At the gate, I remembered the cover. My bookmark slid over it, obscuring the emblem behind the title text. I was about to board the plane to Berlin – and I had to finish this and put it in my bag before I landed, because displaying the national socialist image on the front would be illegal in Germany. I was just over halfway through, but the pace certainly picked up after that. I finished Katja Kettu’s Katilö/The Midwife just in time, in the international zone, as my suitcase was coming off the belt.
The cover of David Hackston’s English translation is rather different. It’s not just another tragic WWII love story – which is what the film trailer implies. It’s about the woman who’s seen it all from the inside – of the camp, of women’s bodies at their most vulnerable… and she’s facing it alone.
The midwife lives through a key chapter in Finland’s story of independence. This is Lapland, 1944, the Germans are turning from Finnish allies to enemies, and it’s happening fast. So many narratives of this period emphasise heroism; the foe is clear, the heroes are clear, the moral lines are clearly drawn. Perhaps this novel became such a bestseller in Finland because it’s about the messy reality in between, a story that doesn’t get told nearly as often. Even the German isn’t really German – it turns out his mother is Finnish, too. In a harsh environment, there are tough choices to be made, and things move so fast you might not even notice that you’re making them.
The midwife certainly doesn’t seem to. She is driven forward until she can’t go back. In her own words – and Kettu’s language is fantastical and biblical – the bearer of life becomes the Angel of Death. You can read how it all started in the Guardian, from the English translation of the book, right here.
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