be excellent company for Umrigar's prose, with similar narrative force and political power beyond emotional identification. What happens beyond tears, what other force good literature has than to make us weep, these are the questions I would like to ask from my students. If Umrigar writes outrageously and makes also the reader outraged while reading, what is the afterlife of our emotions, where does rage lead us? Good literature never leaves us with mere phantom pain, it gives us tools to cope with everyday life and similar problems in our locality. Umrigar does this, she brings the reader from the box of tissues and boxing gloves to political analysis.

Saturday, 11 August 2007

Oh Hanif!

Oh Hanif, what a lousy fan of yours I've been! I thought I've gone through all of your writing, seen most of your films, but until last week I didn't know you've written a memoir. Since 1990, I have worshipped you, on and off. Your name even appears as an appetizer in the introduction of my PhD thesis, in a narrative of my pre-history with "all things Paki" - it was through you that British-Pakistani subcultures came alive in my mind. Both The Buddha of Suburbia and The Black Album were key novels in my growing up history of the 1990s. Lately, I have often returned to the lifeworlds of the more recent novel Gabriel's Gift, admiring your skills to write about the monotony and depression of middle age. And particularly, your sturdy grip on class questions. The politics that doesn't preach.

Secretly, my wildest dream is to learn to write a novel in your guidance. I must have read your work in that light since The Buddha of Suburbia. I would like to cause an anonymous nobody at the other edge of Europe the same kind of worshipping effect that you have caused in me. So apart from name-dropping, I've made the wise decision never to mess up my Hanif Kureishi fanhood with things academic. This is why I can still write about you, or even to you, with such pleasure now.

My Ear at His Heart (2004) is, in fact, a biography of Kureishi's father, or, more accurately, a coming of terms with the father-son relationship more than a decade after the father's death. This seems to be a universal genre in memoirs: middle-aged authors turning inwards to examine family history and pondering about the ethics of writing. If the parent is dead, the child is suddenly freed from fear of hurting the parent, but the death is also a haunting territory: when the parent is not there to give his or her approval to the writing, there is a risk of being grossly unethical. Like Kureishi asks: "What have I been doing, opening up father like this, examining, diagnosing, operating on him, so that this work feels like a cross between love-making and an autopsy?" (114)

Kureishi has clearly succeeded in his quest. He does reveal many family secrets, out of which the most painful ones are not his male relatives' likes of alcohol and extramarital affairs, but his father's lifelong dream to become a successful novelist. In a typical South Asian upper middle class manner, he dreams his dreams soaked in the classics of English literature, and his ways of writing are obsessional, pedantic and almost self-destructive. From the son's point of view, the father led a more artistic life than himself, although he became successful young and has made a brilliant career by the age of 50.

Kureishi's dad spent a lifetime working as a clerk in Pakistan's embassy in London, without diplomatic ambition as he poured all his energies to writing. The story circles around the inevitable sadness of never getting one's voice through, despite one's deep love and passion for literature. Such stories of misunderstood artists can perhaps be found in most families, so the question remains, what can the coming generations learn from them?

It seems Kureishi is writing the memoir as a gift to his own sons, who may not otherwise become interested in the complexity of their South Asian past. So what kind of gifts are there to be found in the family archives? Wouldn't it be every child's right to have a skilled storyteller parent like Kureishi as a mediator between generations? The memoir is built around the father's rejected novel manuscripts, and through reading and re-reading them, Kureishi engages in a conversation with his father - a conversation without closure, as finally there is no fundamental secret out there to be revealed.

