Finland 100: The year of the hunger

NälkävuosiOllikainen.jpeg

Leaving everything behind is not always a free choice – this isn’t the year of the hare, the open road doesn’t necessarily lead to freedom. When hunger and death drive you out of your home in the depths of winter, you might not get very far at all.

Nälkävuosi/White Hunger by Aki Ollikainen is a slim, light volume, but much heavier than it looks. Set in the winter of a terrible famine 150 years ago, it feels both far away and strangely contemporary. This is Finland with a Swedish-speaking elite, under Russian rule, on the cusp of huge social change. Reading it, I was reminded of 19th century hymns – “the rich man in his castle, the poor man in his gate” or “Brightly shone the moon that night, tho’ the frost was cruel”. There is a vast gulf between the people living and dying on the land and the ruling class in the comfort of the city. Only at the very end does one man help one little boy bridge that gap. There’s a lesson in there for the reader. Seeing what both desperation and comfort does to people in hard times, I certainly wondered how I’d have responded. But Ollikainen isn’t Dickens – he lets you make up your own mind.

whitehunger_ollikainen_jeramiahThe story starts cruelly, with the first of many deaths, and as winter deepens, it seems that spring will never arrive. But when it does, it is not easy. The past is not forgotten.

Ollikainen has a wonderful way with words. The night sky is the colour of a snake’s eye – the first star lights up, and the eye opens, staring right at you. The gruel ladled out to the poor is thin and grey, no more substantial or appetising than dirty snow at the end of winter.

I read this in the original Finnish, but mother-and-daughter team Emily and Fleur Jeremiah have produced an excellent English translation for Peirene Press. You can read an extract here. If you do, I’ll be surprised if you don’t end up buying the book. Which wouldn’t be a bad choice for Finland’s 100th anniversary year.

 

 

Tagged with: , , , , , , , ,
Posted in books, Finland 100, translation

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

advent Alice in Wonderland American And Other Stories Antonia Lloyd-Jones Arabic Argentina Barańczak Beowulf Berlin Best Translated Book Award Bible books Brazil Brazilian Portuguese British British Library Buddhism Children's Books Children's literature Chinese Christmas Christmas Carols Clare Cavanagh Clarice Lispector Contemporary Czesław Miłosz Dari Edinburgh Festival English Estonian Facebook Fantasy Farsi Fiction Finland Finland 100 Finnish Flemish Free Word Centre French George Szirtes German Greek Hebrew Herbert Lomas Herta Müller history Hobbit Hungarian Idioms Illustration India international International Translation Day Italian J. R. R. Tolkien Japanese Jenny Erpenbeck Jewish Johanna Sinisalo Korean Language language learning Languages Latin left-handed Literature Lola Rogers Lord of the Rings Mabinogion Man Booker International Prize Maori Maria Turtschaninoff Moomins New Year Nobel Prize Old English Owen Witesman Oxford English Dictionary PEN Translation Prize Persian Philip Boehm Phoneme Media Pippi Longstocking Poetry Poetry Translation Centre Polish Portuguese Queer Roald Dahl Romanian Rosa Liksom Russian Ryszard Kapuściński Salla Simukka Seamus Heaney Shakespeare Short Stories Slovene Sofi Oksanen Spanish Stanisław Barańczak Suomi100 Susan Bernofsky Svetlana Alexievich Swedish Switzerland Terhi Ekebom Thomas Teal Tibetan Tove Jansson Translation translator Translators Without Borders Turkey Valentine's Day Wales Warsaw Welsh Wisława Szymborska Witold Szabłowski Women in Translation Month words Words without Borders

Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Follow found in translation on WordPress.com
%d bloggers like this: