The Human Part (Finnish original title Ihmisen osa) is a marvelous and fascinating tale by prize-winning Finnish author Kari Hotakainen. It starts, interestingly, with a scolding of authors. Authors are people who make a living by producing lies, says Salme Malmikunnas, the main protagonist in this wonderful novel.
But even so, Salme has a story to tell, and when she meets a living, breathing author at a book fair, she decides – after some persuasion – to sell her story for a few thousand Euro. She likes that he promises to tell her story exactly as she tells it, word by word.
But while Salme Malmikunnas is a lady of the past, where a word was a word, the author is an author. One of those who makes a living by telling tales and perhaps even spreading lies. He is willing to promise anything to get ahold of Salme’s story. He even tells her that he is willing to write the whole story in italics! But then – he tells lies when he writes, so why would he be truthful when he speaks to Salme and makes promises to her?
Finnish author Kari Hotakainen got his breakthrough as an author when he was nominated for the 1997 Finlandia Prize for Klassikko (The Classic). Later, in 2002, he was awarded this prize for Juoksuhaudantie (Battle Trench Avenue). And in 2004, Hotakainen received the Nordic Council’s Literature Prize for the same book. He has also received several other prizes internationally. He has written 10 novels, several collections of poetry, as well as plays and a TV-series. In 2010 he won the Runeberg Prize for The Human Part.
Kari Hotakainen – here as the author writing about the old lady and the author – spins an outstanding tale. And who knows where the truth ends and the lies begin in Salme’s tale as at is being retold by the author? All we know is that it is a grand tale, one that grows and grows and gets fatter and fatter. The Human Part a is tale of the destinies of Salme’s three children, of the new times in Finland, of the emptiness and falsehood of the values that some people hold.
Kari Hotakainen is a story teller “extraordinaire”. Quite out of the ordinary. Reading him makes me partly think of Arto Paasilinna, who has the same ability to spin a tale and the same dry, wicked sense of humor. The serious social sarcasm in Hotakainen also reminds me of Henrik Ibsen, who had the same special talent or ability to present social criticism and raise huge and important questions in an enlightening as well as entertaining fashion. I loved this book – especially the monologue by the bus driver Biko at the end of the book. Overall, The Human Part balances seriousness and humor using multiple voices in a very intriguing and highly entertaining way.