Author(s)
Katja Kettu
Illustrator(s)
Publication date
2011
Publisher
WSOY
Format info
344 pages

The Midwife

Kätilö

 
”Lord in Heaven, I want that man. Lord in Heaven, if I get him, I will never ask for another.”

 

Petsamo, northernmost Finland, summer 1944. The midwife’s veins flow with the hot blood of her butchered commie father. Ripped-apart and ruined, a barren outcast since childhood, she lives in a world of perinea and carbolic water. Until she meets him, the German lieutenant in his spit-shined SS boots. He sees her, washed in afterbirth, an umbilical cord dangling from her teeth, and looks at her like no one has ever looked at her before.

The midwife’s love drives her to follow this man to the camp where he’s dispatched, to trudge the length of the Arctic Ocean if necessary.

A novel with a distinct and powerful voice, The Midwife conjures to life a long-suppressed history. A Finland of prison camps and war-brides, a north where the children of the tundra are governed by racial doctrines, and one’s shoes are not provided by cobblers but by the stern God of the preacher Laestadius.

Katja Kettu’s language is simultaneously grotesque, magical, and authentic.

The Midwife has become a literary phenomenon, topping the bestseller charts for years. The novel has sold over 125 000 units in Finland alone.

A feature film based on The Midwife directed by Antti J. Jokinen premiered in Finland in 2015.

Katja Kettu revisited the themes and protagonists of The Midwife in her following literary work The Pipe Collector, published to huge critical acclaim in 2013.

 

Prizes and awards

2014 Laligaba Prize (Best translation into Latvian 2013)
2014 Kritikprisen (Best Translation into Norwegian 2013) Norwegian Critics’ Association
2012 Runeberg Prize
2012 Thank you for the Book Award
2011 Kalevi Jäntti Prize
2011 Book Bloggers’ Prize

 

Rights sold

Czech (Argo)
Danish (Art People)
Dutch (De Arbeiderspers)
English world (AmazonCrossing)
Estonian (Koolibri)
French (Actes Sud)
German (Galiani)
Hungarian (Gondolat)
Icelandic (Forlagid)
Italian (Salani)
Latvian (Dienas Gramata)
Lithuanian (Alma Littera)
Norwegian (Pax)
Polish (Świat Książki)
Spanish (Alfaguara)
Swedish (Albert Bonniers)
Turkish (Tekin Yayınevi)
Vietnamese (Women’s Publishing)

 

International Film Rights sold (Solar Films)

The Midwife film premiered in September 2015
The Midwife film was awarded The Best Actress Award at the Shanghai Film Festival (SIFF) in June 2015
The Midwife was selected to the Montreal International Film Festival (MIFF) Focus on World Cinema series in August 2015

The Midwife film trailer:
www.youtube.com/watch?v=UossBRe7_eA

Theatrical adaptation (Oulu City Theatre, Finland, September 2012)

 

Reading material

Czech edition
Danish edition
Dutch edition
English sample
English synopsis
Estonian edition
Finnish edition
French edition
German edition
Icelandic edition
Italian edition
Italian storyline
Latvian edition
Lithuanian edition
Norwegian edition
Polish edition
Spanish edition
Swedish edition

Press files, Author interviews from several countries

 

Praise for the work

 

Finland on Kätilö (WSOY, 2011)

“The Midwife has the feel and complexity of a big novel. The backgrounds of “Wildeye”, the Finnish midwife, and the German officer Johann Angelhurst, a Nazi, are revealed little by little. Amid impossible circumstances an impossible love story is born, the telling of which is flavoured with a pinch of magical realism and fistfuls of harsh realities. The fate of women in the prison camps of World War II was cruel, and Kettu depicts the era with an agonizing precision. The sentences are juicy, earthy, meaty. To resort to a culinary comparison: as an author, Kettu has not satisfied herself with tenderloin and sirloin alone, rather she also understands the straightforward delicacy of liver, kidneys, sweetbreads, and gizzards. It is a helping of innards served piping hot: frightening but fascinating.” – The Statement of the Runeberg Prize Jury 5/2/2012

“– a linguistically enormous performance, a tour de force, stunningly full of life.” – Helsingin Sanomat

”Definitely the best Finnish literature to have been published in a while.” – Kauppalehti

”Astonishingly wonderful… An exceptional reading experience. ” – Turun Sanomat

“I can truly say that I am holding in my hands one of this year’s most successful and significant novels: The Midwife. I even dare to compare it to Sofi Oksanen’s novel The Purge. That is how huge this book is.” – Seppo Puttonen, TV1

 

Sweden on Barnmorskan (Albert Bonniers, 2014)

