Anna-Leena Harkonen



Vesa Moilanen/Lehtikuva


Candid but Gentle

Anna-Leena Harkonen is talking on the phone. She seems concerned and distracted. Soon she disappears into the kitchen and then into the bedroom. She sounds sad.

Anna-Leena has just received a phone call no one wants to receive: her longtime friend and classmate from drama school has died, without warning, at the age of 50.

“This is it,” she says, her face heavy with sorrow. “Our generation is beginning to die.”

A LITTLE LATER, the phone rings again. Anna-Leena apologizes: she has to take the call because it’s probably about the funeral. 

“Unbelievable,” she keeps repeating on the phone. 

Soon she sits down at the kitchen table again, curling up on the chair, and flashes a smile: she just learned that she has been selected as a recipient of a Finnish National Prize. More news to digest.

“This was supposed to be just a perfectly ordinary day. Nothing unusual, just a visit to the market for the first time in a long while. That would have been enough adventure for me,” she says with a smile.”

ANNA-LEENA LOVES her ordinary, routine days. She works at home until the early afternoon, but then she needs to get away: to a nearby café or to a superstore in her friend’s car. She brings along printouts so she can edit her work in progress while waiting for a tram, for example.

When writing, Anna-Leena bribes and rewards herself like a dog: 30 more minutes, and I can have a piece of chocolate.

“This profession is not that suited to my personality. I’m too impatient.”

NEVERTHELESS, Anna-Leena always wanted to write. When she was 16, she spent the summer with her relatives in the countryside, where she began to write down what she heard. These were the beginnings of her debut novel, How to Kill a Bull, published in 1984 and still widely read.

More than twenty books and a few plays and scripts later, Anna-Leena says she had no idea what she was getting herself into. 

“I dreamed of becoming an author, but I never thought I would become a full-time author. My biggest dream was a one-bedroom apartment and a permanent job at the local theater.”

ANNA-LEENA’S LIVING ROOM is dominated by a huge bookshelf and an armchair, where a permanent depression marks her spot. The armchair is larger than most, almost a two-seater. Anna-Leena kicks off her black beach sandals and relaxes into a half-lying position. Obviously her favorite place.

“One day I found myself just sitting here with a cup of coffee and looking out the window. That’s very unusual for me. I don’t have the peace of mind for such serenity.”

BECAUSE OF HER witty, sarcastic columns, many people think she must be snappy. However, face to face she is gentleness embodied, although straightforward. She is not one to pretend.

“Everyone thinks I must be terribly aggressive. I’m passionate but not in the least confrontational as a person.” 

By Mirjami Haimelin

Published with permission from Fokus Media Finland

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