Katja Kettu
Publication date
August 2015
Format info
326 pages

Hawk Moth


An audacious new novel of love and power by a writer of rare intensity

Lapland, the 1930s. Irga, the pregnant daughter of a former White general, escapes her pursuers on skis and crosses into Soviet Russia. Waiting on the other side is the agitator Suenhammas and a new life. Irga’s path takes her far north and east to the camps of the Vorkuta Gulag, and down to the Volga Bend and Kazan, and to the Mari Autonomous Oblast. When she finally settles in the tiny Mari village of Lavra, Irga carries a secret that she must protect more fiercely than her own life.

Russia, 2015. Laid out in a village schoolroom is the body of the ethnologist Henrik. His Finnish daughter Verna has come to look for her long-lost father, but she arrives too late. Verna finds herself trying to piece together his and her past in an environment where people have been frightened into silence and everyone has their own reason to withhold the truth. The Maris are a Finno-Ugric ethnic group, historically related to the Finns, and the Mari society – with its ancient myths and sacred groves – is struggling to preserve the national language and culture against pressure from without. The fates of the characters in the novel crisscross one another, and the two historical periods are deliciously interwoven and compared; the author has forged a great narrative of language, love, and power.

Katja Kettu’s prose again flows effortlessly and delightfully between past and present, spanning the bare landscapes of Northern Europe and the fringes of Central Asia. The beautiful and the ugly, the sordid and the sublime take turns at the helm in Kettu’s writing. Her idiosyncratic way with language draws on the tradition of ’Northern grotesque’, but with a dash of magic realism thrown in.

Hawk Moth is a universal tale of tenacity and survival.


Hawk Moth has sold close to 40 000 units in Finland alone.


An extract of Hawk Moth has been published in Swedish in Granta #5 and in English in the special edition of Granta #3 (Finland).

Read a fresh author interview in the German publisher’s homepage!



Awards and nominations

Winner of The Best Book of 2015 Award in the Literary Fiction category (Elisa Kirja)


Rights sold

Bulgarian (ICU)
Czech (Argo)
Danish (People’s Press)
Hungarian (Gondolat)
Estonian (Koolibri)
French (Actes Sud)
German (Ullstein)
Norwegian (Pax)
Polish (Świat Książki)
Swedish (Albert Bonniers)


Reading materials

English sample
Review in English
Danish edition
Estonian edition
German edition
Norwegian edition
Finnish edition


Praise for the work


Finland on Yöperhonen (WSOY, 2015)

“In Hawk Moth, Katja Kettu combines historical and ethnographic details with elements of a thriller, a love story with advocacy for ethnic minorities, a portrayal of prison-camp miseries with sensual sexual encounters. The blend is engaging and magnetic. (…) In the worlds created by Katja Kettu, mythological powers from the hereafter churn alongside the power mechanisms of the state.” –  Turun Sanomat newspaper 

Hawk Moth is a rough novel like The Midwife, it is without a doubt one of the most interesting novels of this season. It shocks, even disgusts you, but how else could one write about the Gulag?” – Helsingin Sanomat newspaper

“Katja Kettu has written a pure thriller (…) Hawk Moth is one of the most eagerly awaited novels of this season. (…) an enthralling mystery novel which can be read on several levels.” – Ilkka newspaper

“Poet of the rough.” – Hufvudstadsbladet newspaper

“One doesn’t want to wake up from this nightmare.” – Ilta-Sanomat newspaper

“It is characteristic to Katja Kettu’s style of writing that her language is rich and the events she describes are brutal, often deliberately repulsing. The story is partly based on real-life events and at the end of the novel there is a long list of sources. This story is not told merely because of the pleasure of fiction. Despite the veracity of the novel, the events have the feeling of being drawn from the boundaries of sleep and awakeness, as if they were part of an overlong nightmare. The nightmarish effect is enhanced not only by the terrible events, but also by the meritorious presentation of the Mari mythology so essential to the Mari culture.” – Keskisuomalainen newspaper

“A nightmare from the boundaries of language [tongue] and mind”. – Savon Sanomat newspaper

“Katja Kettu elaborately turns and twists the audacious plot and the great historical truth thereof victoriously carries the novel to its end.”- Kansan Uutiset newspaper

“Beautifully about horrors (…) Compared to the previous novel, The Midwife, the tone [of Hawk Moth] is calmer and more balanced, leaving space for more characters and to their development. Sex and violence are straightforwardly described, which is supposedly inevitable if one wants to write about prison camps, of power and of love.” – Vihreä lanka newspaper

“Katja Kettu doesn’t only write, she creates language with her original expressions.” – Seura magazine

