Pirkko Saisio: The Red Book of Farewells

The Finlandia Prize-winning concluding part of the Helsinki trilogy by a master of Finnish literature.

Author: Pirkko Saisio
Finnish original: Punainen erokirja
Publisher: WSOY, 2003
Genre: literary fiction, modern classics
Number of pages: 298 pp.
Reading material: Finnish original, English translation, Swedish translation
Rights sold: Czech, Host; Dutch, De Geus; English (U.S.A. and Canada), Two Lines Press; English (UK and Commonwealth) Penguin Press; France, Robert Laffont; Georgia, Sulakauri; Germany, Klett-Cotta; Hungary, Polar; Romania, Pandora M; Slovenia, Škuc

In the Red Book of Farewells, the protagonist is approaching adulthood and joins Helsinki Student Theatre, which is forthrightly Communist in attitude. Soon she meets her great love, Havva.

These starting points trigger off a series of many farewells to be taken over a long period of time. Her mother cannot accept her daughter’s sexuality, and she also has to get away from Communist political activism. Years later, she has a baby – but Havva leaves. At the end of the book, the grown-up daughter, Sunday Child, leaves home.

The Red Book of Farewells describes the discovery of a sexual identity and a vocation as a writer, the political student activism in the 1970s, and intense love affairs. Saisio’s fragmentary and at the same time lyrical style is an integral part of her autofiction, in which tension changes and in which ‘I’ is ‘she’ – both the object of scrutiny and an autonomous actor.

The novel was awarded Finland’s biggest literary award, Finlandia Prize.

You must open doors, and then you must close them.
You must make sure to close the doors you’ve left behind. You must make sure to breathe.
(Translated by Mia Spangenberg)

Also available:
The Helsinki Trilogy (1998–2003)

The Backlight (Helsinki trilogy #2, 2000)
The Lowest Common Multiple (Helsinki trilogy #1, 1998)

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

About the author:
Pirkko Saisio