Literary Programme 2018

Coffee & Chat with Arja Kajermo

Coffee & Chat with Arja Kajermo

Arja Kajermo

Bantry House Tearoom

Thu 19 July 2018



I went up to the teacher and held out my hand and told her my name. She took a step back and tilted her head and looked at me without offering her hand. I pulled my hand back and hid it behind my back. She smiled the way grown ups smile at someone else’s ugly baby and then she spoke. ‘That is a strange name, we are not called names like that in Sweden.’

Arja Kajermo’s debut The Iron Age is part coming-of-age novel, and part fairy-tale told from the perspective of a young girl growing up in the poverty of post-war Finland. On her family’s austere farm, the Girl learns stories and fables of the world around her – of Miina, their sleeping neighbour; that you should never turn a witch away at the door; how people get depressed if pine trees grow too close to the house; and why her father was unlucky not to have died in the war.

Then, when she is little more than six years only, the family crosses from Finland to Sweden, from a familiar language to a strange one, from one unfriendly home to another. The Girl, mute but watchful, weaves a picture of her volatile father, resilient mother and strangely resourceful brothers.

The Iron Age, which grew out of the story shortlisted for the 2014 Davy Byrne’s Award, is disarming in its unadorned simplicity and unsentimental account of hard times and hard people. In Arja’s darkly funny debut, with illustrations throughout, folk tales and traditional custom clash with economic reality, from rural Finland to urban Sweden.

‘A radiantly beautiful book.’ Joseph O’Connor

‘An instant classic.’ Jon McGregor

‘Deceptively simple yet with cutting insight and devastating humor, The Iron Age proves that the most surreal dwells in reality, and history is the darkest fairytale.’ Yiyun Li

Arja Kajermo grew up on a small farm in Finland with her parents and three brothers, as well as her grandmother and an uncle. When she was six, her father took the family to Sweden, where he found work at a paper mill in Stockholm. Arja first came to Dublin over 40 years ago and worked as an au-pair, becoming enchanted with the country and the social life. Eventually she started drawing cartoons for In Dublin magazine for more than ten years. Arja also contributed cartoons to the feminist publisher Attic Press and occasionally to The Sunday Press, The Irish Times, Image, Magill and others. She continues to work as a cartoonist and draws the strip Tuula for the Sunday edition of Swedish daily newspaper Dagens Nyhyter. The Tuula strip is a light-hearted look at daily life in a suburb south of Stockholm, and has been the basis for three books published in Sweden. Arja lives with her husband in Dublin. The Iron Age was published by Tramp Press in 2017.

Arja’s photo is by Stefan Evans