As reported today in the Helsingin Sanomat, YA author and poet Vilja-Tuulia Huotarinen has been awarded this year’s Finlandia Junior prize for children’s and young adult literature for her novel Light, Light, Light [Valoa valoa valoa]. You can read more about the novel at the Stilton Agency website or my post on my English sample translation.
This year’s Finlandia Junior prize for literature has been awarded to Vilja-Tuulia Huotarinen (b. 1977) for her young adult novel Light, Light, Light.
Awarded by the Finnish Book Publisher’s Association for outstanding children’s and young adult literature, this year’s prize was decided upon by musician Paula Vesala. The size of the award is 30,000 euros.
“Huotarinen doesn’t underestimate her reader, instead delivering a broadside,” Vesala said in her award speech.
“The narrative approach, which boarders on poetry, increases the power of the discussion of suicide. The text includes space for one’s own ideas and interpretations, but at the same time, as if to help and protect the young reader, the rapid distancing feels like an absolutely ingenious solution given the topic and probable age of the readership.”
Huotarinen is a lyricist and young adult writer from Tampere. Prior to this winning novel she has published three collections of poetry as well as the Silja trilogy, also for young adults.
She is a previous winner of both the Union of Finnish Writers and Kalevi Jäntti prizes.
As a translator, I generally think of “lyrical” as a dirty word. Even beyond the pretense that’s usually bound up in using language like that about a book (your own book?), translating poetry is generally a fool’s errand, unless you fully embrace what the *huge* limitations are. Every once in a while, though, a translation of something lyrical just works. This is a good story, and a beautiful thing to read. It feels true to life.
What else can one write about other than death or love? The narrator in the book is a 14-year old Mariia Ovaskainen, who hates writing. Nevertheless, she must tell us a story from 1986, when two things exploded: Chernobyl nuclear power station and Mariia’s own consciousness.
Mariia’s new class mate, Mimi, moves into a white house on top of the hill. Mimi is an odd girl, whose mother has committed suicide, and who is not interested in school. The story starts when Mimi meets Mariia on the beach and asks: “Could you pretend to be my friend, please?” Mariia promises to help her new mate to prepare for a retake of a Swedish exam to improve her grades. During the summer, the girls’ friendship deepens and turns into a love affair. But however deep the love, it cannot save Mimi, whose soul is weighted down by unbearable sadness. It is like a black hole into which all light disappears.
Light, Light, Light is a rosy love story about the budding sexuality of the main character, and about some difficult choices that she has to make at the age of 14. The painful themes of Mariia’s story jump at the reader both directly and between the lines and push the boundaries of storytelling.
An English sample is available
Here’s a little taste:
The famous Russian author Anton Chekhov recommended tearing up the first page of any story. He thought that the beginnings of stories were naturalism at its most ghastly.
Go ahead and rip it up. This is your book!
Or the library’s. However, the librarians will be understanding in this case.
If you feel like Mimi’s description was naturalism at is most ghastly, then go ahead and just start reading here.
Because now is when the action starts.
One more step and I shoot.
Go ahead and shoot.
I had lived in this village a whole hell of a lot longer than Mimi. She couldn’t order me around on my own home turf. She had just moved into the white house on the top of the hill and you can bet she was afraid every night. People who haven’t grown up in the country are always afraid.
I had come to the beach to loan her my Swedish book because Mimi had flunked and was headed to summer school.
Oh God, imagine getting held back first thing at a new school!
Mimi looked at me like people look at each other in old Clint Eastwood movies.
Shooting me full of holes with her eyes.
She loaded me up with her burning sorrow. And I didn’t budge. I didn’t walk away or stagger. When a person recognizes her future love, everything around her gets sucked into it.
And then they don’t have anything else. Besides the other person.
I stood there and accepted her rapid-fire light light light.
Until Mimi said:
Would you do me a favor? Could you act like my friend?
Acting is the KEY to this story.
Shove it in your pocket.
Abandon hope all ye who enter here! Unless you know the password.
KEYS open doors. Click! Soon you will discover secrets. Strings of accidents. Garret labyrinths.
Or at least you will think you have discovered them.
For example, in the white house on the top of the hill is a mother who puts on makeup and then puts on makeup again, even though she is dead. This mother creates dramas with eyeliner and eye shadow. Mimi hands her mother objects and her mother’s hands accept the objects. Face powder dusts the walls.