36 Urns: A History of Being Wrong

A celebrated author’s masterful and poetic confession of love to her mother

Author Sirpa Kähkönen’s mother Riitta (b. 1941) died in March 2022 after a long illness. In life, she struggled to accept love. “I do not grieve your death, I grieve your life,” Sirpa Kähkönen writes, knowing fully well that her mother wouldn’t like the phrase. Her mother rejected love, despite longing for it the most. Riitta was athletic, beautiful, and gifted. A traffic accident at the age of 16 changed the course of her life for ever.

Drawing on her mother’s diaries, Kähkönen depicts the life of a 1950s girl and the dramatic change that followed the accident. The novel talks about community dance halls, a broken mind, flowing hems, a 1960s mother, anxiety, anger and hate, addiction, and moments of psychosis. It talks about how wars and other crises become corporeal, how violence is inherited, and how the culture of discouragement and submission is passed down through the generations in sayings and attitudes, with the author clearly seeing herself as part of the tradition of anger and violence.

The novel is permeated by a fiery love, as if an ancient Finnish spell that, with the power of words, is capable of bringing loved ones back from the dead.

The Green Chamber

In December 1964 Kuopio, in the eastern lake area of Finland, it’s a time of harsh, frosty days when the lake freezes in the grip of cold. As their parents are exhausted from the post-war world of reconstruction, three young people – Irene, Leo and Jaakko – are trying to find their way into a carefree reality and looking to solve the painful secrets of budding love and friendship.

In the tumultuous, revolutionary days of the early 1900s, Santeri and Linnea meet in the villa community of Terijoki on the coast of the Gulf of Finland. The Russian Revolution has plunged princes and princesses into poverty and decimated the grand villas, making the young couple set their only hopes on raising flowers and cherishing friendships. In 1964, Linnea and Santeri tend to their flower shop Paradise Lily like its own secret, living green soul.

At the heart of THE GREEN CHAMBER, as if in the deepest crevices of a tree, is the tale of Santeri’s trip to Leningrad. He has loathed the Bolsheviks ever since his youthful dreams were crushed by the Russian Revolution. At the start of 1964, however, something has broken within him, and he is ready to face the repercussions of this fractured relationship when he meets a young blonde girl. He follows her to Leningrad, though he’s sworn he’d never set foot in Leningrad before the Bolsheviks are expelled. This journey will become the most important one of his life.

THE GREEN CHAMBER is a depiction of the ferocious beauty of the North, frost, sand ridges on which people build their fading fantasies of paradise. THE GREEN CHAMBER is a symbolic story of the deep power of the forests that appear as a safe harbor, an enchantment, and a metaphysical escape for the people of this novel. It is a novel about wars and rebellions that cast human beings around like driftwood and, finally, it tells the story of why, even on the very last beach, the highest deed of a human being is the planting a tree.


”The presence of light, colors, and nature moves within the thoughts of this marvelously written piece. Even in the most dramatic of scenes, the text appears placid in an aesthetic way. Hence, the reader will experience the stormy points of emotions as an underwater gurgle of joy and the moaning crackle of ice. ‘The Green Room’ is a landscape of the mind and nature, combining literary text and a documentary, a visual wording of Destiny itself – Teppo Kulmala, Etelä-Suomen Sanomat, November 2021

”The Green Chamber’ demonstrates that hatred has a long shadow but love bears a stronger light.”- Mari Paalosalo-Jussinmäki, Eeva magazine, Culture, December 2021

In the center of The Green Chamber are three 17-year-old youths coming of age in a world where one must conceal their family’s shame and carry responsibility like an adult. [–] The narration of time, place, and ambiance are magnificent. Kähkönen’s already gorgeous language is at its pinnacle in The Green Chamber.

Savonia Prize Jury