The Red Book of Farewells

We’ve waited twenty years for this. To be scrupulously honest, I haven’t, as when it won the Finlandia Prize in 2003, I couldn’t speak a word of Finnish. But Pirkko Saisio’s Punainen erokirja in Mia Spangenberg’s translation as the Red Book of Farewells, is well worth waiting for.

I came to Saisio backwards, starting with Passio when it came out a year or so ago. The poisonous jewel in the Passion came to mind when I saw the green snake glinting on Havva’s T-shirt in the Red Book. Reading it, I was catapulted back to the seventies – when being gay was both classified as an illness and illegal.

The red revolution and student theatre politics were not a whole lot better in that regard. Lucky as I am to have been in infant school in the seventies, rather than at university, this is the story of my people.

Saisio shows how it feels when a relationship, to your lover, to your family – or to an institution – unravels.

Reviewers have compared Saisio’s trilogy, of which the Red Book is the third, to Tove Ditlevsen’s dazzling one. I will keep reading backwards in time to see if I agree, but from part three, I can see the parallels. “Working class girl writes despite, or because of, everything,” does not do either trilogy justice. And the Red Book is riveting.

Mia Spangenberg’s translation is a labour of love. This was a project that she fought for. Fellow translators will know that you can’t usually find a home for that perfect book without a lot of work and some stardust sprinkled your way. This time, it happened.

Two Lines Press publishes the Red Book of Farewells in the US on 25 April. UK publishers, now it’s your turn. You do not want to miss this one. English readers this side of the pond are still waiting!

Translator, editor, writer, reader

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Posted in books, literature, Queer, translation

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