2012 Books in Translation Other Prizes

The Human Part by Kari Hotakainen

The Human Part Translated from the Finnish by Owen F Witesman

Winner of France’s Prix du Courrier International and Finland’s Runeburg Prize

Five words from the blurb: author, sell, life, family, stories

The Human Part begins with an author approaching an elderly woman at a book fair. The author has writer’s block and with no idea what to write next he offers to buy the woman’s life story for €7000. She agrees, but after telling her story she begins to worry about the way he will depict certain events. The book cleverly shows how difficult relationships within a family can be and how an individual’s perception of a situation can be clouded by their history.

This book was instantly engaging and I fell in love with Salme, the elderly woman, and the way she wasn’t afraid to put her viewpoint across.

First of all, and in partial defense of myself, I should say that I do not like made-up books or the people who write them. It has always irritated me that they are taken seriously, that people get so immersed in them and listen carefully to the people who write them. I am now referring to the novels and other things on the shelves labelled “fiction” or “translated fiction”. It irritated me even more when Parvo and I found out that people go all the way to other countries to find these made-up stories and that people who have studied other languages transfer these obvious lies over into our language.

Her grumpiness charmed me and I quickly felt as though I knew her. The book did a fantastic job of explaining the complex mixture of emotions that exist within a family and how life changes as everyone grows up. There were some beautiful observations, some of which were really poignant:

…human sorrow comes from never being able to be the same age as one’s children.

As the book progressed it became more complex, with the author and Salme both presenting different versions of events. The reader must piece together the information to work out the truth, but unfortunately the big secret that looms over the whole book wasn’t that interesting. Once revealed it lost its mysterious power and so I found the ending a little disappointing. Despite this problem it was still a wonderful book, containing the perfect mixture of humor and darker moments. It is easy to see why this book has won so many prizes and I’m keen to try more of Hotakainen’s other books.


The thoughts of other bloggers:

 The whole book just oozes humanity, both in showing us the faulty and sometimes ugly side of human life and opinion, and in showing us love and understanding. Iris on Books

….a marvelous and fascinating tale… Nordic Book Blog

…with a satirical, tongue-in-cheek view of modern Finland, the novel ultimately descends into darkness… Reader Dad