Mäki’s Before the Birds nominated for the Torch-bearer Prize

Merja Mäki’s bestselling novel has been chosen among the six Finnish fiction titles with most international potential.

Before the Birds by Merja Mäki came out in January 2022, becoming instantly readers’ and reviewers’ favourite. The novel is set in year 1940, in the Finnish Winter War. A young woman called Alli is forced to leave her home in Karelia behind, as the land is lost to Soviet Union.

After an onerous trek across Finland to the western coast she needs not only to find a home in a new cultural environment but also face an unexpected, life-changing responsibility, come to terms with the complicated relationship with her own mother, and somehow, continue to dream. 

The jury stated about the novel:

“The novel tells a touching story about having to flee and becoming a stranger, about losing your home and possessions and having to settle in other people’s homes. […] It is a novel also for those not interested in historical or refugee stories – it is for everyone who has a home or close ones. […] In addition to depicting a refugee journey and collision of different cultures, the novel tells about blended families. […] The description of how the war affects individuals is topical everywhere, especially now. Even though you wouldn’t have to flee in freezing cold with cattle, losing your home is an experience it is easy to identify with.“

Before the Birds has already attracted the interest of international publishers: the Ukrainian rights were acquired by Astrolabe and earlier this week the Swedish rights by Historiska Media.

The Torch-bearer Prize will be awarded at the Tampere book festival in early December.

Merja Mäki (Image: Liisa Valonen)

HLA’s authors have been awarded the prize for the three previous years in a row: last year, the prize was given to Matias Riikonen’s Matara, in 2020, the winner was Marisha Rasi-Koskinen’s  REC, and in 2019, Minna Rytisalo received it for her novel Mrs C.  In 2015, the prize was given to another HLA author, Finlandia Prize winner Anni Kytömäki for her debut novel Goldheart.