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Joni Skiftesvik wins Runeberg prize for book tapping family pain

Author Joni Skiftesvik earned the Runeberg award for a contemplation of serious illnesses that he and his wife suffered simultaneously, and the legacy of a family tragedy three decades earlier.

Joni Skiftesvik
Image: Yle

Joni Skiftesvik was presented with Finland’s annual Runeberg book prize in Porvoo on Thursday. At 66, this former journalist has an impressive literary career stretching back more than three decades. It encompasses short stories, novels, plays, radio plays, dramatisations as well as TV and film screenplays.

Skiftesvik’s fiction career got off to a strong start when he won the coveted J.H. Erkko prize for his debut story collection in 1983. Since then he has won many other awards – but not the nation’s top literary honour, the Finlandia Prize – despite being shortlisted for it three times.

Born in Haukipudas, just north of Oulu, Skiftesvik’s tales often involve the sea, whether it’s the northern Baltic or the English Channel. For the son of a Norwegian sea captain, this seems natural.

Tragic legacy

Skiftesvik picked up the Runeberg for last year’s autobiographical Valkoinen Toyota vei vaimoni (“A White Toyota Took My Wife”). In the book, he contemplates the serious cardiac illnesses that he and his wife suffered simultaneously, and returns to the drowning death of one of their sons 30 years ago.

Skiftesvik’s books have been translated into a dozen languages including English, Norwegian and Russian.

The 10,000-euro Runeberg Prize has been given out every year since 1987 on the birthday of nineteenth-century ‘national poet’ J.L. Runeberg. He is best known for writing The Tales of Ensign Stål and the original Swedish lyrics to the Finnish national anthem.

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