My novels are currently only available in Finnish, but hopefully that will change. Interested in acquiring translation rights or know a publisher who might be interested in translating an important novel about disability? Get in touch by email! Any company publishing a translation could apply for a grant from Finnish Literature Exchange.
Marian ilmestyskirja (Maria’s Book of Revelations)
Maria suddenly falls ill at the summer cabin and returns from the hospital using a wheelchair. Doctors do not agree on the nature of her illness, or even whether it exists at all. Maria’s parents argue that she will get better, but she has a hard time believing them. Her feminist mother is more concerned with the doctors’ sexist pseudodiagnoses than what happens to her daughter.
Maria is not an artist, she just draws, whenever possible. For a living she restores and edits videos, other people’s lives. Rakish tomboy Kiki, self-destructive artist Sini, geeky wheelchair punk Teo and art teacher Lyydi who has psoriatic arthritis leave their mark in Maria’s life, but even as an adult she feels like an outsider. Her darkest secrets still remain untold.
Marian ilmestyskirja is an unusual debut novel that doesn’t shy away from taboos normally surrounding disability – or a cripfic, as the author has named the genre. Able-bodied readers have enjoyed the book as well, as is evident from following quotes from reviews.
“Maija Haavisto is a skillful wordsmith and the story grabs you right in.” Taavan päiväkirja
“Marian ilmestyskirja is a very refreshing and wonderful debut novel.” Lukemista ja kevennystä
“The book made me quite speechless, in part because of the story and in part because it was just so good. The story gripped me from the start and did not lose wind at any time. I read most of the book in one sitting, as I just had to find out what was going to happen.” Kulttuuriblogi Kirjava Kukko
Overall the novel has been praised both for its story and writing style, but also as an important, thought-provoking book covering taboo subjects or things otherwise excluded from public discussion. Even more common subjects like abuse, drug use and reproductive rights are viewed from a fresh new perspective.
The book was also reviewed by the Finnish disability magazine Tukilinja and interviews of the author have been published in e.g. Tukilinja, IT-lehti, Libero and several newspapers. The author has also been featured on DeviantART, in the Change The World With Words blog (in 2011 and 2012) and The Office of Letters and Light blog (the official blog of NaNoWriMo.
A play based on the novel was produced in Finland in 2014.
Maija Haavisto: Marian ilmestyskirja. 232 pages.
Cover artwork: Reinhard Schmid
The book trailer is only in Finnish, but it is very visual, so I recommend watching it!
Kai is bedridden because of chronic neurological illness. His travels, linguistics studies and budding career as a stand-up comedian have been put infinitely on hold. His sporty chef girlfriend Helinä got tired of his disability and dumped him. Kai is cared for by his sister Katri, who struggles with her career and her long-distance relationship. Their mother is in hospice care with advanced stomach cancer, but keeps on living despite grim prognosis.
Kai’s hyperacusis (noise sensitivity) together with his vivid imagination open him a door into his neighbours’ lives, but are they anything like he expects?
Maija Haavisto: Makuuhaavoja. 218 pages.
Cover artwork: Stephen Caissie
Vesa works at the Finnish national insurance provider and records other people’s speech as a long-time hobby. His effervescent and temperamental girlfriend Enna is a multimedia artist and human rights activist with Ehlers-Danlos syndrome, a painful congenital condition that begins to restrict her mobility more and more.
Vesa’s family has a hard time understanding why he’s dating a woman who is poor, disabled and eccentric. Sometimes Vesa struggles to figure it out himself and yearns for his former girlfriends. Uncle Jukka is dead, but maybe he could still help?
Maija Haavisto: Häpeämätön. 208 pages.
Cover artwork: Maija Haavisto
Marjaana is passionate about history, especially Ancient Egypt. Recently everything seems to revolve around it. She has been on sick leave from her teaching job after her best friend Paula, who had inflammatory breast cancer, suddenly died. After the summer holidays she should be going back to work.
Then her world is turned upside down. There are things more frightening than even death.
Maija Haavisto: Palsamoitu. 204 pages.
Cover artwork: Maija Haavisto / edited from an image by Rama (Wikimedia Commons), CC BY-SA
Sisimmäinen (The Innermost)
Inari is a transgender woman who used to work as a crime reporter. Recently she was hired by the sociopolitical women’s magazine Vilma. She is intrigued by a video where animal activists claim they can read the thoughts of animals.
Elviira the sheep and researcher Reija would make a nice article, until Reija suddenly disappears. That turns out to be only the beginning of trouble. Human or animal, no one is what they seem. Reading others’ thoughts may not always be such a good idea, either.
Maija Haavisto: Sisimmäinen. 285 pages.
Cover artwork: Satu Kontinen
Seeprakoiran seikkailut (Adventures of the Zebra Dog)
Annika, Saara and Janne delve into making their own videos. Their dog Veijo is cast as the lead and the clever kids dress him up first as a dragon and then as a zebra. But what happens when the zebra runs away?
The Adventures of the Zebra Dog is a quirky picture book full of surprises, for children aged 4 to 6.
Illustrations by Aura Ijäs.
Maija Haavisto and Aura Ijäs: Seeprakoiran seikkailut. 24 pages.
