Emily Jeremiah and Fleur Jeremiah are the translators of Aki Ollikainen's White Hunger (2015), which was longlisted for the 2016 Man Booker International Prize. Emily and Fleur Jeremiah's translations include Asko Sahlberg’s Brothers (Peirene Press, 2012) and Kristina Carlson’s Mr Darwin's Gardener (Peirene Press, 2013).
Words Without Borders (WWB): What drew you to Aki Ollikainen's work?
Emily Jeremiah and Fleur Jeremiah (EJ and FJ): Meike Ziervogel of Peirene Press, with whom we had worked before—on Asko Sahlberg’s The Brothers and Kristina Carlson’s Mr Darwin’s Gardener—had read the book in Stefan Moster’s German translation, and wanted to publish it. We agreed with her on the quality of the book, and especially on the beauty and economy of the prose. White Hunger is a short book that contains whole worlds. In its evocation of suffering—here, the misery caused by famine in nineteenth-century Finland—it is timely and urgent.
WWB: What was unique about this translation compared to others you'd done?
EJ and FJ: The work contains extraordinarily painful scenes—these made a deep impact. At the same time, it evokes suffering with beauty, though never with sentimentality. The language—and particularly the imagery, which is stark and vivid—is uncompromising. The book is almost unbearable to engage with, yet compelling.
WWB: What are you reading now, or which writers from the language and literary tradition you translate do you think readers ought to pay attention to as potential future MBI winners?
Fleur Jeremiah: I’m reading Kari Hotakainen’s latest novel, Lifeline (Henkireikä, Siltala 2015)—he has a distinctive voice. Jussi Valtonen’s They Know Not What They Do (He eivät tiedä mitä tekevät) won the 2014 Finlandia Prize, deservedly so, and will be published later this year by Oneworld in an English translation by Kristian London—it’s a sophisticated dystopia worthy of international recognition.
Emily Jeremiah: I have long admired the work of Pirkko Saisio and would very much like to translate her Pienin yhteinen jaettava (The Lowest Common Multiple), a warm, funny, clever treatment of growing up, finding oneself, and being human. As for notable forthcoming translations from the Finnish: I’ll be really interested to see the reaction to The Midwife (Kätilö), an ambitious novel by Katja Kettu to be published in an English translation by David Hackston later this year, by AmazonCrossing.