The solitary walker

Issue 2/1983 | Archives online, Authors

Antti Hyry

Antti Hyry. Photo: Jouni Harala

Antti Hyry, born in 1931, is a writer from northern Finland. His work is coloured by elements characteristic of the region near the Arctic Circle: rugged nature, wintry frost, the light of long summer nights, the Laestadian fundamentalist Christian sect, and the strict rules of an agrarian community.

Hyry is an engineer by training, and although he has never worked as an engineer, his world view has been built on a physical and technological foundation. This orientation, together with a basic intuition which is close to nature, has created in his works a world of fascinating conflict in which troubled man, weighed down by responsibilities, studies his environment as if to test whether it exists, and to discover what laws govern it.

Hyry’s character (or rather, Hyry’s man, for most of his characters are men) is deeply conscious of the unconditional and justified demands of his community, and he wishes to fulfil them. As a child, he is in harmony with his environment, and there are traces of the idyll in Hyry’s novels depicting childhood (Kotona, ‘At home’, 1960, and Alakoulu ‘Elementary school’, 1965). The child’s fears of sin, doom, and death, and his uncertainty of getting to heaven, form an inevitable contrast to the idyll.

In the novel Kevättä ja syksyä (‘Spring and autumn’, 1958), Hyry tells the story of the childhood and youth of a man who became cut off from his agrarian and religious milieu, moved to the city, and adopted communist ideology. Hyry shows how a whole milieu keeps a hold on a broken person and can affect him even as a memory.

The childhood idyll does not last, although the man himself may strive to preserve the view of the world with which he grew up. When the harmony is broken, the whole has to be built up again, even if it rests on the same firm foundations as it did earlier. In two of his novels, Hyry depicts a severe crisis in the life of a growing boy, an illness which requires that he be sent away from home to hospitals in strange cities (lsä ja poika, ‘Father and son’,1971, and Silta liikkuu, ‘The bridge moves’, 1975). In the crisis, the boy’s sense of himself becomes stronger, and although home is constantly on his mind, he learns to feel close to the people of the unknown new surroundings. At this stage, when he is getting better, he discovers a wonder of technology, a radio he can build by himself; this shapes his identity and eases his return home.

Speculation and mastery

Technology plays a significant role in Hyry’s works – at times as the subject of theoretical speculation, at times as mastery of practical gadgets. In many of his books he writes authoritatively about cars and driving. In the novel Maailman laita (‘The edge of the world, 1967) his description of Pietari’s motorboat ride to the outer islands reveals closeness to nature and to machinery at the same time. Hyry combines these themes in the novel Maatuuli (‘The earth wind’, 1980), in which the same character, Pietari, now a middle-aged man, is the servant and caretaker of his machines. He regards even his own house as a machine which constantly has to be repaired. He is anxious; he doesn’t know whether he has the strength to fulfil the demands set for him. On the surface, his life is in order: he spends his winters in the south and his summers in the north; his family is together; he is prosperous and is on good terms with his relatives, which also means continued contact with his childhood milieu.

Forgiveness and repentance

Maatuuli ends on an exalted note: Pietari’s anxiety is dispelled in a revivalist meeting at midsummer. He feels that the religious proclamation revives his impoverished spirit as memories of central religious experiences, of asking for forgiveness and repentance, flood his mind.

Hyry’s view of human life is serious and controlled. He is a master of symbolism and of images, and of concise expression. He stays close to subjective experience and adds to its precise information about facts, work, accomplishments, machines. His style is somewhat reminiscent of Hemingway, but his view of the reality of man and the reality of faith is different . It is a view which leads one to bright silence, to an understanding of the basic order of things. In this silence, after making his mistakes, man returns to meet the gaze of the Laestadian God, and to carry out his daily tasks in spite of everything.

The short stories that follow are from Hyry’s first collection, Maantieltä hän lähti (‘And he left the road’, 1959). Kai Laitinen has said of the first of them, which gives its name to the collection, that one can read it as a kind of manifesto of the course Hyry was to take as a writer: it gives the preamble to his oeuvre and its final act. In his study of engineering, Hyry travelled far into the abstract worlds of mathematics and physics – and returned to himself to realize that his strength lies in his beginnings, his childhood and the landscape of northern Finland. The atmosphere of this story – and of ‘Pig-Bitten’ and ‘A rock in the sunshine’ too – is present in much of Hyry’s work: clear, bright and sharp as an autumn frost.

Translated by Aili and Austin Flint