I was reading this memoir soon after Vikram Seth's Two Lives (2005), another London-based South Asian family saga. Though fascinated by Seth's family's unbelievable connections to world history (far wilder than Kureishi's), I have not managed to finish it yet. I enjoyed the story but his way of writing didn't appeal to me directly; I had to work very hard to enter the story, and I remained in it as a polite outsider. Seth's way of memoir-writing is encyclopedic, so full of details the writer becomes easily exhausted. Kureishi, on the other hand, invites the reader right in, without recourse to distancing politeness. He has the skill to stick to the essentials, work deeper on the psyche and relationships, and weave the inner journeys together with philosophy that is not transcendental, but a kind of theory of human creativity, a theory of writing. For example:

"I came to see groups as a "third" space, between being alone and losing oneself in a large organisation. The purpose - writing - was still personal, but you saw where others fitted in." (170)

In this memoir, I particularly loved the "theoretical" bits: his relationship with Freud and Jung as introduced to him by his psychotherapist uncle, the meditations on immigration and exile, the abstractions that were never dry. The history of British left-wing and anarchist movements of the 1970s and 80s are also there, as well as a delicious element of cultural studies.

There is no perfect text, which which one would feel unanimously in harmony. For me, a satisfying reading experience always involves irritation. Here I was intriqued by Kureishi's ambivalent relationship with feminism: having dated and lived with many, he embraces feminism as a political movement and acknowledges its effect on his personal life: "If feminism released women from the exclusive maternal function, it enabled men to reclaim that place. Being a good father means being a good mother too, and more puzzlement about the respective role of both parents." (239) With this autobiographical political statement in mind, it truly puzzles me that in a literary-oriented memoir, Kureishi does not acknowledge a single woman writer as an influence, either to him or to his father.

The literary history in this memoir is pure Boyology, segregated from the everyday lives of women, and the ideal type of the serious writer is an angst-ridden, solitary male. I would expect more from an author with obvious feminist sympathies at many (sexual? socio-political?) levels, that he would also include women in his intellectual history. Women relying only on women writers as intellectual references are usually considered militant man-haters; male writers doing the same in the gallery of male authorities still seem to be doing the "normal" thing, based on some millennia of canonical practice.


Noloa tunnustaa, että asuttuani neljä vuotta Suomen teatterimekassa osallistuin ensimmäistä kertaa Tampereen Teatterikesän antiin eilen. Kyseessä oli off-ohjelmiston kappale, teatteri Undan esittämä, Taija Tuomisen romaaniin pohjautuva Tiikerihai. Tiikerihaita esitettiin kahtena eri versiona, toinen kuului varsinaiseen ohjelmistoon, ja tämä, pienempi produktio, oli osana festivaalien alternative-osastoa.

Äidin ja tyttären väkivaltaisen kipeä dialogi käytiin moniäänisesti, viiden äiti-tytär parin voimistamana. Pidin suunnattomasti tästä ohjauksellisesta ratkaisusta: katsoja sai kuvitella tapahtumat kymmenestä eri perspektiivistä, kuulla erilaisia äänen sävyjä, vaihtaa silmälaseja ja asettua tarinaan eri kulmista. Kielenkäyttö oli rankan räävitöntä, sanat sattuivat (ja samalla viihdyttivät) moninkertaisesti verrattuna muutamiin lyönteihin ja tönäisyihin, ja naisten välinen kiroilu oli jotenkin vanhakantaisella tavalla matrilineaarista. Näytelmän maailmassa mies oli lähinnä lapsen siittäjä, kiimainen ori tai keinodildo. Yksi isähahmo ja tyttären poikaystävät häivytettiin lähes statistin asemaan.

En ole ehtinyt lukea Tiikerihaita tekstinä, joten en edes yritä saada aikaan syvällistä teatterikritiikkiä. Olen tavannut Tuomisen kirjoittajakurssillani ja saanut taustoitusta tekstin syntyyn. Ilokseni bongasin kirjailijan itse myös Vuoltsun intiimissä katsomossa - kaikki tuotantovoimat olivat esimerkillisesti läsnä. Olisin halunnut kysyä Tuomiselta hänen suhteestaan suomalaisiin feminismeihin: mihin kohtaan suomalaisen naisen historiaa Tiikerihai asettuu, onko tragikoomisessa mustassa maaperässä mahdollinen emansipaation elementti?

