Woman and myth

Issue 4/2002 | Archives online, Authors, Reviews

Anu Kaipainen (1933-200) was a prolific writers; she published more than twenty novels, numerous stage, television and radio plays.

Kaipainen’s work has not been translated very widely. ‘The language of my books has often proved too difficult,’ the writer herself has said. Kaipainen’s language rings with the rhythms of the Karelian dialect, even the songs of the Kalevala, although in earlier novels it is linked with social reportage.

Typical of the writer’s work is diversity of material and style. Before post-modernism, this was called a collage technique. In her novels, Kaipainen has interleaved myths, folk stories and contemporary themes, as she also does in  Granaattiomena (‘Pomegranate’, WSOY) which is entwined around the Oedipus story from the point of view of Oedipus’s mother.

The novel Arkkienkeli Oulussa (‘An archangel in Oulu’, 1967), is set in the Finnish war of 1808-09, and a pacifist stance employs both J.L. Runeberg’s Fänrik Ståls sägner (‘Tales of Ensign Stål’) and a folk story about a child who grew up inside a barrel. The novel Magdaleena ja maailman lapset (‘Magdalena and the children of the world’, 1969) tells of the role of women and children, the problems of marriage and upbringing, whose background is concern for the world, war and violence. The mythical level is derived from the Bible, from the relationship between Martha and Mary. In the novel Kellomorsian (‘Clock bride’, 1977) Kaipainen tells of a self-sacrificing teacher whose destiny approaches that of Joan of Arc.

Poimisin heliät hiekat (‘I would collect the bright sands’, 1979, revised edition 1989), tells of the life of the famous 19th-century rune-singer Larin Paraske, and in a couple of subsequent novels, too, Anu Kaipainen has dealt with Karelian themes, which she has said belong among ‘forbidden matters’ as the subjects were considered sensitive because of Finland’s relations with the Soviet Union.

Granaattiomena is a very personal, even confessional, work, in which the writer ponders the difficulty of motherhood for a woman living with her youngest son, a homosexual who is depressive and strongly dependent on her. The main role is played not by the boy, but the mother’s guilt, distress and anxiety. The mother returns to her own past, the marriage which was severed by her husband’s sudden death, the psychological, health and economic problems which she was forced to confront. The societally vigilant writer’s young alter ego in the novel is Sirje, an anarchist environmentalist and freer of caged foxes.

Granaattiomena is a generous novel which, in spite of its weighty themes, is not sombre; the writer is also a master of self-irony, and her language, with its associations and song-like rhythms, is another element of liberty.


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