Sara Vuolab

Sara Vuolab
Sara Vuolab: Gárži. Collection of poems, ČálliidLágádus 2019. Nominated for the 2022 Nordic Council Children and Young People’s Literature Prize.


The Northern Sami poetry collection Gárži, is written by Sara Vuolab and is her debut work. Sara Vuolab (born in 1995) grew up in Karasjok. The completion of her writing studies at SGS encouraged her to publish a collection of poems about mental challenges. The Norwegian Council for Mental Health awarded Vuolab the Tabuprisprisen 2021 for Gárži, because in it she bravely and openly writes about mental illness from a Sami perspective. Vuolab also uses social media artistically by sharing her thoughts, poems, and photos. The cover of the collection reflects the special features of the content and allows for interpretations. The book as a whole is a good starting point for a public conversation.


The central theme of the collection is eating disorders and about how they are so much more than just about food and eating. In her mother tongue, Vuolab conveys how, as a young person, she tries to live with this heavy burden, how eating, starving, weight gain, and dieting affect day-to-day life, how this eats up her strength and takes control of her life.


The title of the collection Gárži (meaning “narrow” in English) refers to the space in which the poems are born. This mental prison is mediated by the first-person narrative, and the young person becomes like a witness to her own life, because she is stuck in a place that is difficult to get away from. She demonstrates how she walks with her eating disorder hand-in-hand and that, in the end, she is unable to separate herself from it. This sheds light on how impossible it feels to get well, because what will keep her alive has become her greatest enemy and betrayal.


The author leads us into her illogical train of thought and actions. Resulting from her long-term struggle emerges immense knowledge. In a few words, she conveys a life knowledge that is arguably too great, considering her young age. The reader gets an insight into the double-sided conflict, in which the narrator’s fragile and childish side tries to convince and understand itself, or to discuss and argue with itself. But there is also a rational adult who knows what would would be best for itself. This ambivalence is pervasive and provides both exciting perspectives and unexpected associations. 


Serious themes that are interspersed with bizarre points make the whole something close and everyday, but unfortunately also a normality. The small, fragile, yet unwavering hope, the modest desire to experience love, and the silent longing for a better life help to give the text an additional dimension.


Sami literature has seldom addressed this topic, and it has not been common to talk openly about mental illness in Sami culture. With a varied language, the author chooses in some places to use illustrative nature images to convey her message. Another quality feature in this collection is Vuolab’s solid cultural knowledge, which she demonstrates through the use of Sami indirect turns of phrase, which are often used when talking about difficult topics. Vuolab’s solid debut shows that she is a strong communicator.