When I Forgot

Elina Hirvonen

Published: 1 August 2008
Paperback, B Format
129x198mm, 192 pages
ISBN: 9781846270956

Translated by Douglas Robinson


Anna is on her way to the hospital where her brother has been sectioned when she falters, and, in that pause, her world splinters for the reader into a blazing display of memory and madness, of childhood security treasured and shattered, and of families blighted by psychological trauma - her brother's and that of her boyfriend's father, a Vietnam veteran. But, in Elina Hirvonen's skilful hands, the grimness is illuminated by firecracker insight and flashes of surprising beauty. And, above all, there is hope.

This is an astonishingly assured and compelling debut novel about the love siblings have for each other, the past they share and the painful memories that shape their lives for ever. This title will especially delight readers of Andrea Ashworth, Maggie O'Farrell, Ali Smith, Kate Atkinson and Vendela Vida.

About the author

Image of Elina Hirvonen

Finnish-born Elina Hirvonen has worked as a TV presenter and a chat show host. She has just finished her first documentary, which focuses on African migration to Europe. She is a passionate traveller and has journeyed independently through thirty different countries. When I Forgot is her first novel. More about the author


‘[An] exemplary first novel ... a book that whets your appetite for another one.’ Archie Bland



‘A powerful book...a frayed, tender account of the love and unwilling co-dependency of Anna and Joona and, to a lesser extent, their parents. A fine study in role-reversal between parent and child, older brother and younger sister, and a wrenching read for anyone who has witnessed someone close suffer mental breakdown.’ Catherine Taylor

‘Elina Hirvonen has a style that is uniquely spare and strong and she uses it to weave a powerful pattern of tension and resolution that makes the pulse race even when nothing much seems to be happening... At only 180 pages, this is the perfect super-novella for those wishing to install themselves in a warm café and step into somebody else's head for a day. And there is even something like a happy ending.,’ Melissa Katsoulis

‘Elina Hirvonen is not a woman to shy away from big subjects and contentious issues....written in crystalline contemporary style, When I Forgot has become the most translated debut novel in Finnish history, its dark themes of breakdown striking a chord in the post 9/11 world it depicts.’ Tina Jackson

‘Elina Hirvonen's first novel, When I Forgot, shows how a family can suffer from the mental illness of one member. Her book, which has become the most translated debut novel in Finnish history, illuminates a dark corner of Finnish society ... There could be no better setting for a story of bitter love. Finland's granite tundra inspired its national epic, The Kalevala, where light comes into a darkened world, and the often brooding music of Sibelius: it is a country of savage elements and ethereal beauty. Hirvonen uses the setting to illustrate her flawed characters, the pristine Helsinki streets with their "stuccoed houses, tiny bars and delis", setting them in relief. For Hirvonen, the contrast between the idealised Finland and its imperfect reality is not physical but psychological - but it says something about the country that a novel exploring one of its greatest problems can double as a tourist brochure.’ Caroline White

‘No previous Finnish novel has had such international success as When I Forgot; its intelligence and power make this deserved.’ Paul Binding

‘This apparently unpretentious book is in fact a sophisticated response to 9/11 and a delicately woven meditation on love and war.’ Hirsh Sawhney

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