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Kari Hotakainen

Kari Matti Hotakainen
Born January 9, Pori

Bachelor of arts 1980 (Finnish literature), University of Helsinki

Author 1995–
Copywriter 1986–1995, WSOY
Copywriter1985–1986, Mainonnantekijät
Journalist 1981–1985, STT

Savonia literary prize 1993, for the book Buster Keaton – elämä ja teot (‘Buster Keaton – life and work’)
Tobelius literary prize 2000, for the work Näytän hyvältä ilman paitaa (‘I look good without a shirt’)
Finlandia Prize 2002 for the novel Juoksuhaudantie (‘Trench road’)
Nordic Council Literature Prize 2004, for the novel Juoksuhaudantie (‘Trench road’)
Nordic Drama Prize for the play Punahukka (‘Lupus’)
Prix Courrier International for best translated work of fiction 2011,for the novel Ihmisen osa (The Human Part)
Pro Finandia Medal 2013

Photo: Laura Malmivaara, Siltala
Written by Riitta-Ilona Hurmerinta
Translated by Matthew Billington

Head full of a sea of knowledge

The pulse and murk of the big city were revealed to Kari Hotakainen in the autumn of 1976. In the summer he had taken the university entrance exam for Finnish literature and Romance philology and had been granted the right to major in both subjects. The move to Helsinki from a small municipality seemed to offer limitless opportunity.

– The crucial thing was that I knew no one and there was no curtain twitching. I still gain immense pleasure from the fact that complete strangers don’t start chatting to one another on the trams or buses. What I have always adored about the idea of the big city is anonymity and the feeling of freedom that it creates.

Kari Hotakainen was interested in French at upper-secondary school and gained the highest grade in his final exams, but he found himself in difficulty at university, where it was also necessary to speak French. In his rural school the emphasis had solely been on written ability, and his spoken French had remained poor.

– My shyness prevented me from speaking, and we didn’t even have a language studio in Rautalampi.

Hotakainen was placed on an elementary course with a few other students, the purpose of which was to learn to speak French before the commencement of their actual studies.

– The language studio lessons took on comic proportions. The lecturer, Luciane Hakulinen, remarked that ‘Kari, it would be good to reply verbally to the questions you hear through the headphones, as you clearly understand all them all.’ But my speech never improved.

His French studies became bogged down in the first year, but studying Finnish literature was a pleasure. Hotakainenen also enjoyed drama courses offered by comparative literature, and studying Finnish language, Journalism and sociology.

– The combination of subjects at that time was phenomenal. You could swim in a sea of information in whichever direction you wished. However, after some years I gradually became anxious about whether I would ever reach the shore and find work.

The theoretical nature of studying Finnish language failed to inspire him, so becoming a Finnish teacher was not an option. He did not feel suited to becoming a literary scholar either, as he wanted to engage in practical work. The disaster scenario was work as a sorting officer in Riihimäki post office. Hotakainen was saved by love and a summer job as a journalist in Kuopio.

– I was also attracted to Savo because Aapeli’s causeries, which I had chosen as the topic of my master’s thesis, had been published in the newspaper Savon Sanomat.

Nevertheless, he failed to complete his master’s thesis and advanced studies in Finnish literature, and a master’s degree was not forthcoming. In contrast, writing became his profession. In addition to a bachelor’s degree, Hotakainen says that the University filled his head with knowledge.

– If you’re inquisitive, university increases your curiosity. Both a rounded education and a thirst for knowledge have been necessary in my work as a press journalist, copywriter and novelist.

Kari Hotakainen’s collection of short stories Finnhits was published in 2007. Photo: WSOY


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