Itse pidin Tiikerihaissa eniten juuri sen historiallisesta momentista: Suomen nopean kaupungistumisen sosiaalisesta analyysista. Näytelmän aikana ehdin kelata mielessäni erilaisia kuvia äideistä ja tyttäristä, meiltä ja maailmalta, ja sana rakennemuutos kiteytyi näin: en ole reissuillani kohdannut missään niin raivokkaan erilaisia maailmoja kuin suomalaisten 60-70-lukujen kasvattien suhteessa vanhempiinsa. Kun sikatalouskoulun kasvatin tyttärestä tulee tohtorisnainen, historiallisesti siinä on jotain hurjaa, jonka käsittelyyn voi hyvin mennä monta sukupolvea. Voisi puhua radikaaleista luokkahyppelyistä, jotka tätä nykyä ovat vaihtamassa suuntaa: moni tohtorisnaisen lapsi valitsee ammattikoulun kommenttina äitinsä sisäsiistiin, analyyttiseen elämäntapaan.

Undan esityksessä oli paljon viehättävää kotikutoisuutta, jotain keskeneräistä, mutta lukematta alkuperäistekstiä oletan, että sen henki pysyi uskollisena Tuomisen tarkoitusperille. Esitys tavoitti ainakin nuoremman katsojan, siinä oli räsymattojen ja maitotonkkien keskellä absurdia vääntöä ja irtiottoa kaikesta, mitä kaupunkilainen maalaiselämään mielessään liittää. Rekvisiittaa oli riittävästi, yhtään enempää en olisi kaivannut. Musiikkia olisin toivonut näytelmään enemmän, jopa Tiikerihai-iskelmän parodista toistoa, niin että kotiin lähtiessään katsojan korvissa soisi sen paikallisen sovelluksen kakofoninen melodia.

Sunday, 5 August 2007

Direct speech from the HLM (review of Faïza Guene: Kiffe Kiffe demain)

During the past few years, I've become acquainted with different varieties of immigrant Swedish through recent fiction. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said about immigrant French. Its varieties still seem unavailable to me. There isn't much of a market for French novels in the original where I now live. Instead, I found a Finnish translation of the young Moroccan-French author Faîza Guëne's Kiffe Kiffe Demain (2004; Finnish: Hällä väliä huomisella, LIKE, 2005). Such novels always end in bargain bins within a few months of their publication. However, they do get translated, due to state sponsorship, and the small minority who enjoys them gets to buy them for next to nothing (less than 2 euros).

I really fell in love with this novel's voice. The story is not that exceptional. It is almost monotonous. This is the reality that most of us who work with low-income immigrants are faced with throughout Europe: welfare dependency, school drop-outism, drug addiction, high rates of divorce. The young narrator Doria, however, makes a hell of a difference: one virtually swims in her pants and starts to analyse the whereabouts of suburban Paris according to her system of values, according to her points. The humour is pitch black, and Guëne doesn't let anyone get away with it - everyone gets their share of ridicule and shame.

There is the Moroccan father who escapes back home to marry a youngster who will produce a male heir. There is the middle-class native social worker, who is only interested in her own forthcoming wedding. There is the drug dealer who tries to change, and there is the illiterate mother, who learns how to read. And all this can co-exist peacefully, if the voice is fresh and wicked.

There is the new phenomenon of Muslim comediennes in most Western countries struggling with distorted representations of Islam. All this is more than welcome. I don't think Guëne even tries to build any particular image of Islam; she is working on a common reality shared by all recently arrived immigrants living in the Parisian HLM districts. Guëne works at the level of Euro Miracle stores, with people who might even sometimes feel proud about being able to make ends meet. The protagonist Doria goes to school dressed up in the euro miracles and flea market treasures, pink t-shirts with sleepytime bunnies on them. She doesn't particularly dream of being dressed up like everyone else, which makes her a genuine oddity. She also drops out from the hairdressing school she is assigned to because of her low marks.

I expect a lot from Guëne. Her narration seems ideal for TV series, or documentary films. I wish someone in this country wrote like her, directly from the "roots", without snobbery, without any desire to impress. The class perspective makes Guëne's narrative differ from the usual upwardly mobile multicultural jargon. When the point is not providing second generation immigrants a recipe of how to get out of the ghetto, we may be moving towards new directions in postcolonial literatures. How to intervene in language, how to find new ways to speak about life right here and now, where it is currently being lived, that is really something that will give hope to us all.

