You Can't Tell About It


The English edition now available as an Amazon eBook.

Click here!

What do the atrocities experienced in a prison camp do to a young girl? How will the defendant explain to the war crimes tribunal his solutions that appeared so incomprehensible? What sort of choice did the mother do?

"You Can’t Tell About It" is the Finnish author Tiina Pihlajamäki’s debut novel. It was published by Atena Kustannus in 2003 and it won the Olvi foundation literature prize in 2003. It was also nominated for the Helsingin Sanomat Book Award.

The novel is easy and compelling to read, but you won’t put it down indifferent. Something will inevitably happen in your mind and thoughts.” The spouse of the president of the Republic of Finland, Dr. Pentti Arajärvi in his statement for the Olvi foundation prize 11.24.2003.

The news from the Bosnian war about the fates of many women and girls made Pihlajamäki contemplate how the human psyche works in the extreme conditions of war and what is needed for surviving. So arose the Srednica Garrison, Mirjana and something that can’t be told about.

Even though the story is located in a war and its aftermath, it is universal. A central subject is sexual violence and abuse which take place in all surroundings. Millions of girls and women would have something to say about this issue, but only few of them speak. After reading this book the reader will be left with his confusing considerations: how good or evil was each of them in the end?

Even though 'You Can’t Tell About It' is no bedtime story, it is beautifully told. Pihlajamäki leaves many things fascinatingly open.” Riitta Vaismaa, Lukufiilis 4/2003


I am Tiina Pihlajamäki, a novelist, drawer and a special education teacher, born in 1966. I have a Masters Degree in Education. My career is characterized by an interest in children and adolescents. Before graduating from the university I worked for several years in a children’s home.

I live in Turku, Finland. My spouse works in the security field. My two children are adults already. I also have a small webshop for selling my own artistic products. My homepage name "Taiteilijan Tytär" means "an artist's daughter".

My second novel named “Rant.Ta.Li.” (The Unruly) was published in 2006. It tells about the mischiefs of two extraordinary, little boys. They suffer from neurological deviances resembling the ADHD and Asperger’s syndrome, and in consequence from a lack of understanding in their neighborhood. The novel is based on true events and despite the serious subject, it is also humorous.

In 2021 I accomplished a nonfiction book called "Kadonnut Turku" (The Lost Turku), which I wrote, illustrated and published myself. The book tells the stories of 22 buildings pulled down in Turku.


War is not as far-off for me as one might think. As a child I've been listening to my father’s stories upon the World War II. In the Finnish Winter War and the Continuation War he served as a gunsmith. You can see him in the picture.

After shooting down a Soviet military aircraft he was promoted Sergeant 1st class and granted Medal of Liberty 1st Class. His life changed for good, though: the war and the years of depression brought down his thriving art forge, and that’s how his life started to go downhill. My uncle died in the war. My husband’s granddad died in the war. The war is deep in the souls of the Finnish people, too.

I don’t know what sort of and how comprehensive background research Pihlajamäki has done for her debut novel, but she tells an apparently truthful story. It is distressing, and - - the fictionality doesn’t decrease the value of the novel. Quite the contrary.” Kaisa Kurikka, Turun Sanomat 11.27.2003

Two Finnish peacekeepers, a Bosniac and me in Zvornik, Bosnia 2002.


The book is both topical and timeless in many ways. It tells about problems that people face, and crimes that are committed every day and in all circumstances. - - The work deals out guilt, innocence, reasons, and evidence across several dimensions. It tells about the human weakness and strength. It tells about the human urge to protect and about an inability to do so.” The spouse of the president of the Republic of Finland, Dr. Pentti Arajärvi in his statement for the Olvi foundation prize 11.24.2003.

