Kari Hotakainen: The Human Part

A fearlessly tragic and deeply humorous novel about how we buy and sell things – with rhetorics.

Author: Kari Hotakainen
Finnish original: Ihmisen osa
Publisher: Siltala, 2009
Genre: literary fiction
Number of pages: 276 pp.
Reading material: Finnish original, English translation, French translation, Italian translation, Spanish translation
Rights sold: Czech Republic, Dybbuk; Denmark, Gyldendal; English, Maclehose Press; France, J.C. Lattes; Hungary, Libri; Italy, Iperborea; Norway, Cappelen Damm; Spain, Meettok; Slovenia, KUD Sodobnost International; Sweden, Brombergs

A writer buys a life from Salme Malmikunnas, an 80-year-old former yarn seller. You can get a lot for 7,000 euros. Salme opens up and tells him everything the way she wants to remember it – the silence of her husband, Paavo, the accident that befell her daughter Helena, Maija’s marriage, and Pekka’s success in business.

But will the author tell the story like they’d agreed? Can he resist the urge to write about subjects that are off limits? And is Salme telling the truth?

True to its title, the novel asks what the human lot is. Its rich cast of characters answers this question in many voices. The novel takes the pulse of the present and builds on the past to portray a world where buying and selling are the order of the day. It sheds light on eternal truths about working life, both then and now. More than anything else, it’s talk that makes business run today. Instead of things like yarn, we now sell images. And when the words run out, it’s time for action.

The Human Part shows Kari Hotakainen at the top of his craft. It is a rich, wide ranging novel full of honest wisdom. It’s disarmingly moving and deeply humorous. The novel fearlessly grapples with today’s world and tries to understand it, a task that is not possible without laughter or tears.

A humane, disconcerting and pleasurable text. In other words, a truly beautiful novel.
– Le Monde

A beautifully crafted tale of bereavement, intimate human suffering and the curious specks of reparation that death can bring […] this is a simply stunning book. Fans of Mark Haddon and Haruki Murakami will be enraptured.”
– Time Out

A novel packed with sophisticated ideas which should, like a rare delicacy, be savoured slowly.
– Tribune

A quaint and quirky book.
– Irish Times

…beautifully-written, in an excellent translation that manages to lose none of the subtleties that give the story its sense of ambiguity – a sense that should give every reader a slightly different experience. A beautiful package that won’t disappoint on any level, it will leave the reader – as it has me – pining for translations of Hotakainen’s back catalogue as soon as possible.
– Readerdad

…the thing that makes this book so good is the perfect balance Hotakainen strikes between humour and gravitas. I devoured it and found it quite unexpectedly moving.
– The Lady Loves Books

The dialogue is razor sharp…
– Svenska Dagbladet

Hotakainen is a skilful storyteller, a writer full of inexplicable surprises. His humour is intelligent and takes the reader from laughter to tears and back again. One shouldn’t devour his work, though this novel really has to read in one sitting.
– Savon Sanomat newspaper

This novel is a stylistically straightforward, dark tale of the delusions of affluence that wash the characters away. […] Aesthetically, The Human Part is one of the Hotakainen’s most flawless works. Thoughts and musings on society are constructed piece by piece, chapter after chapter. Grotesque effects occasionally echo the author’s keen interpretations of the waning of hope and quality of life among modern Finns.
– Satakunnan Kansa newspaper

Hotakainen delights in language and makes your shoulders shake with laughter.
– Aamulehti newspaper

Definitely one of the author’s best books.
– Helsingin Sanomat newspaper

The undoubted pinnacle of Hotakainen’s oeuvre […], a sharp, incisive depiction of the age. Hotakainen, who has a reputation for being something of a funny man, is an angry, clenched moral fist.
– Helsingin Sanomat newspaper

Also available:
Story (2020)
The Word of God (2011)

About the author:
Kari Hotakainen