“The Gulag horrors, the destinies of many generations and the persistence of defending your own kin even in impossible circumstances are intertwined with the beliefs of the Mari people and with the beauty of nature and friendship.” – Apu magazine

“Strong images with original language.” – Kotiliesi magazine

“In Hawk Moth Kettu composes the story of the oppressors and the oppressed again with refined mystical sentences.” – Suomen Kuvalehti magazine

“The work is impressive in creating circumstances with language. The language is primeval like the nature itself and Kettu’s capacity to say in another manner is earth-shattering. (…) Although the twists in Hawk Moth resemble Sofi Oksanen’s Purge (2008), it is the language which makes it [Hawk Moth] enter a class of its own, the novel is a fabulous example of the magical power of a pen.” – Kaleva newspaper

“Hawk Moth is an allegory of the struggle of the Finno-Ugric peoples against the arbitrariness of a larger and a more powerful entity.” – Kainuun Sanomat newspaper


Praise from the international publishers

“We have decided that we want to publish Hawk Moth in Estonian. It is truly a fabulous book! Hawk Moth is the third novel by Katja Kettu that we are publishing in Estonian. We are honoured to be part of Katja Kettu’s growth to one of Finland’s most important contemporary authors. With Hawk Moth Katja Kettu is taking a new step as a master in describing the dark side of the human nature.” – Kadri Haljamaa, Editor-in-Chief, Koolibri, Estonia

“When I read The Midwife, I fell in love with Katja Kettu’s writing. And even though I didn’t think it was possible to top the quality of that amazing novel, her new book Hawk Moth does so in a brilliant way. The language is archaic, powerful and epic. Hawk Moth is a fascinating novel about power and love narrated in a distinct, one-of-a-kind voice. Katja Kettu is a world-class author.” – Heide Kloth, Senior Editor, Ullstein, Germany

”We are thrilled to be publishing Katja Kettu’s new novel Hawk Moth in Sweden. It is a remarkable story about power, oppression, passion and language. And Katja Kettu is an absolute star!” – Lotta Aquilonius, Senior Editor, Albert Bonniers Förlag


Czech on Můra (Argo, 2017)

(…) Kettu demonstrates the essence of the red terror, the efficience of which resulted not only from the physical eradication of the opponents, but most importantly from building the atmosphere of everpresent fear, and the feeling of threat, in which the victims willingly participated. That is one of the metaphorical interpretations of the novel’s title – a moth is a creature fatally attracted to burning light, a human is a creature fatally attracted to the promise of utopias which will burn them to cinders. (…) Kettu creates a universal parable of Russia which in the passages from 2015 transforms into a hyperbolic portrait of Putin’s power. (…)

Similarly, the characters free themselves from the physical hardships and inhumane conditions of the lager, and they face their guilt and losses, which they bring from the past, with equal resilience. The voices of the female narrators are dominated by their sensually spontaneous world view which outvoices even the aggressive voices of authoritarian ideologies. To the heroines, their sensuality and desire is more important than the draconic scenes from the lager, or those from the contemporary Russian countryside, which become the setting of mechanical brutality and criminal oppression. (…)

(…) This straightforward literary commentary on the current political situation is smart and decadently grotesque, and thus it evokes the work of Vladimir Sorokin. (…) A moth becomes, in this world of sacrifices and offerings to demons, a symbol of the human soul, which can free itself from the shackles of the body.

(…) The author imprinted all the energy of lust and despair into the language which unites bodily imagery and sharp details of the indifferent nature. (…) A fascinating, albeit simple image of the moth – the desire, feith, and soul fluttering on the verge of extasis and selfdestruction – is a sufficient connector of voices and events.“ – Respekt


Denmark on Natsværmeren (People’s Press, 2016)

“Katja Kettu writes incendiary prose with sensuous nature references, wild sexuality and nerves on edge. [–] The symbolism is typical of Kettu, who debuted with the wild and juicy novel The Midwife. The author’s absolute force is the indomitable female mind. Her mature language gives the reader unhindered access to the stench of unwashed genitals, the flavours of wild forest growth, and the sounds of creaking, frozen rivers. Kettu’s vocabulary and biological knowledge are in a class of their own.” – FIVE STARS OUT OF SIX – Jyllands-Posten newspaper

“Kettu has the ability to write about women’s lives and destinies in such a way that the reader travels along on their journey and shares the same feelings as they do, feels their pleasure and their pain. Another strong novel that cements the author’s great qualities and promises that there will be more excellent reading experiences on way.” –


Germany on Feuerherz (Ullstein, 2017)

