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''Reality Is Unknowable to Us': The Dreamlike Fiction of Leena Krohn

Illustration for article titled Reality Is Unknowable to Us: The Dreamlike Fiction of Leena Krohn

Most U.S. readers probably haven’t heard of Leena Krohn, but among connoisseurs of weird fiction like Jeff VanderMeer, she’s a beloved icon. She’s also the winner of the Finlandia Prize, the most prestigious literary honor in her native Finland. And it’s a great time to discover her bizarre stories.


In the New Yorker, there’s a great feature about her by Peter Bebergal, who deconstructs some of her stories in which people begin to glimpse the unspeakable depths below the surface of reality. In one story, a woman who eats poisonous seeds to help treat her asthma starts seeing weird supernatural hallucinations and getting closer to the “sublime secret of existence.” In another, a robot begins to experience fear, and in a third, a city of insects try to light themselves on fire.

Cheeky Frawg Press recently published a book of Krohn’s stories in translation, so her work is more accessible than ever. There’s also a novel, called Datura (Or a Delusion We All See).


Bebergal’s interview with Krohn, done via translated emails, contains some great gems, like where she says that “absolute reality is and always will be unknowable to us.” And she points out that human beings aren’t the only ones with language—ants convey very sophisticated information to each other, at great speeds. Also, there’s a lovely passage from one of her stories, about the consciousness of dogs: “Their lives are balancing acts between a humanized being and an older, wilder nature. Dogs are interstitial beings, not yet human, but no longer wolves. That is the unresolved paradox of doghood.”

You can read one of Krohn’s stories, translated by Viivi Hyvönen, over at Electric Literature. In “Lucilia Illustris,” an entomologist is summoned to a dead body that is being consumed by insects, to help figure out the time of death and other information. And this turns into a meditation on insects, decay and death.

Bebergal’s feature on Krohn is also well worth reading in its entirety. (And you can also read our interview with Bebergal from 2014 about his book on rock’n’roll and Satanism.)


Top image: cover art of Datura by Leena Krohn

Charlie Jane Anders is the author of All The Birds in the Sky, coming Jan 26 from Tor Books. Follow her on Twitter, and email her.


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