Pirkko Saisio: The Backlight

The mosaic of one’s psyche and the past, Finlandia Prize-nominated Backlight continues the lauded autofictional trilogy, regarded as a classic of Finnish literature.

Author: Pirkko Saisio
Finnish original: Vastavalo
Publisher: WSOY, 2000
Genre: literary fiction, modern classics
Number of pages: 252 pp.
Reading material: Finnish original, English sample
Rights sold: Dutch, De Geus; Hungary, Polar

It’s the first day of June in 1968, a year of turmoil for Europe. The novel’s protagonist, “she”, is nineteen years of age and has just graduated. The young woman is starting a journey to Switzerland, where she imagines working with children just as Maria does in The Sound of Music. The reality proves completely different. The conservative country has its strange customs, and the tightly managed orphanage has many features that surprise the Finnish girl.

The Swiss episodes are interspersed with events from the girl’s grammar-school years – friends, family, and a fractious relationship with her father. But her development is at the centre of it all: searching for and examining her own identity; finding a balance between a leftist upbringing, Christianity and her own sexuality; and evolving into a budding writer.

Backlight is the second part of Pirkko Saisio’s Finlandia Prize-winning trilogy, much lauded and regarded as a classic of Finnish literature. Memories shape the present and the boundary between fact and fiction becomes fluid. At the same time, the work is a breath-takingly beautiful description of a young woman’s discovery of her true self.

Also available:
The Red Book of Farewells (Autofictional trilogy #3, 2003)
The Lowest Common Multiple (Autofictional trilogy #1, 1998)

Passion (2021)
Prevarications (2019)
A Man and His Affairs (2016)

About the author:
Pirkko Saisio