On sensual writing (review of Marsha Mehran: Pomegranate Soup)

Could anything be more mass-media-sexy than writing about Iranian refugee women trying to settle down in rural Ireland by running a steamy kitchen called Babylon Café? Just follow the recipe and the next summer's total girlie-relaxation-on-the-beach-novel is in your hands.

I bought Marsha Mehran's Pomegranate Soup on the hols, from the tax free shop of a Viking Line ship, because I was bored and needed some distraction from bingo and the ball sea. I was ecstatic about the recipes (baklawa! elephant's ears!) and am going to experiment with them as winter approaches, because many of the dishes seem ideal, when it's -20 degrees outside and the wind storms in from the porous window frames. The book was certainly worth buying, just for the nutritious value. But what do I have to say about the story itself?

Something positive. The novel was historical. It taught (in a light and entertaining way)ignorant Western readers about the social conditions of the Iranian revolution of 1979. There were even poems by the feminist poet Forrugh Farrokhzad, with whom everyone should get acquainted with without delay. It was a gripping narrative of tight escapes, which didn't reveal everything. Knowing something about Iran, I thought the Iranian side of the narrative (the personal refugee's account) was quite OK, a bit of change from the usual girlie novel content, but then to the Irish side...

Full of touristic clichés about Catholicism, pubs, Irish masculinity. Parochial attitudes, superstition, church-going ladies watching the heathen Amazons from behind their lace curtains, wishing ill for the young women's notorious restaurant. A Catholic priest seduced by foreign food. Culinary metaphors used when dealing with sexuality. You who have read Laura Esquivel's Like Water for Chocolate, or seen the film Chocolat, can already guess the plot.

Pomegranate Soup is not desperately bad writing, it is just easy and predictable, faithful to the genre of women's holiday fiction. It teaches me something about the over-use of sensual elements in texts dealing with cultural difference: the description of food and clothes is always the safest way to approach difference, but it is also dangerously essentialist, freezing cultures on their predetermined planes.

What happened in the city of Mariehamn while I was reading Pomegranate Soup? There in the middle of the faraway island town, right on the main street, I happened to walk in an Iranian grocery store, decorated all over with plastic pomegranates arranged in bowls just like in the novel's cover image. Of course it sold the selfsame herbs that the novel described. It was the only "ethnically" oriented grocery store in town. Coming home with my packages of gorme sabzeeh and cinnamon tea, imported via Sweden from Tehran, I again realized how easy it is to shop for cultures, and how difficult it is to write about them in a way that would put us in motion instead of locking us in.

Monokulttuuria purkamassa (arvio Marianne Backlénin teoksesta Linnoitukset)

Olen Marianne Backlénin romaanien ihanteellinen esilukija, akateeminen, keski-ikää lähestyvä kaupunkilaisnainen, joka on innostunut Euroopan ulkopuolisista kulttuureista tässä ja nyt. Siksi minun ei pitäisi arvioida hänen romaaniaan Linnoitukset (2005), ja sisäisestä varoituksesta huolimatta teen sen silti.

Backlénin romaanit ovat saaneet hämmästyttävän vähän huomiota suomenkielisissä medioissa. Olettaisin, että Backlénin kaltainen yhteiskunnallinen kriitikko olisi kysytty kommentaattori suomalaista monikulttuurisuutta käsittelevissä ohjelmissa ja seminaareissa. Vaikka olen viime vuodet lähes asunut ko. tilaisuuksissa, en ole koskaan tavannut Backlénia livenä. Edelliseen suomennokseen, Karmaan, olen törmännyt juuri siellä, missä olettaakin törmäävän, yliopistolla keskusteluissa nuorten monikulttuurisuudesta kiinnostuneiden naisten kanssa. Onko hänen teostensa maailma liian erikoistunut? Kuvaako hän tuntemiensa vähemmistöjen elämää liian sisältäpäin, jotta aihepiiriin vähemmän vihkiytynyt lukija pääsisi niihin sisälle? Backlénin romaanit ovat kompleksisia, monisyisiä ja taatusti ajankohtaiskeskustelua ruokkivia - miksi sitten niin harva lukija on ne löytänyt?

