Wonderbook Interview with Leena Krohn

Leena Krohn is a Finnish author whose large and varied body of work, frequently translated, includes novels, short stories, children’s books, and essays. Krohn’s most notable titles in English are Tainaron: Mail from Another City, a World Fantasy Award finalist, and Datura (A Delusion We All See). She has won both the prestigious Finlandia Prize for best novel and the Finland Literature Society’s lifetime achievement award. In her books she deals with topics that include human beings internal conflicts, the relationship of people to the world, morality, borders between reality and illusion, and the problem of life, especially through observing different kinds of artificial intelligence.

How did you learn to write? (in other words—self-taught, classes, etc.)

I am not self-taught at all. I have been taught by hundreds of writers. The best (and I think the only) way to learn to write is to read. When I learned that capability at the age of five, I began to read Finnish poetry (first Saima Harmaja, then Uuno Kailas, Eino Leino, P. Mustapää, Edith Södergran). Those poems gave to me euphoric experiences, but sometimes they tormented me, too, because they were going round and round in my head. When I was eight, I found Camus’s The Plague on my father’s bookshelf. Thereafter, it has been one of my literary ideals.

When I was young, there were actually no classes, programs or curricula in Finland to educate oneself as a writer, and if there had been, I would never have participated in them. My school years were hard; I hated the school, and I was a weak pupil in almost all the subjects until the last few years.

What role or roles do your nightmares and dreams play in your fiction?

Dreams are experiences, too, and as a writer you have to use everything you have experienced.

Do you see your own work as surreal or dreamlike?

There are certainly surreal elements in my work. How could it be otherwise? Life is dreamlike and not only dreamlike, but actually a dream (or a nightmare). Besides, I have always admired such painters as Giorgio di Chirico and René Magritte.

How do science and philosophy inform your fiction?

I have studied philosophy at the University of Helsinki, and I wrote one of my academic papers about the philosophy of biology. I don’t believe that I could have written Tainaron, if I had not read the essays of J. H. Fabre as a schoolgirl.

A similar question perhaps: How is nature, the natural world without reference to the human gaze, a part of your fiction?

As a child I watched with pleasure ant nests and rain pools with all kind of insect life. I have always believed that there is intellect, motivation, and aims everywhere in nature, even in plants. Today I read about an intelligent slime mould, which can learn and remember, even though it has no brains. And such organisms exist everywhere around us. We have brains and we are so proud about them, but why do we make the same mistakes again and again?

How much do your stories change in the telling of them, and do you often wind up someplace very different than you expected?

The best moments in writing are those when you wind up in a quite new place. However, it does not happen very often.

What is the relationship between your fiction and your own life? In terms of autobiographical or secretly autobiographical elements?

There certainly exist autobiographical elements in all of my books, but I try to use them so that hardly anybody even in my vicinity could recognize them. And then there exist many elements in my books, which readers assume to be auto-biographical, although they are not.

Why do you write?

There are naturally many self-evident answers to this question like “I must earn my living in some way and this is the only way I know,” etc. I could answer, too, that I want to tell some facts by the means of fiction again and again. To me the most essential fact is that reality is something quite different than we believe it is.