Finland’s beloved author returns with a stunning novel about impossible wartime choices, female shame and the woman’s experience in WWII.
Late spring 1945, five women find themselves on the Finland-Norway border having been sent back to Finland from the prison camp at Tromsø in Norway. Wandering on foot through the war-charred remains of Lapland, Aili, Irene, Katri, Siiri and Veera are vilified as they pass through burnt-down villages and towns, witnessing the human cost of war around them. Their heads have been shaved to mark their betrayal for collaborating with the withdrawing Nazis. They don’t speak of their individual reasons for having followed the German troops up to the Arctic; some feared Soviet occupation, others went for love or employment, and there were those who had adopted the ideals of National Socialism. Choices made yesterday have become punishable today.
Silenced by their shame, the women find solace in one another’s company as they desperately try to make sense of what has happened to them and what fate awaits them back home, but not without moments of solidarity and laughter that will grip readers right up to the last word.
A rich and affecting novel about the far-reaching effects of the choices people make in wartime, and what it means to lose your home, your country and your sense of identity.
Tommi Kinnunen (b. 1973) is a Finnish language and literature lecturer from north-eastern Finland. His debut novel Where Four Roads Meet (2014) was a stunning critical and sales success, with translation rights sold to 14 countries within its first year. His second novel The Light Behind the Eyes (2016) was shortlisted for the Finlandia Fiction Prize in 2016 and immediately topped Fin-land’s bestseller lists. The Glass River (2018), his much-anticipated third novel, became a pre-publication bestseller. He lives with his family in Turku, Finland.
Lithuanian (Alma littera)
English sample translation 89pp
2020, Winner of the Reader’s Vote Finlandia Prize
2020, Winner of Suomalainen Kirjakauppa’s ‘Book of the Year’
2020, Winner of the Minna Canth Prize
2020, Shortlisted for the Finlandia Prize
2020, Shortlisted for the Runeberg Prize
2021, Shortlisted for the Lapland Literature Prize
“Some march from war as heroes, others are stripped of their dignity. This novel, set in the aftermath of the Second World War, offers another depiction of the hopeless reconstruction period in Finland, in which hopes and dreams have collapsed. Tommi Kinnunen’s different kind of journey novel will remain in readers’ minds for a long time, leaving them with an affecting afterimage.” — Finlandia Prize Jury
“Kinnunen skillfully depicts both the broken human mind and wartorn Lapland. The historical detail stands, but it is told through the stories of individuals. The readers gets to feel the characters’ fear, sadness, and joy… The story is an almost perfect combination of barren and beautiful.” — Anniina Liimatainen, Maaseuden Tulevaisuus newspaper
“[Tommi Kinnunen] doesn’t play tricks with structure or write plots with strange twists and turns. Instead, he slowly unveils his characters, giving the reader food for thought and evoking their emotions. When you read Kinnunen, the Dostoyevskys and Waltaris spring to mind… Tommi Kinnunen has once again written a compelling novel, keeping the art of literature alive, just like the mysterious Italian writer hiding behind the name Elena Ferrante.” — Helena Ruuska, Helsingin Sanomat newspaper
“Tommi Kinnunen’s DEFIANCE gives a voice to the women we’re not used to hearing from. Kinnunen is an extremely talented character writer; his characters are human and their development is authentic. As a writer, he changes perspective often, resulting in a multidimensional story. His female characters are neither criminals nor saints — and their stories aren’t oppressively moralising either… [Kinnunen] is a sensitive and skilful narrator with a rich command of language. DEFIANCE is a thought-provoking novel which exposes the reader to many points of view. Its message is important and its sense of humanity is deeply touching.” — Johanna Suominen, Etelä-Suomen Sanomat newspaper
“[Kinnunen describes] suspenseful events with a moving narrative and occasional outbursts or ribald laughter.” — Kaisa Kurikka, Turun Sanomat newspaper
“Kinnunen is often praised for his character writing. It’s easy to see why… Kinnunen’s novel stirred so many emotions in me that I felt tears prickling my eyes… DEFIANCE is a striking and touching novel.” — Terhi Marjakangas, Koillissanomat newspaper
“This is a book about what war does to a person. Kinnunen writes for all the senses: the reader smells the smoky ruins and tastes the thin soup, feeling the women’s’ horror, pain, and sense of hope… Its impermeable atmosphere stays under your skin for weeks. You want to travel to the landscapes of the book. It caused me to became interested in the war in Lapland in a new way. This is a perspective that has not been written about before. So far, this is Finland’s best domestic novel.” — Suvi Kerttula, Ilta Sanomat newspaper
“Although DEFIANCE is set decades ago, its story is still relevant today. Author Tommi Kinnunen mentions the example of women often referred to as “ISIS wives”, whose return to Finland has prompted wide controversy.” — Anne Puumala, Ilkka-Pohjalainen newspaper
“An astute novel, I can highly recommend it.” — Ilkka Kuosmanen, Etelä-Suomen Sanomat newspaper
“Kinnunen wrote his way into the hearts of readers with Where Four Roads Meet in 2014 and he will redeem his place again.” — Mari Markkanen, Kodin Kuvalehti newspaper
