Interview with Leena Krohn

One of the greatest visionaries in Finnish literature Leena Krohn answers HLA’s questions.

In this in­ter­view I would like to fo­cus on books for chil­dren, or those that are labeled this way since your works are of­ten de­scribed as lit­er­a­ture that knows no age lim­its. How do you imag­ine your read­ers when you write and how do you see the dif­fer­ence be­tween a chil­dren’s book and a book for adults?

I nev­er imag­ine my read­ers. I imag­ine the char­ac­ters and ge­og­ra­phy of my sto­ry. The first idea and the evolving sto­ry it­self cre­ate the bor­ders and the at­mosphere. Who­ev­er my read­ers are I al­ways try to be like H.C. An­der­sen, one of my favourite writ­ers: ”short, clear, rich”.

The books Green Rev­o­lu­tion, Chil­dren of the Sun and many oth­ers have been beau­ti­ful­ly il­lus­trat­ed by your sis­ter Inari, who has made a long ca­reer as a vis­ual artist. How did you cre­ate these books, did il­lus­tra­tion fol­low text? Or have you worked with the ideas to­geth­er? Can you tell a lit­tle bit about the process.

My text in Green Rev­o­lu­tion fol­lowed all the way Inari’s il­lus­tra­tion. In all my oth­er il­lus­trat­ed books the text has been first. I nev­er cut in my sis­ter’s il­lus­tra­tions or the graph­ic de­sign­er Mar­jaana Vir­ta’s work. She has been the de­sign­er of my books soon for 40 years. They are both ex­traordinary pro­fes­sion­al artists and they know their ideas best. I have al­ways been very sat­is­fied with the re­sults.

In your re­cent books, The Broom (Lu­u­ta) and Bosom Friend (Sydänys­tävä), you have also done the il­lus­tra­tions. How has it been dif­ferent?

They have been ex­cit­ing ex­er­cis­es, not easy at all, which have giv­en lessons to me to ap­pre­ci­ate, even more than ear­li­er, the work of real artists. I re­al­ly en­joy playing with col­ors, with words I must of­ten strug­gle.

In many of your sto­ries strange things seem fa­mil­iar, not un­like in Al­ice in Won­derland. There is an am­bi­gu­i­ty whether it’s a dream that re­sem­bles re­al­i­ty or re­al­i­ty itself is dream­like. How do you see this line be­tween re­al­i­ty and fan­ta­sy?

When I was ten, I read the ti­tle of Pe­dro Calderón’s play Life Is a Dream. It felt so prop­er to me that I thought it as my favourite phrase. Lat­er I have learned that in some schools of Bud­dhism re­al­i­ty is lit­er­al­ly un­re­al. In my nov­el Datura, or A Figment Seen by Everyone and in many oth­er works I have re­turned to these philo­soph­i­cal and spir­i­tu­al themes. Our so­cial re­al­i­ty is very lim­it­ed, we have ac­tu­al­ly no pos­si­bil­ity to know ab­so­lute re­al­i­ty.

In your sto­ries, and in chil­dren’s lit­er­a­ture in gen­er­al, the most ex­cit­ing things of­ten hap­pen to chil­dren. In New Opabinia a small girl finds a pre­his­toric crea­ture no adult cared for. In The Pel­i­can’s New Clothes pel­i­can dress­es like a hu­man and lives just like any­one else. Grown-ups don’t no­tice any­thing, but chil­dren see right through the pel­i­can’s dis­guise. What do you think it is that chil­dren see and grownups don’t?

Chil­dren have not yet learned all the con­ven­tion­al ob­ser­va­tion habits. Adults see what they know, chil­dren know what they see.

At least two of your chil­dren’s books ad­dress our lives in cities. The Green Revo­lu­tion is an ec­o­crit­i­cal sto­ry that tells about ac­tive cit­i­zen­ship. A group of chil­dren gath­er for a protest and save a park from be­ing paved over. In Bosom Friend (Sydänys­tävä) a lady can­not keep a bee­tle as a pet, be­cause the city pro­hibits it. What do you think are the most im­por­tant ques­tions about our life in cities?

Na­ture in cities must be pre­served not only for birds and in­sects but for hu­man health and peace of mind, too. There should be a lot of green roofs and trees on every street and square to cre­ate shad­ows, bet­ter cli­mate and health­i­er atmosphere. I hate this seal­ing and clos­ing ide­ol­o­gy, which now is con­trol­ling city plans in Hel­sinki with dull and mas­sive ar­chi­tec­ture.

IBosom Friend you de­pict your home­town in a very sen­si­tive and in­ter­est­ing way. What three of your fa­vorite things would you rec­om­mend a vis­i­tor to do in Hel­sinki?

Nowa­days Lo­visa is my home­town. I rec­om­mend a vis­i­tor The Uni­ver­si­ty of Hel­sinki Botan­i­cal Gar­den, The Na­tion­al Li­brary of Fin­land and The Mar­ket Square.

What are you cur­rent­ly read­ing?

Iida Tur­pei­nen: Elol­li­set (Beasts of the Sea), Lyn­dall Gor­don: The Im­per­fect Life of T. S. E­liot

Finally, a version of the famous Proust Questionnaire, used by the legendary French journalist Bernard Pivot at the end of every broadcast of his literary television talk show Apostrophes.

What is your fa­vorite word?

va­paa (translated as “free”)

What is your least fa­vorite word?

niin­ku (translated as “like”, used as a filler when you’re thinking of what to say next)

Who are your fa­vorite writ­ers?

H.C. An­der­sen, Al­bert Ca­mus, An­ton Tshe­hov, Edith Söder­gran

What sound or noise do you love?

chil­dren’s laugh

What sound or noise do you hate?

chain saw

What pro­fes­sion oth­er than your own would you like to at­tempt?


If Heav­en ex­ists, what would you like to hear God say when you ar­rive at the Pearly Gates?


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