The Midwife is not a book you read, it is a book you live through to the very last breath. It is impossible to get through it without it devouring you.” – Dagens Nyheter

”[The Midwife is] one of the most opinionated novels I’ve read in a long time. [—] It is about existence where all boundaries have been crossed, and Katja Kettu creates this using language that is equally boundless. Her text throbs with longing and sensuality.” – Svenska Dagbladet

“Katja Kettu demonstrates strikingly how there is only a breath between caring and birthing, and violence and killing. Both the victim and the executioner co-exist in the same person. The reader will be both fascinated and repulsed by The Midwife, which glows from its first page to the last.” – Aftonbladet

”Katja Kettu’s story-telling abilities have been compared to that of Karen Blixen. I associate her with Jeanette Winterson. They both share an astonishing imagery and a fruitful relationship with the grotesque, with its raw vulgarity, exaggeration and carnevalistic shifts in equilibrium. [—] The Midwife is a an astonishing novel with a raw soul, brimming with liberating energy. It wouldn’t surprise me if it ended up on a shelf with the classics.” – Cecilia Nelson, Göteborgs-Posten

”Kettu dresses her story in narrative so fleshy that you can smell the text: salty human sweat, reindeer moss, sperm and disinfectant. [—] The Midwife is an impressive novel.” – Helsingborgs Dagblad

The Midwife is a unique, exceptional reading experience of a severely harsh time in an extremely remote part of the North, yet so close in both time and geography.” – Skånska Dagbladet

”Reading The Midwife is a breathtaking experience, strange ripples between horror and fervour.” – Smålandsposten

”Katja Kettu’s narrative is wonderfully meaty and brings life to the passionately strong emotions that storm through the story.” – Borås Tidning

”Kettu is a superb wordsmith. [—] The narrative clings to you, barges in, chafes, disturbs and stays in your mind for days.” – VLT

”Vitalism lives in Finnish prose.” – Sydsvenskan

”Passion and sexuality [—] with death breathing down your neck. [—] Katja Kettu has written an exceptional war description.” – Norrköpings Tidningar

”The depiction of this magical love story makes the novel heartbreakingly intensive and almost explosive.” [—] ”Katja Kettu’s narrative is full-bodied, poetic and impudent.” – Arbetarbladet

”Katja Kettu does, in fact, have it all: the talent, the power, the stories and an entirely own narrative, which makes the story magical. This novel may very well be the beginning of a great authorship.” – Östgöta Correspondenten

”Katja Kettu’s prose gushes and reeks.” – Göteborgs-Posten

 

Norway on Jordmora (Pax, 2013)

”In many ways Katja Kettu resembles her protagonist, the almost supernatural indigenous Wild Eye. Kettu’s narrative has power, natural talent, ferocity that’s almost unreal.” – Dagbladet

”Fast-paced narrative captivates the reader and impacts like a force of nature. It will be exciting to see the novel on screen in the film which will soon be in the making.” – Adresseavisen

“Ohmygodthisbook! It has everything and so much more.” – Monika and Books blog

«[Katja Kettu] writes with impressive nerve and originality.» – VG

The Midwife contains a rare wealth of verbs, adjectives and substantives, as if the war is opening up the senses, creating a distinctive logic that is recreated in the full in a translation which is sparklingly alive.” – Statement of the Jury, Kritikerprisen Prize for the Best translation into Norwegian, Norwegian Critics’ Association

“The novel is so complex, so complete and so perfect that it has all the characteristics that classics are made of: a story that can be read over and over again, and where you will constantly find new details and heights, depiction of an unknown historical period described with humanity, suitable to be analyzed both in schools and by literary circles. And it is so literary in its expression – despite the brutality and the ferocity – that it is a true pleasure to read it. In short: the novel has it all! It cannot be other than a six-star rating!” – Rose-Maries litteratur og filmblogg

 

Denmark on Jordemoderen (People’s Press, 2015)

“Earthquakes on the Richter scale of love.” – Jyllandsposten

“The book in its rawness is reminiscent of the French writer Louis-Ferdinand Céline’s wild novels, but in Katja Kettu there is love in the midst of nihilism”. – Berlingske

“It is a masterfully written novel for anyone who appreciates unrestrained sensuality and rich linguistic ingenuity. (…) The Midwife is not easily accessible as a novel. You must tread carefully (…). However, on each page there is a reward waiting for you: Kettu’s clean prose is juicy, sensuous, physical and outspoken, a pure delight.” – Jyllandsposten

“She writes efficiently and fearlessly and knows what she is doing”. – Politiken

 

Latvia on Vecmate (Dienas Grāmata, 2013)

