The nominees for the prestigious Runeberg Prize were announced today, and we are thrilled to see three of our authors among them: Niillas Holmberg’s Halla Helle, Anneli Kanto’s The Rat Saint, and Matias Riikonen’s Matara.
Halla Helle is the first novel by the acclaimed Sámi poet Niillas Holmberg that takes the reader into cultural crossroads. It is a story about a young man Samu, who leaves Southern Finland behind and moves to Sápmi. Something strange and powerful is taking him to Utsjoki: Elle Hallala, the best-known Sámi person in Finland, known by her artist alias Halla Helle. She, however, abandons her art, withdraws from the world and moves on an arctic mountain to live her life according to her ancestors. Can Samu, a child of mainstream culture, understand the Sámi symbols and eventually, help the artist heal?
Niillas Holmberg (b. 1990) is an award-winning Sami poet, musician, actor, and cultural and environmental activist living in his native Utsjoki in Lapland. He combines spoken word with singing and joik, traditional chanting, and performs his work with various bands. Halla Helle (2021) is Holmberg’s first novel. The French rights to Halla Helle have been sold to Éditions du Seuil.
The Rat Saint is a sensory, color-saturated novel by Anneli Kanto, a master of historical fiction, in which a brickmaker’s foster daughter grows into an artist. It’s the dawn of the 16th century, and a small village in southern Finland sees the arrival of a curious trio possessing special skills and knowledge: they are church painters in an era when artists were unheard of in the remote north. As the history of the world from Paradise and the Fall to the Final Judgment takes shape on the walls of the church, romance, envy, treachery, and crime occur, and a life reaches a turning point. One story ends and another begins.
Anneli Kanto (b. 1950) is an author and screenwriter. Her debut novel, The Devil, the Count, the Witch, and the Actor (2007), was a well-received Runeberg Prize nominee. Kanto won the Kaarle award for Blood Roses (2008), a novel about the women of the Red Guard during the Finnish civil war. Her novel The Executioner (2015) was awarded the City of Tampere literary prize and nominated for the Torch-Bearer Prize.
In Matara, boys of a summer camp spend their days in the realm they have built: the Republic of Matara. It has a law, a societal structure, plotting for power and bonds between citizens, as any real state. Under the guidance of his older brother, a young boy trains to be a scout. While spying, the pair come upon an enemy camp: war is at hand. Matias Riikonen’s fourth novel takes children seriously in a way few other works have. In Riikonen’s hands, the birdsong-filled woods of early summer and the boys’ violence and tenderness meld into superb, startling literature. At times one forgets one is reading a portrayal of boys at play; at others, one fears one is reading a description of reality.
Matias Riikonen’s (b. 1989) debut novel The Gull with Four Wings (2012) was a nominee for the Helsingin Sanomat Literature Prize. His second novel Grand Fugue and prose notebook Orbit (2017) were Toisinkoinen award nominees and awarded the Kalevi Jäntti Prize. The Night Porter’s Rounds (2019) was a nominee for the Jarkko Laine Prize. Matara (2021) is one of the most anticipated works of 2021.
Runeberg Prize is a prestigious literary prize named after the Finnish national poet, Johan Ludvig Runeberg. It is one of the most important literary awards in Finland, second only to Finlandia Prize. The prize, worth 20,000 euros, is given out in two categories: fiction and children’s books. Matias and Everything that was Far Away by Anja Portin and Sanna Pelliccioni is among the nominees for the Runeberg Junior. The winners will be announced on The Runeberg’s Day, the 5th of February 2022.
Congratulations to all the nominees!