Short and sharp

Issue 4/1987 | Archives online, Authors

Juha Seppälä. Photo: WSOY

Juha Seppälä. Photo: WSOY

The latest development in Finnish literature has taken a couple of decades to emerge. Instead of the long, epic prose that was so popular for so long, we now have short fiction that often takes the form of the short story. Descriptions of country surroundings and vanished ways of life have been supplanted by prose that pulsates to the rhythm of the city.

At the same time the image of the writer has changed. Today’s young Finnish author is not an amateur or someone who is forced to make his living by other means; he is often a highly educated professional writer with a grasp of many new and diverse fields of knowledge.

Juha Seppälä (born 1956) is a good example of this changed author type. He is a graduate of Turku University in Finnish literature and cultural history. He has never worked in, for example, a school or, indeed, had any other steady job. His job is writing, and he works to a strict regime, for there is much to be done: Seppälä has written many radio plays, television scripts and two collections of short stories which have had a very positive critical reception. He also writes literary criticism for a number of newspapers, including a weekly column for Aamulehti, one of Finland’s biggest daily papers.

Juha Seppälä leapt to fame as a writer in 1985 with his radio play Lehtori Anderssonin kertomus (‘Teacher Andersson’s story’), which represented Finland in the Prix Italia. Radio stations in many countries immediately bought rights.

His success continued: for his collection of short stories Torni (‘The tower’) Juha Seppälä received the coveted J.H. Erkko Prize, which is awarded annually for the best first work. The jury commented that Juha Seppälä’s work demonstrated that the traditional short story has a future. Despite their apparent simplicity, his stories are well thought-out and mature. The title story, Torni, is a telling portrait of its time and a penetrating analysis of the dilemma of the individual in Finland.

Seppälä’s next collection of short stories is called Taivaanranta (‘Horizon’); its most enthusiastic critics spoke of ‘master short stories’. Small observations and hints gather as in a customs examination: from the visible details you realise that something much greater is hidden away.

Juha Seppälä’s work has been characterised as minimalist social prose: his short stories mercilessly expose a sector of modern Finnish reality. Through cleverly sketched characters Seppälä captures the beat, the restlessness, the doubt and the uncertainty of the age.

Translated by Hildi Hawkins

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