Life as it happens


Anna-Leena Harkonen has been a leading cultural figure in her native Finland since the age of 17. Her debut novel, How to Kill a Bull, was published to critical acclaim in 1984. In the preceding year, she starred in a major feature film, Mona and the Time of Burning Love, after the director spotted her at a youth theater event. That summer, she learned that she had been accepted to the Finnish Theater Academy and that her debut novel had been approved for publication.

How to Kill a Bull went on to become one of the most popular books of the 1980s and one of the highest-selling debut novels in the history of Finnish literature. The book has been adapted into a television series and several stage versions, and it continues to find new readers.

In addition to her delightfully insightful and precise prose, Harkonen is known for her uncompromising honesty and disarming sense of irony. She is not afraid of difficult or sensitive topics, nor is she afraid of putting herself out there.

“Perhaps I’m driven by a need to be honest to the extreme. In my books, the events may be fictional, but the emotions are always true,” says Harkonen. “My books have one thing in common: the intention that we should talk about feelings plainly and honestly, without seeking approval by trying to sound conventionally appropriate.”

Harkonen has never avoided sensitive topics in her books. For example, in Faint Lines she writes about infertility and her postpartum depression.

“I was severely sleep-deprived during pregnancy, and I fell apart after the baby was born. I was tired beyond belief and out of touch with reality. I feared I would fall into psychosis, and I think I did for a moment,” says Harkonen.

This trueness to life also makes her books highly relatable. She has often heard from readers that her books have touched them strongly and helped and consoled them.

“Ultimately, I don’t write to help people. That is not my motive, but I’m always delighted to hear that my books have brought people solace. I write because being an author is my profession.”

Since a young age, Harkonen knew she wanted to become an author and actress. In the process, she also became a scriptwriter. In addition to plays, she has written movie scripts for television and screen.

“I always knew I wanted to write and act. I was a very determined child: I wasn’t even willing to consider other options. I was something of an outsider until I found a group of like-minded people in the local youth theater, where I began to act and write plays.”


Born on April 10, 1965, in Liminka, northern Finland.

Has written 12 novels, a collection of short stories, 6 collections of columns, 2 collections of songs, and a cookbook, and has edited a collection of love songs. Her books have been translated into 11 languages.

Has written several television series, television movies, and feature films, including Shades of Happiness (based on Faint Lines) and the award-winning television series Turning Tables (with Pekka Milonoff). The script for Aquarium Love, the movie adaptation of Beside Myself (directed by Claes Olsson), was written by Tove Idstrom.

Graduated from the Degree Program in Theater Arts of the University of Tampere in 1989, after transferring there from the Finnish Theater Academy because of its then highly controversial teaching methods.

Main accolades: J. H. Erkko Award for the Best Debut Novel, 1984. Thanks for the Book Award, 1985. Oulu Province Art Award, 1985. The Great Finnish Book Club Award, 1991, 1994 and 1998. Recognition Award of the Helsinki Region Mental Health Association, 2005. New National Author of Finland, winner of a reader’s poll of Image magazine, 2008. Veijo Meri Award of the Otava Book Foundation, 2014.

Married to author Riku Korhonen. Has a son, Lauri (b. 1999), from her first marriage. Lives and works in Helsinki.

Anna-Leena Harkonen is celebrating her 35th year as an author in 2019. Photo: Jouni Harala / Otava

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