Linnoitukset kuvaa keski-ikäisten, maailmaa paljon nähneiden, korkeasti koulutettujen aikuisten arkea pääkaupunkiseudulla ja Loviisassa. Romaanin luokkaperspektiivi on vahva, näkökulma on hyvinvoiva, keskiluokkainen, vaikka sivuhenkilöinä on myös turvapaikanhakijoita ja lähiöissä asuvia hanttihommien tekijöitä. Kuilu näiden todellisuuksien välillä on selkeä, eikä Backlén yritä kerronnallisesti tasoittaa sitä. Miksi pitäisikään?

Päähenkilö Ulrika Nurminen on kaksikielinen teatteriohjaaja ja kirjailija, jonka kolmella lapsella on kaikilla eri etnisen taustan omaava isä. Yksinhuoltaja-Ulrika asuu prameasti Eirassa, viettää aikaansa naisystäviensä kanssa kantakaupungin terasseilla ja sukunsa huvilalla Loviisassa. Hänellä on enemmän aikaa pohtia monikulttuurisuuteen ja rasismiin liittyviä yhteiskunnallisia kysymyksiä kuin huonommin toimeentulevilla kanssasisarillaan. Ulrika on monikulttuurisuuden spesialisti, pioneeri ja avainhenkilö, joka on elänyt suomalaisen etnisen moninaisuuden keskellä 1970-luvulta asti.

Romaanin tapahtumien siirtäminen pääkaupunkiseudulta Loviisaan on onnistunut ratkaisu. Näin Backlén onnistuu näyttämään, ettei kaikki monikulttuurisuus ole Mogadishu Avenueta, etteivät kaikki kohtaamiset eivät tapahdu itähelsinkiläisen vuokrakasarmin rappukäytävillä. Ja koska Backlén ei valitse valtaväestöä kosiskelevaa jaritervomaista kerronnallista strategiaa, jossa kulttuurieroilla revitellään ja niitä liioitellaan, hänen kirjojaan myydään vähemmän eikä romaaneja ole filmattu.

Teos ei ole murhamysteerio, vaikka yksi pääjuonista onkin afrikkalaisen näyttelijämiehen murha. Romaani ottaa vauhtia murhasta, mutta päätyy lopulta tutkimaan pikkukaupungin sisäisiä sosiaalisia jännitteitä, rasismia, piilorasismia ja paikallishistoriaa. Erityisesti Loviisan kaupungin vaiheiden auki kirjoittaminen osana tsaarinaikaista Venäjää räjäyttää oletuksen suomalaisesta monokulttuurista. Kun paikkakunnalle saapuu kaksi äärioikeistolaista amerikkalaista rotututkijaa, jotka etsivät Suomesta kadonnutta myyttistä valkoista voimaa, ja erityisesti kun päähenkilö Ulrika ajautuu suhteeseen toisen heistä kanssa, ei soppa voisi olla sekavampi. Näin Backlén rakentaa ristiriitaisia, itsensä kanssa kroonisessa epäharmoniassa olevia henkilöitä, joista kaikilla on oma historiallinen likapyykkinsä pestävänä. Postkoloniaalissa teoriassa tätä voisi kutsua koloniaaliseksi osasyyllisyydeksi: ymmärrys maailman postkoloniaalista tilasta lähtee oletuksesta, ettei kukaan siitä keskusteleva ole historiallisten valtasuhteiden uusintamisen ulkopuolella. Siksi itseään edistyksellisenä pitävä, transkulttuurisen perheen äiti sekaantuu rasistiin, jopa siihen pisteeseen asti, että miesystävän saapuessa vierailulle hän siivoaa kirjahyllystään kaikki liian poliittisesti kantaaottavat teokset.