“Although the language – alive, intelligent, coarsely poetic—is the first thing the reader notices, it by no means hampers the other merits of the novel. [—] The author carries the story line stylishly by using different perspectives and points in time, revealing details gradually and only exposing the full picture at the end. Nothing redundant.” – Latvju Teksti periodical

“A novel with a remarkable and unforgettable lead character. Although the actions of the protagonist might seem unacceptable, we are ready to follow her wherever she takes us. If you add the poetically charged expression of Katja Kettu and the skilful translation of Maima Grīnberga, you get one of the most splendid books that were printed in Latvian yesteryear.” – Arvis Viguls, poet and critic

 

Germany on Wildauge (Galiani, 2014)

The Midwife is not a light bite when it comes to the language or the content. This novel is rather more like its surroundings: rugged and wild, but entirely enchanting in its own way.” – Darmstädter Echo

”I’m very impressed with this masterpiece.” – Ursula May, hr2 Kultur

The Midwife lives through its symbolism and language. [—] By creating the greatest atmosphere of threat even in the most intimate moments, war breeds distrust and fear – but also a unique, intensive love, which compensates for uncertainty with passion.” – Die Zeit

”Kettu depicts an exceptional wartime love story with an unsettling linguistic talent, simultaneously both tender and brutal, delicate and rugged.” – hr-online

”Katja Kettu depicts Finland towards the end of the Second World War with impressive narrative and remarkable imagery.” – Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung

”Never before has the taboo theme of the Lapland war—how former German brothers in arms torched Finnish Lapland and left behind children—been depicted as primordially and uniquely as by Katja Kettu.” – Emma

”Not for the faint-hearted.” – Cosmopolitan

”Kettu provokes and shocks. But her narrative is enchanting and moves me deeply.” – Literary blog masuko13

”I’ve very rarely – hardly ever, in fact—read a book that held me in its grip for this long and forced me into a pendular motion between pausing and continuing to read. [—] This novel has THAT SOMETHING, which simply makes it simply something special and unique.” – Screen name Floh on the literary portal Lovelybooks

”Kettu’s narrative is brimming with intensive imagery and unique linguistic comparisons, which stay with the reader long after finishing the book. In addition to this inexplicably dark and captivating language, the tragic story which is based on historical facts, no less, makes the reading experience unique.” – Literary blog LiteraturZeit

”Even after the first few pages the reader knows why Katja Kettu’s third novel has won literary awards. The language is intense, captivating, raw, delicate, rugged, precise and intensely graphic. It carries throughout the novel, changes according to each situation and viewpoint, and expresses in all possible ways the uniquely depicted situations and circumstances.” – Screen name michael_lehmann-pape on the literary portal Lovelybooks

The Midwife is a book you don’t read, you live it…” – Literary blog Buchrücken

 

Italy on L’amore nel vento (Salani, 2014)

“This universal story is like an ancient Greek tragedy, brimming with ingredients from our existence: life, death, the fight for survival and great passions.” – Vero

”…unique and touching. I can’t recommend this enough.” – Gli Amanti de Libri

”…an enchanting book you can’t put down”. – Alfio Caruso (author)

 

France on La sage-femme (Actes Sud, 2014)

“Katja Kettu – the strong voice of Finnish literature”… ”Katja Kettu mixes Nordic saga tradition and lyricism in her writing. Blending in the beautiful, the ugly and the noble, she drafts the portrait of a strong, multi-dimensional, unforgettable woman.” ”A novel with rare visual power.” – La Provence

“A mille lieux d’une écriture classique, le roman de Katja Kettu est d’un anticonformisme saisissant. L’écriture surprend des les premières lignes, tant elle mêle langage soutenu et termes les plus crus […] Le sentiment d’étrangeté plane en permanence tant le réel, épouvantable, côtoie le fantastique dans ce fjord où les bateaux perdent leurs repères. Les personnages rudes de Katja Kettu, attachée aux details, semblent grotesques mais une pointe de magie surgit toujours tant les sens sont sollicités, odeur, bruits, toucher… De cette langue rugueuse et singulière, il se degage un lyrisme unique. Un roman puissant où le trivial frôle la beaute.” – Camille de Marcilly, Libre.be

“Le mérite du récit tient dans la capacité de l’auteure à faire évoluer la conscience de son personnage féminin tout au long de son périple où plus d’une fois, elle a frôlé la mort. Le lecteur est en terre étrangère. Il erre, lui aussi, au gré des destinations de la sage-femme.” – Victoire Nguyen, MyBoox.fr

“Un récit de bruit et de fureur donc, d’amour également, dont une des règles est la transgression… Un récit des confins dans tous les sens du terme, confins géographiques, confins de l’humanité. Un roman fascinant.” – Marie-Paule Caire, Parutions.com