“Coarsely and violently it approaches, juices splash, power spurts, it stinks and tastes of sweaty afternoons and smoke in wet wool. Katja Kettu’s language, brimming with metaphor, is unabashedly flowery and outspoken, untenably inventive and full clever jokes laughing in the face of all good taste. These are not the whispers of elfin myths: the pages of this tale, filled with history and legend, rumble like a mighty thunder. Kitsch or art? Who cares: it is daring, wild and absolutely brilliant!” – Frankfurter Rundschau, Germ

“Is the language of Hawk Moth its most important feature? It can kick you in the butt and be vulgar. It is wild, animal, and then tender and lyrical. (…) It is a simultaneously oversized and masterfully tamed story that does not let go.” – Kurier, Austria

“Kettu is not about indictment, heroes or morals. She tells individual destinies, reveals things that want to stay hidden and breaks a thousand-year silence eloquently and relentlessly. As in her previous novel [The Midwife], which remained on the bestseller list for months, Kettu takes on a difficult subject of history and transforms it expressively and forcefully into a piece of grand and courageous literature.” –  Buchkultur

“Two strong female figures and a people trying to assert their right to exist against all opposition. An epic, eloquent novel that tells of power, violence and love beyond all borders.” – Szene-Magazin

“Katja Kettu’s strong female figures open our eyes to the world of the Mari people and the hunger for power of Russian despots.” –Büchermagazin

“In Hawk Moth, Katja Kettu tells a wild, sensual story influenced by pagan forces.”
Madame Magazin


Norway on Nattsvermer (Pax, 2017)

“With Hawk Moth, Finnish Katja Kettu, in Norwegian with the good help of translator Turid Farbregd, has written a novel that many people at risk of drowning should dive into – and certainly experience literary shortness of breath….” – FIVE STARS OUT OF SIX, Stavanger Aftenblad newspaper

“Katja Kettu borrows aspects from both thrillers and historical novels and mixes them together in a raw, sensual and direct language that also features strong natural scenes with touches of mystery and ancient folklore.” – Dag og Tid newspaper

“… a seductive reading experience with a strong smell and taste … The joy of the harsh language is the big bonus of the novel that opens up insights and glimpses into a close, yet almost unknown, part of Nordic history. It should also be mentioned that Turid Farbregd has made a great effort to transfer this novel into a form suited to Norwegian-speaking readers.” – Dagsavisen newspaper

“One of Finland’s great new writers” – Adresseavisen newspaper


Poland on Ćma (Świat Książki, 2017)

“It takes an incredible imagination and discipline to create a book tailored to the Hawk Moth. It is a story spread over decades, and at the same time dense, mesmerizing, written in beautiful, poetic moments (…) And at the same time full of human, even primitive, emotions and desires. (…) Suspension guaranteed. Great prose, sensationally translated by Bożena Kojro. Perfect material for a moving film, full of magic and love. I recommend.”– Jerzy Doroszkiewicz, Poranny newspaper

“The Finnish writer is fascinated with the relationships of people brought to the extreme where the differences between nations and religions disappear in the face of suffering. Kettu mixes the genres, combines a classic romance with historical coverage, a crime, an erotic novel and fairy tales. Crimes of Soviet Russia are closely related to the secret beliefs of its inhabitants. The greatest strength of Hawk Moth is that it’s impossible to falsify the specific behavior of the characters. And also the plot of the book – sometimes even arrogant in its boldness.” – Newsweek Poland

“Kettu shows the reader the power of feminine friendship and the will to survive. Her novel touches upon similar topics as the famous Mother by Pavol Rankov, laureate of the European Union Literary Prize. However, Kettu does it much better.” – FIVE STARS OUT OF SIX, Polityka newspaper


Estonia on Ööliblikas (Koolibri, 2016)

A great story of love and passion, war and betrayal, cruelty and mercy. – Eesti Ekspress


Kettu is skilled in depicting the extremes of human capabilities – the novel presents both almighty love and sacrifices made in its name, as well as bloodthirsty cruelty, which, to the reader’s relief, is mostly left between the lines. This is one way in which Hawk Moth is different from The Midwife. The gaps can be filled in by the reader. The writer, however, takes them by the hand through an astonishing story of the 20th century, the kind that can be found in the most ordinary family, a story that moves through the major historical events of the 20th century and in which ordinary people struggle to survive and manage to succeed in some way. To what extent can survivors of dictatorship choose their means of survival? How much is a human being responsible for decisions and actions taken in a dog-eat-dog era? What is the role of one person in the fate of their country? The answers to these questions are by no means simple or without contradiction. – Sirp