Author(s)
Katja Kettu
Illustrator(s)
Publication date
2015
Publisher
WSOY
Format info
326 pages

Hawk Moth

Yöperhonen

An audacious novel about love and power, with a touch of magical realism. 43,000 copies sold.

In 1930s Lapland the pregnant Irga, the daughter of a former White general, flees into Soviet Russia. There, the agitator Suenhammas and a new life await. Irga travels north east to the camps of the Vorkuta Gulag, down to the Volga Bend and Kazan, and all the way to the autonomous Mari Oblast. When she finally settles in the tiny Mari village of Lavra, Irga discovers a secret that she must protect more fiercely than her own life.

In Russia in 2015, the body of an ethnologist, Henrik, lies in a village school room. His Finnish daughter Verna is looking for her long-lost father, but she arrives too late. Verna tries to piece together their shared past while those around her are scared into silence. It seems that everyone has their own reason for withholding the truth.

Kettu’s prose flows between past and present seamlessly, her novel spanning the bare landscapes of Northern Europe and the fringes of Central Asia. She explores the beautiful and the ugly, the sordid and the sublime. Her unique handle on language draws on the tradition of Northern gothic literature with a dash of magic realism thrown into the mix. Hawk Moth is a universal tale of sisu and survival.

A Swedish extract of Hawk Moth was published in Granta #5 and an English extract was published in Granta #3.

Katja Kettu (b. 1978) is one of the most acclaimed authors in Finland today. Originally from Rovaniemi, on the Arctic Circle, Kettu’s breakthrough novel The Midwife has sold over 130,000 copies in Finland alone and the novel was adapted into a Finnish language feature film. Kettu’s work has been translated into 20 languages to date.

Prizes and nominations

2015, Winner of The Best Book of 2015 Prize in Elisa Kirja’s Literary Fiction category

Material

Finnish PDF
English sample translation 42pp

Rights sold

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

Reviews

Finland on Yöperhonen (WSOY, 2015)

“In Hawk Moth, Katja Kettu combines historical and ethnographic details with the literary devices of a thriller; it is a love story that advocates for ethnic minorities and a portrayal of prison-camp miseries complete with sensual sexual encounters. The mixture is engaging and magnetic… In the worlds created by Katja Kettu, mythological powers from the hereafter operate alongside the power mechanisms of the state.” Turun Sanomat newspaper 

Hawk Moth is a tough novel, like The Midwife. It is, without a doubt, one of the most interesting novels of this season. It’ll shock, even disgust, 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 which can be read on several levels.” Ilkka newspaper

“A poet of the rough.”Hufvudstadsbladet newspaper

“It is characteristic of Katja Kettu’s 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 the end of the novel contains a long list of sources. This story has not simply been told because of the pleasure of writing fiction. Despite the veracity of the novel, the events feel as though they are drawn from the boundaries of sleep and waking, as if they were part of a prolongued nightmare. This nightmarish effect is not just enhanced by terrible events, but also by the meritorious presentation of the Mari mythology, which is 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

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

“Katja Kettu doesn’t just 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 imagery paired with original language.”Kotiliesi magazine

“In Hawk Moth, Kettu tells the story of the oppressors and the oppressed in a refined, mystical text.” Suomen Kuvalehti magazine

“This work is impressive in its creation of events using 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, it is the language which makes [The 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 people against the arbitrariness of a larger and a more powerful entity.” Kainuun Sanomat newspaper

 

Bulgaria on Нощна пеперуда (ICU, 2018)

“So much is contained within the pages of this book: anguish, death, wild love, passion… This is a crushing and realistic story about the intertwining lives of several different people. It’s a story about ugly realities; about those who are unworthy and those who are brave. It is a book about life as it really is: unpredictable; unfair and never quite enough, as we cling onto yet another instance of happiness as our last resort.” Azcheta

“An inordinate historical drama from Finland.” Knigolandia

“In the end, the most piercing books leave their readers with the feeling that humans are stronger than we think. This is exactly what this novel does: it’s filled with rebellious characters who have strong spirits and display stunning resourcefulness and endurance. Katja Kettu proves that she is indeed the Northern queen of literature.” Goguide