“Impregné de la coexistence de l’animisme traditionnel et d’un luthéranisme radical, tout le récit oscille ainsi entre histoire et fiction, entre réel et fantastique, entre le rationalisme germanique et les mystères du Grand Nord.” – Sebastien Cagnoli, his foreword to the French translation

“Violence des hommes, violence de la guerre, violence de l’amour, Katja Kettu emporte le lecteur dans un roman vertigineux. Accordant peu de place à la nuance et au mystère, l’auteur laisse palpiter sous les lignes sensualité et brutalité, elle ne craint aucun mot pour mettre en scène la bestialité et l’archaïsme de ses personnages. On retrouve cette désinhibition dans la langue, qu’elle tord dans tous les sens et détend en mêlant le langage de villageois plutôt rustres avec une prose fiévreuse et incantatoire. Elle transforme le tout en une poésie rustique remarquable. […] Roman passionnant.” – Mélanie, Babelio.com

 

Spain on La Comadrona (Alfaguara, 2014)

“…Katja Kettu confirma con la magistral La comadrona el excelente momento de la literatura finlandesa…” – Todo Literatura

“La comadrona es una de las novelas más impactantes que he leído este año 2014.” – El búho entre libros

“Una historia muy sensual, en la que intervienen mucho los sentidos, porque sin llegar al extremo de El perfume, el sentido del olfato tiene mucha importancia en La comadrona, porque su protagonista en muchas ocasiones recurre a los olores para definir, describir y diferenciar a las personas.” – El búho entre libros

 

 Czech Republic on Porodní Bába (Argo, 2015)

“It is not easy to earn the readers’ interest on the oversaturated Czech book market but Porodní bába [The Midwife] succeeded. The book (…) is known among and talked about people outside the bubble of Fennophiles. It’s a novel which fascinates in no less than on three levels: the plot, the language, and the art… In comparison [with Sofi Oksanen’s Purge] The Midwife is artistically more ambitious, it isn’t interesting only for its plot and historical facts, but thanks to its brilliant form it offers a strong artistic experience.” – iLiteratura

 “The novel mixes lyrical passages with cruel descriptions of the horrors of war, beauty and ugliness stand next to each other all the time, elements of magical realism, irony, and almost grotesque humour are interspersed with the simple language of the spies’ notes. And all the while the message of the book, faith in humanity and human dignity in all circumstances, is present between the lines.” – Idnes

 “The Midwife, an utterly exceptional novel of the Finnish fiction writer Katja Kettu is a close-fitting puzzle of destinies, love and hatred of people of all nationalities, of the war-time suffering and hope in the life of future generations…” – Novinky

 “ The author averts the threat of a cliché and cheap emotions of a soppy romance with her explosive, vulgar and mesmerizing eruption of the language (…) The Midwife is both rough and beautiful, lyrical and unforgiving – it oscillates between sublime metaphors and starry heights the characters look up to, and the basest physicality, secretions, and an overwhelming number of synonyms for genitals… Under the contours of bestiality the Midwife uncovers humanity bared to the bone, left with almost no dignity, but despite (or because of) that very easily understandable.” – Respekt (Weekly)

“The Midwife is a novel that will disgust you and fascinate you at the same time… Katja Kettu makes readers think about justifiability of the both anti-heroes’ actions. She presents an ambivalent text in which the low mixes with the sublime, the fragile with the brutal, and for that purpose she uses expressive language full of metaphores, poetic expressions, but also vulgarisms and authorial neologisms…” – Instinkt

 “Utterly sensational (…) The Midwife is an absolutely gripping novel… We can guarantee that during your reading of The Midwife and even long after your dreams will be more than dramatic.” – Elle

 

U.S. on The Midwife (AmazonCrossing, 2016)

“Kettu’s language is heartrending in the telling of this devastating story. At the same time, her beautiful, poetic images of the Arctic landscape make the cold splendor of the setting come to life. The book has received critical acclaim and literary awards in the author’s native Finland.  Translation rights have recently been sold worldwide, and it is now available in English. I highly recommend this book even to those who have had their fill of WWII books. Kettu gives us a new look into WWII from the Finnish perspective in Nazi-occupied Finland.” – Historical Novel Society, November 2016 issue

“It’s a difficult book to review as I was completely captivated by the language of the story which must have been a joy to translate. The prose is earthy and brutal, describing a period in time where survival is a result of stamina, circumstance and finding a place in the community and landscape. I knew little of the stationing of German troops in northern Finland and the Lapp setting is woven into the narrative. The timeline makes for some challenging reading with the occasional inclusion of superfluous official documents but the story of Weird Eye is unique and moving. The excellent translation is by David Hackston.” – Crimepieces.com /Sarah Ward