A deadly curse, mythical creatures, and a murder investigation: in Juhani Karila’s English-language debut, Fishing for the Little Pike, a young woman has much to contend with on her annual pilgrimage to catch a pike in Lapland, Finland. Lola Rogers translated this wildly imaginative novel published by Restless Books in September 2023.
Michelle Johnson: Fishing for the Little Pike unfolds in Lapland, in northern Finland. Outsiders in the book see Lapland as mysterious, even dangerous. For instance, a police officer shoots himself in the leg to avoid duty there. What can you tell us about Lapland as a site for Finnish fiction?
Juhani Karila: Lapland is sparsely populated, so I feel it’s a huge white canvas where one can draw anything. There are stereotypes of the quiet people of the North, and rumors that half of the people living there are witches or the like . . . all of it is really good material for sarcastic commentary. Also, Lapland is a place where people travel in order to escape their own past or try to begin a new life, and all this is good material for drama.
Johnson: Various forest creatures—raskels that want to go fishing, stripefoots that move cabins from one place to another, a wraith that inhabits the mayor (what a scene), the frakus, the knacky—appear throughout the novel, often in humorous, delightful ways. Where do these come from?
Karila: They come from various sources. Hayao Miyazaki’s movies, books like November, by Andrus Kivirähk, video games (The Witcher 3), Nordic and Slavic folklore, my own nightmares. I have always loved and feared monsters. For example, when I was a kid, I was really afraid of getting abducted by aliens. Maybe I am trying to bring my own horrors to life in order to deal with them.
Johnson: What cultural offerings or trends have recently captured your attention?
Karila: I think people are more and more aware of the diversity of gender and sexuality, and I want to give that diversity more space in literature. Literature is, historically, awfully white and heteronormative. Gender diversity is not massively emphasized in Fishing for the Little Pike, but my next sci-fi novel will be something completely different.
Johnson: Readers of WLT have a strong interest in translated literature. What other Finnish lit, available in English, do you recommend?
Karila: I recommend everything and anything by Johanna Sinisalo. She writes unique thrillers with careful doses of fantasy. And books by Mikko Rimminen are so, so funny.
Johnson: What are some of your favorite spots in Helsinki?
Karila: I have lived in Helsinki for over ten years now, but I still feel a bit like an alien there. It’s just a totally different environment compared to Lapland. Nevertheless, there are many lovely places like the cute island Lammassaari, where you can see sheep and birds, and, of course, the huge main library called Oodi.
Juhani Karila is the author of two collections of short stories. His debut novel, Fishing for the Little Pike (2019), won the Kalevi Jäntti Prize, the Tähtifantasia Prize, and the Jarkko Laine Prize. He lives in Helsinki, Finland.