“In this novel you’ll see why they call [Kettu] the Northern queen of literature… In Hawk Moth Kettu deals with magical realism, brutal naturalism, mythology, politics, and riddles, which the reader is left to unravel. A vision and a mirage treading the line between fiction and reality.” Knijno

“Talented and direct [this book] does not spare the reader any detail and therein lies its charm.” Kultura

 

Czech Republic on Můra (Argo, 2017)

“Kettu demonstrates the essence of the Red terror, the efficience which resulted not only from the physical eradication of their opponents, but most importantly from establishing an atmosphere of everpresent fear and threat, in which victims willingly participate. 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 a utopia which will burn them to cinders… Kettu creates a universal parable of Russia which… 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 worldview which drowns out 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 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 demonic offerings, a symbol of the human soul, which can free itself from the shackles of the body.

“The author imprints all the energy of lust and despair into her language, which unites bodily imagery and sharp details of an indifferent nature.” Respekt

 

Denmark on Natsværmeren (People’s Press, 2016)

“Katja Kettu writes incendiary prose with sensuous nature references, wild sexuality and nerve… 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 unrestricted 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.” 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 they do, feeling their pleasure and their pain. Another strong novel that cements the author’s great qualities and promises more excellent reading.”

 

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

 

France on Le Papillon de nuit (Actes sud, 2020)

“Good novels stick to their promises; excellent novels dare to be less predictable and inventive, like this Finnish page-turner… ‘Queen Katja’ turns everything she does into a success… the breathtaking energy of this thriller from the snowy North confirms that her reign has only just begun.” – Le Figaro magazine 

 

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

“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

“Kettu is not about indictment, heroes or morals. She tells stories about 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 characters and people trying to assert their right to exist against opposition. An epic, eloquent novel about power, violence, and love beyond borders.” Szene-Magazin

“Katja Kettu’s strong female characters open our eyes to the world of the Mari people and the Russian despots’ hunger for power.” 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…” Stavanger Aftenblad newspaper

“Katja Kettu borrows aspects from both thrillers and historical fiction and mixes them together in 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 flavour… The joy of the harsh language is the big bonus of the novel that opens up insights 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 incredible imagination and discipline to create a book like Hawk Moth. It is a story spread over decades and it’s 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 it.”Jerzy Doroszkiewicz, Poranny newspaper

“The Finnish writer is fascinated with the relationships between people brought to the extreme where the differences between nations and religions disappear in the face of suffering. Kettu mixes genres, combining a classic romance with historical coverage, crime, erotica and fairytales. 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, which is 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.” – Polityka newspaper

 

Sweden on Nattfjärilen (Albert Bonniers, 2018)

Kettu is a phenomenal narrator of the lust of the flesh… Her new novel is more about love and friendship. Perhaps that sounds banal, but Kettu is anything but a lightweight. This historical depiction is rather a literary tour de force. This is how real literature looks! People suffer, revel and love for real.” Aftonbladet newspaper

“She writes a modern heroic saga, where women have all the leading parts. And despite the heavy subject of men’s sexual violence towards women in war and captivity, it is like the writing wants to undermine the violence that takes lives at any price. As if the prose needs to be as playful, winding and colorful as the subject is brutal.” Svenska Dagbladet newspaper

“In an almost magical realism the way Kettu binds together a narrative and several mysteries about power, sexual violence, bizarre hierarchies, secrets, identities, and unexpected games of chess… Katja Kettu loquaciously plays with her readers as violently as eloquently… Basically: it’s a rewarding effort to read the thrilling Hawk Moth.Expressen newspaper

“When the reader has gotten inside, a dirty and captivating world opens up, which is hard to resist. Ketja Kettu writes with a kind of frenzy and authenticity that, with its strong imagery, makes Hawk Moth a singular and persuasive novel.” Sveriges Radio P1

“To read Kettu is to go along on a breathtaking and horrifying trip through history and geography. [Her writing] goes a long way, this darkly comedic and optimistically desperate writing that, in the end, is allowed to be assuaged and rest in wonder of the mystics of love and death.”Göteborgsposten newspaper

“Evil conditions do evil things, but man’s ability for goodness prevails. Katja Kettu’s literary ability is humanistic in its core.”Norrbottenskuriren newspaper

“To read Katja Kettu is an experience… Her inimitable, innovative prose… seesaws between being sensual and fleshy, and brutal and blood-curdling.” Vi Läser magazine