Publication date
October 2017
Johnny Kniga
Format info
227 pages

The Whales of Jonah’s Hill

Joonaanmäen valaat

A poetic, stimulating old-fashioned adventure for readers of all ages – Tove Jansson meets Jules Verne


Jonah’s Hill is a wind-weathered island somewhere in the Gulf of Finland, just slightly on the other side of the known world. There, on a remote sandy cove, live Inkeri, Johannes and an eclectic gang of kooky characters, each stranger than the next. On this island, friendships are lifelong, animals are eloquent, machines are mysterious, books are ancient, cider is dry, cherry jam is sweet and all of life is pleasantly unhurried. But then, as August turns to autumn, the earth surges, opening up a maze of puzzles so deep that the people of Jonah’s hill must sail to the end of the world and beyond in order to solve it. Conceptions of camaraderie undergo shifts large and small when a group of people finds itself thrown into extraordinary circumstances. A mesmerizing lexical stream carries readers through this ambiguous terrain and into ruminations on the relationship between truth and tale. Who are we to ourselves, in the end?

The Whales of Jonah’s Hill  includes talking animals, scientific history, suspense, friendship, nights around the campfire, cold-blooded villains, mysterious machines and the exploration of life’s little a poetically old-timey adventure story, in which everyday human life and astonishment blend together seamlessly. The world created by A. W. Yrjänä is like a concoction cooked up by Tove Jansson and Jules Verne. It is profoundly humane and a bit bizarre, quite whimsical and even a little frightening at times.


Reading materials

English sample
Finnish edition


Praise for the work

“A. W. Yrjänä’s novel is similar to its role model in its language and mentality. (…) Yrjänä’s novel The Whales of Jonah’s Hill is an intertextual firework – or, even better, the peaceful flame of a whale oil lamp, inexhaustible and inextinguishable.” – Savon Sanomat newspaper

“The language is lyrical and serene, stylishly modelled on that of the original [by Jules Verne]. There is room for myths and internal artistic references that swim downstream together with the reader’s consciousness. Lighthearted narration also finds its place, along with ties to our time. The approach is relaxed but wise. The references and motifs fit naturally into the framework of the story, they are not made for intrinsic value, nor does the narrative get stuck on them or ponder them to death. The work moves thematically on the sloping planes of material and metaphysical reality. It asks: Can you sail on a vessel of mental images? What is the shape of reality?” – Savon Sanomat newspaper

“A.W. Yrjänä’s debut novel is a mixture of The Famous Five, The Da Vinci Code and The Lord of the Rings. (…) The Whales of Jonah’s Hill is an easy-to-read, fun adventure novel whose genre is difficult to define. It is speculative fiction, more fantasy than sci-fi, although it often makes references to sci-fi literary traditions.” – Aamulehti newspaper

“Known as a songwriter and poet, A. W. Yrjänä steps into the world of novels with a pure adventure story radiating with old-time spirit. (…) The language is lingering; you can stop and savour each sentence for a moment, as with poetry. (…) With the help of The Whales of Jonah’s Hill, even adults can seize the feeling of adventure they remember from childhood, where everyday things can be wonderfully exciting. (…) After all, the greatest adventures are the ones we have in our imagination.” – Maaseudun Tulevaisuus newspaper

“An adventure that grows mythically (…) Yrjänä has written a mythical adventure story that pays a great homage to Jules Verne, the master of the genre. The book does not trouble the mind of the reader with modern-day problems. The last third of the story is absolutely magnificent sci-fi, not at all suitable for those without a sense of humour.” – Uusimaa newspaper

“Yrjänä’s strength lies in his childishly active imagination. (…) To truly absorb the surprising twists and turns, the reader must dare to really get into it.” – Suomen Kuvalehti magazine

“The Whales of Jonah’s Hill is an incomparable adventure story. It has elements from fairytales and mythology, world history and technical inventions. The book is strange in places, sometimes playful, and the story takes the most amazing twists and turns that will leave you breathless. It features old books and late authors, talking animals and, of course, the two mysterious machines. I can’t compare this book to anything else – that’s how original it is. The text is divided into poetry-like verses and the book’s language is poetic overall. For this reason, the book should be read thoughtfully, since so much is packed into each sentence. The language is enchanting, however, and it propels the story forward wonderfully. I must say that A. W. Yrjänä knows how to write.” – Riitta Ylilehto, Nousu cultural blog

“A visually and verbally captivating work.” – Anastasia, GoodReads

“At its core, the work is an adventure story created with great passion and love, one that captures the childlike enthusiasm of Verne and company. In studying the mysteries of its world, the book pulls the reader along into ever more frenzied spheres. In this sense, The Whales of Jonah’s Hill is an adventure book for adults who still long for the magic of the best children’s and young adult books.” – Arimo, GoodReads

“An entertainingly strange and imaginative adventure novel in the spirit of Jules Verne.” – Mikko Saari, GoodReads