Pirkko Saisio: The Lowest Common Multiple

The Finlandia Prize-nominated opening part of the Helsinki trilogy by a gifted portrayer of the human psyche.

Author: Pirkko Saisio
Finnish original: Pienin yhteinen jaettava
Publisher: WSOY, 1998
Genre: literary fiction, modern classics
Number of pages: 254 pp.
Reading material: Finnish original, English sample
Rights sold: Czech, Host; Dutch, De Geus; English (U.S. and Canada), Two Lines Press;
English (UK and Commonwealth) Penguin Press; France, Robert Laffont; Germany, Klett-Cotta; Hungary, Polar; Romania, Pandora M

When a human being dies, and his life story comes to a stop, his entire story is strangely disrupted. The shift is small but causes shattering changes in the lives of those who are left behind.

Her father’s sudden death triggers off memories in the middle-aged daughter, and her childhood landscape is painted over anew, in an odd hue, when she is left alone to dust off the multi-layered narrative stored in her mind as a little girl.

The novel follows the daughter over a four-day period from her childhood home to the hospital and to the mortuary. The same time frame sees the unsettling of the little girl’s story. She wanted to be a boy and began to call herself “she” and to write an endless story about “her”.

Lowest Common Multiple is an autobiographical story in the Proustian tradition, in which the author ruthlessly chops up and combines her memories and experiences in order to squeeze out their essence, unveiling a whole era. It launches Pirkko Saisio’s Finlandia Prize-winning trilogy, in which Helsinki serves as the background as the city changes over the decades.

And then

what is left is the journey past the cracking doorway, the unnecessarily
lighted bathroom, the purring cat, to
the carpet, where Elsa stands with a questioning look.
“Grandpa’s dead.”
And Elsa smiles swiftly and presses against me.
I breathe into Elsa’s hair, and my heart beats against Elsa’s forehead.
And I never want to move again, to leave this moment with my daughter, and

I never did.
(Translated by Hildi Hawkins)

Also available:
The Helsinki Trilogy (1998–2003)

The Red Book of Farewells (Helsinki trilogy #3, 2003)
The Backlight (Helsinki trilogy #2, 2000)

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

About the author:
Pirkko Saisio