USEREVIEW 144 (Capsule): The Red Book of Farewells

Deirdre Danklin/ December 13, 2023/ Book Review, Capsule Review

Pirkko Saisio (Writer), Mia Spangenberg (Translator)
The Red Books of Farewells (Center for the Art of Translation, 2023)
ISBN: 978-1-94964-146-2 | 312 pp | $24.95 USD — BUY Here


The Red Book of Farewells by Pirkko Saisio, published for the first time in English in 2023 by the Center for the Art of Translation, is a novel about a woman who comes of age in Finland during the height of radical political discourse and experimental theatre in the 1970s. She is a lesbian at a time when same-sex love is illegal, and the reader follows her to underground bars where she falls in love anyway. She leaves and gets left. She leaves her mother’s oppressive home where she’s forced to hide her sexuality. She leaves her first love “the clown-eyed girl” for her second love, Havva. Havva leaves her for a man. She contemplates leaving this world. Eventually, her daughter leaves the way all children do — by growing up. This book is written in an elliptical style that draws the reader closer as if whispering secrets. The silences say as much in each scene as the words do, and there is always a kind of thrumming energy underneath the prose, as if the reader can feel all of the emotions that are being left unsaid.

Recommended excerpt:

This excerpt (section 4, pp. 228–229) shows the reader Saisio’s use of hypnotic repetition, and it’s an example of the kind of deep emotions that bubble up between walks with a baby in a stroller or a phone call with an old friend.

There are two kinds of longing.

There’s the longing of the mind.

It affects your memory and appetite, your blood pressure and personal hygiene, but it seldom causes hallucinations. It’s the kind of longing you recover from by grieving. By grieving, you take the person you long for into yourself, into the glass labyrinth of your memories; you lock that person inside and find your own way back out.

And then there’s the longing of the skin.

It affects your memory and appetite, your blood pressure and personal hygiene. But it also causes hallucinatory sensations involving your sight, smell, hearing, and touch.

It’s the kind of longing from which there is no way out.

Deirdre Danklin holds an MFA from Johns Hopkins University and lives in Baltimore, Maryland with her husband, son and two cats. Her flash fiction and essays have been published in Hobart, Pithead Chapel and The Jellyfish Review, among others. Her debut novella, Catastrophe, which won the 2021 Clay Reynolds Novella Prize and was nominated for a 2022 Shirley Jackson Award, was published by Texas Review Press. Danklin’s flash fiction chapbook, How to Start a Coven, was published by Variant Literature in 2022. More:

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