Cover artwork: Aura Ijäs
About the author
Maija Haavisto is a 30-year old Finnish writer living in Amsterdam, the Netherlands. She has been writing for a living since the age of 16, including contributing to computer, interior decoration, music, vegan, disability, travel, lifestyle, health/fitness and general interest magazines. She is a columnist on the subject of chronic illness for the disability magazine Tukilinja. She is the author of four textbooks in Finnish, three of which are about chronic illnesses.
Marian ilmestyskirja, Makuuhaavoja and Häpeämätön form a loose “cripfic trilogy”, although all the novels have different plots, characters and themes.
Haavisto also works as a translator/copywriter and photographer and her art has been featured in several exhibitions. The cover of Häpeämätön is her own design. She has adapted Marian ilmestyskirja into a stage play (titled Marian ilmestykset), which is currently in production in Finland and will premiere in March 2014. She is working on her second play and a movie script, which also have medical themes.
Haavisto has always been very interested in human rights. After becoming ill with CFS/ME (chronic fatigue syndrome/myalgic encephalomyelitis) at the age of 16 she has become a disability activist and a patient advocate, unusual in that she has written both medical textbooks and fiction about her illness. A cripfic short story of hers was published in the spring 2011 issue of Breath & Shadow and her essay The Cripfic Manifesto was published in the spring 2012 issue of the same magazine.
Sample from Marian ilmestyskirja (the first scene of the book)
Going back to school after the summer holidays isn’t much fun. It doesn’t get more so when you do it in a wheelchair with a personal care assistant. Everyone is openly staring, the kids, the teachers and even the cooks. Poor thing. No one wants to sit next to me, not even Heli.
And as if that attention wasn’t enough, the teacher kicks off the first lesson by focusing on me. Otherwise someone might have missed the wheelchair.
– Maria’s parents asked- –
Maria’s mother, you mean. No one asked Maria’s dad, nor her, not that this should surprise anyone. You can only blame Maria’s mother, who is so perfectly tuned into her daughter’s needs.
– – me to tell you about Maria’s new situation.
Situation. I sink deeper under my desk while my assistant is standing and smiling next to me. My assistant is Lena, spelled the Swedish way with one e, but I only call her an assistant, because her pathetic name makes her uselessness even more obvious.
– Maria fell ill during the summer and because of her illness she now needs a wheelchair.
Oh, so I need it? I’m not sitting in it for fun? No way would I’ve got enough attention just by buying new sports shoes or a new pencil case with fifteen different compartments. Besides, I get to skip sports lessons altogether. No baseball, basketball, salibandy, badminton or swimming, none of the gimmicky exercise courses created by the P.E. teacher with blue mattresses for somersaults and swinging on ropes like monkeys.
– Maria is the same person as before, so hopefully you will also treat her like that, says the teacher and smiles breezily. No one smiles back, save for my assistant, who is still smiling with great complacency thinking that while she didn’t get into veterinary school, she has nonetheless chosen a wonderful job helping fellow human beings.
The verdict could hardly be any more surreal. As if everyone will now treat me the same way as before. Now that they know the reason for my wheelchair they will hardly even notice it.
Then the teacher hands s our new maths textbooks, which my mother will later line with shelf lining paper, because it’s cheaper than contact paper. It looks dumb and easily tears in my bag, but it’s alright, you can always tape the torn parts. Clearly we are in such a terrible hole money-wise that we cannot afford contact paper.
– You don’t have to do everything like others do, says my mother. – All your friends’ books look alike, but yours will stand out.
Which is good, of course. Otherwise I might fit in too well. I never understood the shelf liner, but maybe she doesn’t know how to apply contact paper without getting bubbles.
How dare the teacher claim that I am the same person as before? No way am I the same girl who picked up the art grant at the end of the spring. I have a new life now, in which swimming and going to the movies have given way to doctor visits and vitamins that my mother feeds me, which probably have no other effect than giving her a peace of mind. If vitamins helped, surely no one would use a wheelchair.
And this internal discourse is obviously wholly created afterwards. At the time I could only feel endless dread and embarrassment. I’d have preferred home schooling, but my mother would never have approved. It would have endangered my development, cut off my contact with friends. I tried to explain I didn’t really have friends and this “situation” didn’t exactly help, but she never listens.
“Maria is the same person as before”. Those words have stayed with me and my parents are keen on repeating them like a mantra. But I am not the same person just set on top of wheels. I lack the energy I used to have, my brain doesn’t work the same way. I never excelled at maths, but now that part of my brain seems completely frozen. I can only read half an hour at a time before I start feeling ill. When I return to the book I have already forgotten what happened in it. The names of the characters feel strange. Everything feels strange.
When drawing my hands wobble and the results are different. I can’t even see the same way as before. The sun is too bright and I often need shades. The world is blurry and solid areas of color appear spotty. Sometimes letters shuffle on the page, run away and dance around, just to return to their places as if nothing happened. I can see the E’s in the optician’s chart, the E’s just won’t stay still.
But other people don’t realize that, and they don’t care. They just try to come off as clever and empathetic, even though what they really think is that I’m glad it’s not me, I’m glad it’s not my daughter. My daughter would never get an illness like that. They think they know better.