2011 Finlandia Prize

This year’s shortlist for the Finlandia Fiction Prize—awarded annually to the best novel written by a Finnish citizen—was announced yesterday, and is unique in that it’s the first list of finalists comprised entirely of women authors. Granted, this doesn’t happen very often, but I get the sense that this will be the only focus of most of the articles written about the prize. (And yes, I realize there will only be maybe 3 articles about the prize available in English, not counting this one or Michael Orthofer’s write up.)

For example, the first official article I could find about the announcement of shortlist is this one from YLE, and its title says it all: “Only women nominated for top literary prize.”

Actually, that doesn’t say it all—check out this opening, which is in bold on the site:

Six novels have been nominated for the annual Finlandia Prize for literature on Thursday—only this time all of the writers are women, while men are conspicuous by their absence.

I know this is a bit of a facetious argument, but if the shortlist was 100% male, the headline would be more along the lines of “Top Finnish authors battle for major literary prize,” and that bolded intro would be “with novels ranging from historical fiction to experimental prose poetry, works from Finland’s most important authors compete for a 30,000 euro prize.” In other words, shit wouldn’t be said about the single-sex shortlist. (Maybe. I know I’m postulating, but I just have a feeling.)

I guess the thing that bugs me about this kind of coverage is that it takes one meta-aspect (the fact all the writers are women) and foregrounds it, before ever mentioning a single one of the actual books. Thankfully, the YLE piece does provide brief summaries of all the titles:

Eeva-Kaarina Aronen’s Kallorumpu (“Skull Drum” in literal translation) tells of the life of Finland’s former president and military hero, Marshall C.G.E. Mannerheim, in his home in Helsinki. Many things in that house and in the city are not what they seem. The novel, which focuses on one November day in 1935, reaches beyond to paint an insightful picture of the era.

William N. päiväkirja (“The Diary of William N.”) by Kristina Carlson takes the reader to Paris, detailing the last few years that prominent Finnish lichen researcher William Nylander spent there. The work is a plunge into the world of an old, single-minded scientist.

Laura Gustafsson broke in to the list with her first novel Huorasatu (“Whorestory”), which was earlier seen as a play. The author rewrites ancient myths as she charts out the prehistory of women and constructs the perfect world.
Renowned writer Laila Hirvisaari has created what the jury called the pinnacle of the Finnish historical novel in her Minä, Katariina (“I, Catherine”). This is the life story of a German princess engaged to marry into the Russian royal family, with all of its schemes, when she was barely out of childhood.

Rosa Liksom’s Hytti nro 6 (“Compartment Number 6”) is set during the year 1986, when the Soviet Union is beginning to open up. Two travellers, a girl and a man—a Finnish student and a 40-year-old Russian macho—take the train through Russia towards the mountains of Mongolia.

Finally, the first novel of Jenni Linturi, Isänmaan tähden (“For the Fatherland”) tackles the subject of guilt. A former volunteer in the Finnish volunteer battalion of the Nazi Waffen-SS, now an old man, rifles through his memories, in which the past and the present, comrades in arms and family members all fuse together in disconcerting chaos.

The Dalkey Archive Press published Dark Paradise, a violent and stark collection of stories by Rosa Liksom a few years back, so for that reason alone, I’m hoping “Compartment Number 6” wins. The announcement will take place on December 1st.

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