Backlén kuvaa onnistuneesti transkulttuurisia heteroseksuaalisia suhteita, eri kulttuureista tulevan miehen ja naisen välistä arkista valtataistelua, valkoisen naisen voimaa ja voimattomuutta ja epätyypillisiä perhejärjestelyitä. Hänen vahvuutensa on rehellisyys: hän ei pelkää näyttää, mikä taloudellisesti ja kielellisesti epäsuhtaisissa parisuhteissa mättää. Siksi hänen romaanejaan voisi pitää sosiologisina minitutkimuksina suomalaisten perheiden arkeen, arkeen, joka alkaa olla todellisuutta yhä useammille meistä sekä maalla että kaupungeissa. Linnoitukset, ja erityisesti tätä edeltävä Karma, puhuttelee kaikkia, jotka itse elävät transkulttuurisessa todellisuudessa. Perhesuhteet leviävät maailmalle ja lapset lentävät lomille New Yorkiin ja Kuala Lumpuriin. Sen kanssa on elettävä. Toiset elävät sujuvammin, toisille arki aiheuttaa hankaluuksia, pelkoa ja paniikkia.

Kerronnan kosmopoliittisuus on paikoitellen myös uuvuttavaa: moniulotteisia sivuhenkilöitä pursuaa joka nurkan takaa, jokaisesta sähköpostiviestistä, joka Atlantin ylittävältä lennolta ja kaikista juhlista. Henkilöiden runsaudensarvi vaatii lukijaltaan ilmiömäistä muistia. Vaikka olin itse kovin kiinnostunut Backlénin tavasta muistella päähenkilöiden 1970-ja 80-lukujen ulkomaanvierailuja, erityisesti opiskeluja Iowan yliopiston kirjoittajakoulussa, olisin lukenut tästä aihepiiristä mieluummin erillisen romaanin kuin kappaleen romaanissa, joka on paikoitellen halkeamassa liitoksistaan.

Olisin viihtynyt Linnoitusten kanssa erinomaisesti puolella siitä informaatiosta, minkä romaani nyt välitti. Backlén pyrkii pysymään uskollisena moniarvoiselle ja hyvin monimutkaiselle todellisuudelle, jossa monet transkulttuuriset perheet reaalimaailmassa elävät. Hän ei pyri siloittamaan tätä hankalaa maailmaa tai lakaisemaan maton alle lieveilmiöitä, jotka kuuluvat tematiikkaan. Lukija oppii kautta rantain myös Afrikan mantereen kielitilanteesta, USA:n afroamerikkalaisen eliitin elämäntavoista, unohdetuista karibialaisista kirjailijoista. Häneltä voisi silti kysyä, onko kaunokirjallisuuden tehtävä paljastaa henkilöhahmojen koko seksuaalinen historia, ja kaikkien eksien tämänhetkiset olinpaikat. Tai onko romaanin tarkoitus luennoida kulttuureista, joita emme vielä tunne? Mitä tapahtuu romaanille, kun kulttuuriset yksityiskohdat alkavat taistella huomiosta itse tarinan kanssa? Kuinka sosiologinen romaani voi olla tullakseen arvostetuksi taidemuotona, kertomakirjallisuutena?

Backlén on renessanssityylinen kirjailija, jonka runsaudensarvesta pulppuaa riemukasta poliittista analyysia ihmissuhdehetteikönkin keskellä. Hän noudattaa uskollisesti kirjoittajapiirien tunnettua ohjenuoraa: romaani on sika, joka syö kaiken. En usko, että kukaan hänen romaaneihinsa tarttuva jää kylmäksi. Ajankohtainen, puhutteleva romaani voi herättää myös paljon negatiivisia tunteita. Riitasoinnuissaan ja rosoisuudessaan Backlén on kirjoittanut romaanin, johon on helppo tarttua. Siksi nostaisin Linnoitukset lukemistoksi kaikkialle, missä monikulttuurisuuskysymyksistä keskustellaan jokapäiväisen elämän tasolla.