Jul 15, 2016

Book Recommendation: The Works of Leena Krohn


Leena Krohn is a Finnish writer of speculative fiction. Her work is beautiful and strange and always surprising, so if you like weird fiction, you should definitely check her out. Tainaron: Mail from Another City, a series of letters sent from a city of insects, has been available in English for a while now, but a collection of her work was released last year, including some of her novels and short stories. Her work veers towards literary fiction, but don't let that put you off; this is the good kind of literary fiction, thoughtful but engaging.

I started reading one of her books, Hotel Sapiens, a story about people living in a hotel run by sentient machines on an apocalyptic Earth, and just fell in love. Then I picked up DreamDeath, which is also awesome. The protagonist is an anesthesiologist with insomnia, who works at a cryopreservation facility called the Freezer, the local hospital, and also DreamDeath, a euthanasia facility where you can go out with style. Dreams also figure into the narrative as she reads the dream journal of her great-great-grandfather (not sure about how many greats are in there).  We also meet some of her clients, who all have different reasons for wishing to die or to live forever. Then there's the real world that's crumbling into chaos and cruelty. It's an exploration of life, death, and the quest for immortality, but engaging and readable, not as heavy as you'd think from the subject matter.

I love how the books are structured. It almost feels like they're composed of short stories that explore different aspects of the theme and then all tie together in a greater whole. There's a delicious irony about her characters, like the blind ophthalmologist, or the anesthesiologist with insomnia, and some of the characters are just plain weird, like the shadow that leaves its human and lives on its own.

The real irony is that many of her books are out of print and hard to find in Finnish, while the English ebook is available to everyone. I've had Tainaron in English for a while now, but it felt wrong to read the translation when I could read the original. I actually lucked out, because I recently found it at a second-hand bookshop I popped into on my way to the library for said book. It was meant to be!

If you want something different, Krohn is definitely that. I just hope the power of her work isn't lost in translation. Have you tried something of hers? How was the translation?

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