Arja’s early childhood in Finland was mired in poverty. Her father had been damaged after fighting in the second world war.
“Finland had to fight the Russians twice under different circumstances.”
When she was six, the family followed Arja’s father to Sweden,where life was, relatively comfortable. But Arja spoke no Swedish, and for a long time she refused to talk at all.
“But I was good at essay writing.”
She moved to Ireland as an au pair in 1969 intending to stay for five months. But, falling in love with the country, she kept coming back, and, eventually married and brought up her children here.
A cartoonist, she has had a few short stories and articles published over the years.
“I’d planned the book as a graphic novel, but I started with the words, and just continued writing. I got into the flow and enjoyed it.
She entered the Finnish section of the book for the Davy Byrne competition, and it was short listed.
“That encouraged me, and gave me the confidence to expand it, and turn it into a novel.”
Who is Arja Kajermo
Date of birth: 1949 in North Finland.
Education: Huddinge Försöks gymnasium. Stockholm University; English, Finnish Russian and Nordic Languages.
Home: Fairview, Dublin.
Family: Married John from Northern Ireland in 1982. Sons Paavo and Stefan, and two grandchildren Oisin. 6, and Davin 3 ½. “And my amazing mother is 92.”
The Day Job: A cartoonist.
In Another Life: “I would have liked to have been an art restorer. I like the Flemish primitives. If I could spend my day restoring those I would be a happy woman.”
Favourite Writers: Bodil Malmsten; Hilary Mantel; Sebastian Barry; Clare Boylan; Sofi Oksanen.
Second Novel: “I’m writing a series of three short stories.”
Top Tip: Go for long walks.
The Debut: The Iron Age. Tramp Press: €10. Kindle: € 8.85.
The Iron age reveals a period of Finnish History that is little known. Living in the aftermath of the second world war, it shows a family, and indeed a country that is struggling to survive.
The move to Sweden makes them outsiders.
“It’s based on my life but is not an autobiography.”
The Verdict: An absolute gem! Original, spare, touching and darkly funny.
Published in The Irish Examiner, 27th May, 2017
© Sue Leonard. 2017