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.
This is a very sweet (but not saccharine), engaging love story with some of the same elements of anticipation that readers enjoy so much in the Twilight series. The main characters are thrown together, but then separated, with no real way of finding each other again.
From the Tammi/Elina Ahlbäck Agency foreign rights guide:
Renowned film and TV director Lauri Törhönen’s award-winning first novel – a youthful love story in baby blue.
When a cello-studying girl falls from heaven on a footballer boy so hard that he loses consciousness, anything can follow. At least it messes both of them up, but they still manage to look each other in the eye for a moment. When Mikael regains consciousness, he can only remember the girl’s brown eyes and baby-blue cello case. How can you find a strange brown-eyed girl amongst a million people? And how can you fall in love at first sight, if you lost consciousness right before that first sight?
In the end the power of love brings the two teenagers together, although the circumstances are almost overpowering. Even their first encounter takes place at Mikael’s father’s funeral. What will happen when the youngsters finally, after many twists and turns, get to meet? Will that be the end of their love story – or just a beginning…
The cat raised its head and rubbed its cheek against Mii’s hand.
‘We can get out of here with the help of a cat. Maybe.’
‘How so?’ the boy asked.
‘I don’t know. But it may be the only way. Only a cat can walk on both sides.’
In the beginning everything seems like an exciting dream to Mii. She sees a beautiful little city rising out of nothing. She sets off to look at the investigate. There are people standing around in every alley and on every street corner. The feeling is like in a ship terminal—lots of people waiting to leave for a trip. Little by little everything new and exciting becomes somehow sad and oppressive. What has happened to Mii’s parents? What has happened to Mii herself? And who are the black figures everyone is avoiding? Then Mii notices a boy in the crowd with hair sticking out ridiculously in every direction and big headphones on his ears. As the moon goes down, Mii and the boy, who looks like a stray dog, decide to try to escape together from the strange city. But that’s easier said than done…
The Dark Line Series introduces nail-biting thrillers and horror stories for young people. We dare you to step up to the Dark Line!
When I called out from the edge of the field, the cows stood up from resting and followed after me. I could have walked with them even as far as the village; I could have made my cows stand in the middle of the road, made them moo true culture at the residents of Shallows; I could have gotten my cows to ruminate on the football field, but I led them to the barn where each in turn donated its milk to the tank. The udders gave nourishment: milk, cheese, yogurt, ice cream. I was, with the cows, an important part of the food chain.
I was very aware and proud of my necessity.
We lived in the village of Shallows, in the eastern heartland, right where the fells began to rise up all around like great walls. To me those walls were safe and protective. Eighteen columns of smoke rose between the fells; from my window I could see everyone’s fields and houses. On cold winter nights I looked down into the valley and could see the lights in each living room. They would be extinguished one after another. I was the last awake.
In the village of Shallows I tried to achieve the level of sensitivity that animals have, and I succeeded. I felt like my hearing had become as sensitive as a dog’s, my eyes became as sensitive as an owl’s, and my skin, like the crust of the earth, could feel the changing of the weather.
I saw. I was compelled to see, but it was a pleasant compulsion. Such a beautiful landscape could not but be admired. And the darkness of the evenings! It was beautiful. Dangerously beautiful to others who had become numb to everything, who had gotten used to getting up and going to their beds dreaming of trips abroad, of stone-free fields, dreaming of something that they could not see with their eyes.
To me it was precisely seeing that was most important. No one knew that in my eyes this landscape was the only reality I believed in, the landscape I loved. And although it was the same landscape every day again and again, I never tired of it.
After the last lights were extinguished, I was alone. And I saw even more. I saw behind the darkness and in that reality moved wolves, bears, hares, and the lynx. And when I stood in the darkness in the yard of our home and listened, I heard the frigid cold snapping a limb in two and the snow crunching under my feet, but I also heard myself saying things to myself that I could not tell anyone about:
I was told:
“You have the spirit of the land, the spirit of silence; stay here; this is your place.