‘Mirage 38’: a novel by Kjell Westö
Published in 2013, ‘Mirage 38’ (Swedish: Hägring 38) is a novel by Finnish author Kjell Westö that won the ‘Nordic Council Literature Prize‘ in 2014. Born in 1961 in Helsinki, where he lives to this day (although he also spends a lot of time in Stockholm), Westö studied journalism at the ‘Swedish School of Social Science’ and literature at the ‘University of Helsinki‘. Early on in his career, Westö worked as a journalist for the newspapers ‘Hufvudstadsbladet’ and ‘Ny Tid’, but soon became a freelance author. Although his writing encompasses a variety of genres, including everything from poetry to short stories and essays, he is especially well known for his novels. ‘Mirage 38’ takes place over eight months in 1938 in Helsinki: Adolf Hitler’s expansionist policies arouse both anger and admiration, not least in the so-called ‘Wednesday Club’ (Onsdagsklubben) in Helsinki, an informal discussion forum consisting of some old friends of lawyer Claes Thune, a Finnish-Swedish bourgeois environment. Club nights are as much an excuse to hit the bottle as to talk politics, but in 1938 it becomes clear that the rifts in Europe are reflected inside the ‘Wednesday Club’ itself: the group gradually splits into a liberal section, to which Thune belongs, and a right-wing one. The book also tells the story of Abraham Tokazier, a runner of Jewish descent that won the 1938 100-metre race at the Finnish Championships in the Helsinki Olympic Stadium but, due to antisemitic policies, the official results only put him in fourth place, even though he had initially been declared the winner. In the book, Joachim Jary’s nephew Salomon Jary is Tokazier. Only in 2013, and thanks to the success of the book, the Finnish Athletics Federation decided to right the wrong, by reinstating Tokazier as the original winner of the race and title. According to the Adjudicating Committee, Finnish author Kjell Westö won the Nordic Council Literature Prize for his novel ‘Hägring 38’ thanks to its “evocative prose that breathes life into a critical moment in Finland’s history, one that has links to the present day”.