Review: White Hunger by Aki Ollikainen

I received an advanced review copy of this title from Peirene Press. White Hunger has been translated from the Finnish by Emily Jeremiah and Fleur Jeremiah

Peirene Press is an independent publisher based in England.  They specialize in translating and publishing the best European novellas. Please visit their site for more fantastic books in translation:

My Review:
White HungerWhat is the color of hunger, poverty and death?  For the Finnish people living during the famine of 1867 it is white because of the prolonged winter and constant blizzards.  It is wretched enough that scores of people are dying from hunger, but when they set out from their homes begging for scraps of food the snow swallows them up before they can find any relief.

Marja and her family are victims of this horrible famine and when her husband becomes gravely ill she must leave him behind to set out in search of food.  Marja bundles up her young daughter and infant son and all three of them embark on a cold, tiresome and relentless journey.  The vivid language of this book made me shutter with sympathetic chills as time and again Marja and her family are denied succor and turned out into the cold.

Ollikainen explores the animalistic nature which extreme circumstances tend to bring out in human beings.  Marja and her young children are treated not just as beggars but something less than human.  They are abused and denied even the most basic needs like food and a warm place to sleep.  I was stunned by the lack of sympathy shown to Marja and her children all along their journey.

The story also depicts Teo and Lars, brothers who, because of their upper class status, fare a little better during the famine.  Teo is a doctor traveling the countryside to bury a friend who has been overcome by disease and hunger.  Teo is a morally ambivalent character in the book and when he encounters Marja we wonder whether or not he will make the humane choice to help her.

WHITE HUNGER is a beautiful yet haunting account of the effects of famine not just on one family but on the conscience of an entire population.  I am so thrilled to have discovered this gem from Peirene Press and I am eager to read more of their titles.

About The Author:
A OllikainenAki Ollikainen was born in 1973, has taken the Finnish literary scene by storm with his extraordinarily accomplished debut novel White Hunger, which has won the most prestigous literary prizes in Finland. A professional photographer and reporter for a local newspaper, the author lives in Kolari in northern Finland. His second novel will be published in spring 2015.



Filed under Literature in Translation, Novella

3 responses to “Review: White Hunger by Aki Ollikainen

  1. I remember reading about this a few months ago, mentally adding it to a ‘must read’ list and then promptly forgetting all about it, so thank you for reminding me! It sounds fantastic.


  2. Pingback: 21015: A Banner Year for Indie Presses |

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