Helsinki Card

Author Sofi Oksanen

15.3.2016 Text: Helsinki This Week Photos: Toni Härkönen
My Helsinki: Sofi Oksanen

Sofi Oksanen is a Finnish-Estonian novelist and playwright who made her début in 2003 with the novel Stalin’s Cows. Her international breakthrough came with the publication of Purge. The novel has been translated into more than 50 languages and it has earned numerous awards, including the Finlandia Prize in 2008 and the 2010 Nordic Council Literature Prize. Her latest novel Norma was published in 2015.

Where in Helsinki do you live? How would you describe the area?

I live in Kallio. Kallio is Finland’s most densely populated area, which was built to house workers at a time when Helsinki drew in countryside migrants who came to work in the city’s factories. People have always come to Kallio from elsewhere and it remains Finland’s most multicultural neighbourhood.

Kallio is always open, there’s constantly something going on here. I recommend Kallio to all travellers who want to see a lively and residential part of Helsinki free of tourists. Kallio is home to many people who work in the creative industries and students, and the district is served by the best transport connections in the city. Even the airport can be reached in just 20 minutes.

What in Helsinki inspires you as a writer?

I don’t use the word inspiration, but the events of my latest book Norma mostly take place in Kallio. The characters of my novels Baby Jane and Stalin’s Cows also roamed around Kallio. My stories often involve Helsinki.


Cafe Talo is a good example of a Kallio cafeteria. it also serves nice food and has a fine selection of whiskeys.
2. Restaurant?
My vote goes to the eateries Nokka and Bellevue. Nokka serves Finnish food made with ingredients sourced from local producers. Bellevue, for its part, is our oldest Russian restaurant and an excellent one at that.
3. Shop?
I don’t really have the time for shopping in Helsinki, but we of course have the world’s best Moomin shops. The city centre’s Academic Bookstore is Finland’s largest bookshop and it has a selection of translated Finnish literature, including foreign-language versions of some of my own books.

Can you mention one place where you can feel the “the genuine atmosphere” of Helsinki?

Authenticity is a subjective concept and every citizen has his or her private “real Helsinki”. The sea is always a presence here and it also affects the weather. Helsinki is a capital city and has the services and cultural life that go with this status, yet it is still safe, peaceful and small enough to get around on foot.

What plans do you have for this spring? What are you currently working with?

Right now, I’m writing a libretto for an opera by Kaija Saariaho that will be performed at London’s Covent Garden in 2020. The first night is still far away, but my deadline is fast approaching – the libretto’s deadline comes first in an opera production because the composer can only get started once it is written.
This spring will otherwise be spent on translations of my novel Norma and the related travel commitments. Norma has so far been sold to more than 20 language regions, so I’ll be going places for years to come in this conjunction.

More about Sofi:
Instagram: @sofioksanen

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