Asko Sahlberg: He [They]

28 June 2010 | Mini reviews, Reviews

Helsinki: WSOY, 2010. 120 p.
ISBN 978-0-36170-2
€ 24.10, hardback

The Finland-Swedish author Asko Sahlberg (born 1964), who lives in Gothenburg in Sweden, has had an interesting, if uneven, career over the past decade. Sahlberg’s particular strengths lie in his precise use of language and the rhythm of his prose. Since his debut novel, Pimeän ääni (‘The sound of darkness’, 2000), part of Sahlberg’s output has been concerned with meditations on existence and the purging of emotions, with the rest delving into historical themes, such as his 2004 novel Tammilehto (‘Oak Grove’) which is set in the year 1918, and He, his ninth book, which takes place in 1809. (An extract from his novel Eksyneet (‘The lost’) was published in Books from Finland, 2/2002.) In He Sahlberg uses a first-person narrative technique with multiple narrators, which feels justified in this highly distilled portrait of a family. The plot is set against the backdrop of the Finnish War (1808–1809), waged by King Gustav IV Adolf of Sweden and Alexander I, Emperor of Russia. Henrik and Erik are brothers fighting on opposite sides, their mother drowns her sorrows hard liquor, and Anna, the neighbour’s daughter, ends up with the wrong brother. The end of this novella is surprising, dealing with the anatomy of revenge and deceit.



  1. Eric Dickens

    Asko Sahlberg looks to be an interesting author. I think he is what could be termed Sweden-Finnish (the term doesn’t appear to yet exist in English), rather than “Finland-Swedish”, which is a translation of “suomenruotsalainen” or “finlandssvensk”. Finland-Swedish authors living in Sweden include Lars Sund and Robert Åsbacka, and, previously, Eva-Stina Byggmästar. Their mother-tongue is Swedish. But surely Asko Sahlberg, despite his Swedish surname, writes in Finnish.

    Which of his books have appeared in Swedish, English, German, French or any other language? Which books belong to his trilogy?

  2. Soila Lehtonen

    Sahlberg’s trilogy: Pimeän ääni (‘Sound of darkness’, 2000), Hämärän jäljet (‘Traces of dusk’, 2002), Paluu pimeään (‘Return to darkness’, 2006)
    Eksyneet (‘The lost’), and Pimeän ääni have been published in German by Luchterhand; Eksyneet and Tammilehto (‘Oak grove‚) have been published in Swedish by Norstedt, Yhdyntä (‘Coitus’) and Höyhen (‘The feather’) in Czech by Havran.
    Soila Lehtonen

  3. Emily Jeremiah

    Sahlberg’s HE is currently being translated into English by Emily Jeremiah and Fleur Jeremiah for Peirene Press (; the translation will appear in 2012. It’s a marvellously strange work: dense, earthy, lyrical. Hopefully Sahlberg will get the international attention he deserves!

  4. Jane Wegelius

    I, too, would like to know what Sahlberg’s mother tongue is, or more specifically does he write in Swedish or Finnish? I would hope that the translators work from their mother tongue into English.
    I am thoroughly enjoying The Brothers.

  5. Soila Lehtonen

    Dear Jane,
    Asko Sahlberg lives currently in Sweden, but he writes in Finnish, his mother tongue. As for translation – it is essential that the mother tongue of a translator who translates from Finnish into English is English.
    Soila Lehtonen

  6. Emily

    I’m glad to learn you were enjoying The Brothers, Jane! I worked with my mother, a Finn, on the translation; so from my mother’s tongue into my mother tongue (English). As Soila says, you absolutely have to work that way round!

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