Sunday, April 29, 2007

First Novel

So my first novel is being published: Saarikoski's Spirits in English, Pentinpeijaat in Finnish, by Avain.

What happened was this: I finished the novel in 2000, and spent several years (rather desultorily) looking for a publisher in English. No interest. The editors that had a look at it liked it well enough but didn't see a market for it--a fictionalized biography of a Finnish poet and translator who died two decades ago! An editor at Grove Press suggested I try the Finnish-American press, and North Star Press of St. Cloud, who had published my translation of Aleksis Kivi's Heath Cobblers, said they'd be happy to have a look at it. So I sent them a proposal and a sample chapter, and never heard back from them.

So finally, when Anna-Riikka Carlson of Avain asked me to translate the first seven chapters of Elina Hirvonen's Että hän muistaisi saman ("That He'd Remember the Same," literally, but the novel is now being published by Portobello Books in my translation under the English title When I Forgot, 2008 release date), so she could market the translation rights at the London Book Fair in the late winter of 2006, I was so impressed with the way she was running her relatively young publishing house that I offered her my Saarikoski. She took a few months to look it over, and when I was in Helsinki in June of 2006, visiting my daughter Laura, I met with Anna-Riikka and her summer intern Anne Rutanen, and we all more or less agreed that they'd do the book.

Since then, we've been working on it, editing it long-distance, spending hours on Skype chatting about it; about a month ago, it was finally pronounced ready for translation, and was sent to the Finnish translator, Kimmo Lilja.

When Anna-Riikka said she wanted to publish it in September, 2007, I had an idea: why not launch it on September 2, 2007--Pentti Saarikoski's 70th birthday?

My plans now are to fly to Finland in late October to promote the book at the Helsinki Book Fair.

The book's title:

My original idea in English was that the "spirits" in Saarikoski's Spirits would be both the booze that killed him and the tutelary spirits of the dead authors he's translating, who appear in the novel. When it was finally settled that the book would appear first in Finnish translation, I realized of course that the English pun on "spirits" wouldn't work in Finnish, and for several months wracked my brain for an alternative.

What I finally came up with was a variation on the Finnish concept of the karhunpeijaiset, the ancient Finnish bear-kill feast that was intended to guide the dead bear to Manala, the land of the dead. So instead of the bear (karhu), the dead spirit that would be guided to Manala would be Pentti: thus, pentinpeijaiset. But I didn't like the rhythm of that, so I suggested an older form of the word instead, -peijaat.

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