“Kinnunen’s narrative is fluent and believable. The runaway women’s memories of the war are counterbalanced by Lapland’s nature, which comes to live in the spring, despite the burned-down ruins, mined forest roads, and mass graveyards. The language is beautiful, but concrete. The reader can feel the cold rising up from the ground and taste the barley baking in the oven. In all his novels, Tommi Kinnunen writes convincing characters. He doesn’t write victim stories. His characters avoid playing into stereotypes and he usually manages to explore a surprising new angle, too. Towards the end, this novel is so addictive that it’s hard to put down. Thanks, Tommi Kinnunen, I missed a night’s sleep because of you! But it was worth it.” — Anni Saari, Keskipohjanmaa newspaper
“This book is recommended for everyone who is interested in the (Lapland) war and especially the post-war period, as well as for anyone who is interested in how the war ultimately came to affect Finns. Although the war eventually ended, the suffering of the people was by no means over.” — Kirsti Vuorela, Länsi-Savo newspaper
“Tommi Kinnunen’s… fourth novel DEFIANCE is a strong telling of the women torn apart by war from the perspective of the women’s rights… Kinnunen reaches an interesting, surprising conclusion, which serves as a key to understanding the human mind in both exceptional and normal circumstances. Kinnunen’s female perspective is strong, even mythical.” — Risto Kormilainen, Sotkamo lehti newspaper
“Kinnunen’s lyrical, sometimes elegiac, prose at times offers the reader a bird’s eye perspective, and at other times plunges deep into the characters’ bodies, into their shaved heads, swollen ankles, and cramping stomachs. We see these shamed women in their entirety.” — Heidi Lakkala, Kaleva newspaper
“Kinnunen’s style is unpretentious and fluent.” — Suomen Kuvalehti magazine
“Again, Tommi Kinnunen gives a platform to those without a voice. This time the author tackles a subject cloaked in shame and silence… Kinnunen has the unique ability to coax out his characters’ personalities, allowing the reader to get to know them gradually. This historical novel serves as a good reminder of what the people of our country have survived.” — Miia Gustafsson, Yle
“DEFIANCE tells the story of the less-involved participants in the war through fiction with accuracy and skill.” — Kirsi’s Bookclub blog
“Tommi Kinnunen’s writing is poignant. Their compulsion to survive is what drives the women forwards, despite the fatigue and hunger that plague them. In a deserted landscape there’s time to think, remember, and reflect your choices, to put your life in order. But what happens when your destination looms ahead? You may have come to accept yourself but how can you explain your choices to others? How can you stand the ostracization, how can you keep the secrets? Very little is known about the Finnish women of the Lapland war, and Tommi Kinnunen hasn’t interviewed them for this work either. Kinnunen wants to imagine a story for them, feel for them and understand their choices. The further I got into DEFIANCE, the more I, as a reader, felt the need to hear them. In the end the most important thing is humanity. A warm recommendation.” — Kirjavinkit literary blog
“Despite its tough subject, DEFIANCE is a joy to read: fluent, beautiful language; it felt like the book turned its own pages.” — Kirjaluotsi literary blog
“Kinnunen is a staggeringly good character writer and, even better, he’s one of the very few Finnish writers who knows how to write about women’s minds, fears, desires, flights, bitterness, and joy.” — Leena Lumi literary blog
“Kinnunen’s ability to write about women of different ages is impressive, but what I’m most impressed by is how he conveys Irene’s different life stages and feelings after she moves away from her marriage and her adult son… This impressive novel lingered in my mind long after I finished reading it… I admire how Kinnunen leaves the reader space to think about the character’s paths, both in the past and in the future. I also tip my hat to the fact that this book concretises the utter destruction that Welfare Finland was built upon and what kinds of mines its builders carried with them.” — Tuijata literary blog
“A touching, unfussy, handsome story – perhaps Tommi Kinnunen’s best, as people are already saying on social media… In this book his strengths as a writer, an interesting topic and its successful execution come together alongside a narrative which is imaginatively naturalistic and straight-forward, in typical Kinnunen-style. And then there’s the age-old topic: we’ve been through exceptional things in our history.” — Kulttuuri kukoistaa literary blog
“An impressive, shocking psychological journey novel, DEFIANCE makes you consider the question: How can we be humane to other humans?” — Kirjasta kirjaan literary blog
“The scenes in this book appeared in my mind as vivid and as real as though I were watching a movie.” — Kirja vieköön literary blog
“This book feels really important. It was exceptionally well written, and I continued thinking about it after I put the book down. It talked about the Lapland War in a new way, which I enjoyed even though reading it was painful.” — Kirsimaria literary blog
“Most impressive is the atmosphere that is created, bit by bit, in this journey novel. It sweeps you up. The women’s journey is anything but easy, but the book’s narrative proceeds effortlessly. Even though Kinnunen tells an affecting story in precise, vivid, lively prose, reading this book is nothing but a pleasure.” — Nannan kirjakimara literary blog