Pihlajamäki has written a human rights declaration but at the same time a skillful novel weave.” Teppo Kulmala, Keskisuomalainen 11.27.2003

Pihlajamäki builds a psychologically precise and sensitive picture of Mirjana. The feelings of guilt and anguish, the denial of the events, and the fits of anger have been described credibly and at the same time touchingly. Throughout the story Mirjana is an excellently constructed character.” Kaisa Kurikka, Turun Sanomat 11.27.2003

Mirjana is also a very self-confident and strong person. She is a clear example of the kind who refuses to resign. - - It also gives the expression that such an awkward character gets more bruises than the others.” Seppo Puttonen in the literature program Kirjakerho on the Finnish Broadcasting Company 1.15.2004

The work deals with violence against women in a way we haven’t got used to.” Erja Hyytiäinen, Turun Sanomat 10.5.2003

The way Pihlajamäki describes the events is startlingly truthful. Romance stays far from the story. Instead the reality is so close that at times you completely forget you’re reading a fictional story.” Amira Al Bayaty, 10.15.2003

The power of the book is based on the complex tones of the narration. You Can’t Tell about It leaves behind more questions than answers. - - In the last analysis everyone has to decide herself how to approach its contradictory and painful world.” Saana Katila, Käkriäinen 2/4 2004

As her means of expression, Pihlajamäki uses the very best methods: documentary, prose, and the most captivating baits of the classic whodunit.” Teemu Järventie, Aamulehti 1.7.2004

Pihlajamäki tinges her realism effectively with impressions and allegories.” Teppo Kulmala, Keskisuomalainen 11.27.2003

A fine structural idea is that the reader hears about the events in the women’s camp only when Mirjana herself speaks about them aloud for the first time.” Kaisa Kurikka, Turun Sanomat 11.27.2003

The whole book is written from Mirjana’s point of view. It puts the reader faced with a demanding task. Even though Mirjana can’t form an overall picture of the events nor understand the motives and fates of the others, the reader has a possibility to do so.” Saana Katila, Käkriäinen 2/4 2004

Pihlajamäki doesn’t underline the position of the women nor make them special heroes. Namely, the women envy the young girl’s position in the prison camp. The women in the story aren’t subjugated victims, either. The author challenges the reader to contemplate who has survived the experiences the best: the soldiers blaming each other, or the young girl who meets with her hard experiences and the producer of them face to face.” Amira Al Bayaty, 10.15.2003

The novel is at its best when describing the ‘gray zone’ of life in the camp. The phrase comes from Primo Levi, who noticed a morally misty zone developing amongst the officers and the ordinary prisoners in Auschwitz – people weren’t only innocent victims or brutal torturers. As Mirjana’s testimony progresses, nuances of gray become discernible in her camp, too.” Erkki Vettenniemi, Parnasso 1/2004

It makes the reader ask where the line goes between using power and becoming oppressed oneself. It also deals with guilty from an unexpected point of view.” Amira Al Bayaty, 10.15.2003

In court also [the defendant] is given an opportunity to speak. - - So the reader becomes a judge who can make decisions on the guilt and its level.” Kaisa Kurikka, Turun Sanomat 11.27.2003

[The ending of the novel] - - is skillfully constructed but not releasing enough so the gray barracks zone would step aside among the harmless memories. Pihlajamäki’s debut novel creditably confuses the reader’s peace of mind.” Erkki Vettenniemi, Parnasso 1/2004

Even though You Can’t Tell about It describes a plenty of those horrors men can do to women, it does it temperately and responsibly. There aren’t too detailed scenes of rape or beating.” Teemu Järventie, Aamulehti 1.7.2004

Even though You Can’t Tell About It is no bedtime story, it is beautifully told. Pihlajamäki leaves many things fascinatingly open.” Riitta Vaismaa, Lukufiilis 4/2003

”You Can’t Tell about It doesn’t wallow in its terrible subjects – mental cruelty, violence and acts of rape. All in all it develops into a very humane story even with warmth and belief in the future.” Otto Lappalainen, Salon Seudun Sanomat 11.14.2003