Hidden under the words

Issue 2/2005 | Archives online, Authors, Reviews

The short story ‘Kimalaisen hunajaa’ (‘The honey of the bee’) offers an excellent glimpse into the work of Juha Seppälä. The chain of generations is strongly present in it, as well as the changing nature of society and the wrongs people commit against each other. War also looms behind the narrative. The people are characterised by a rugged, Finnish stoicism – round here it is customary for the greatest feelings to be dealt with amid the greatest silence.

For the past couple of decades Juha Seppälä has published a book almost every year in a disciplined fashion. His idiom is also disciplined and controlled; everything trivial has been eliminated from each sentence. Seppälä (born 1956) started with internalised prose in keeping with the ideals of the Finnish literary modernism born in the 1950s, in which the painful parts of the human condition are presented without artifice.

The topics for the narratives are often internal family tensions: relationships between faters and daughters or husbands and wives. The characters are typified by introversion and pessimism. In the novel Hyppynaru (‘Jump-rope’, 1990) a young father descends into a terrible metaphysical cul de sac and ends up strangling his beloved daughter in order to save her from the suffering of the world. The beautiful yet fleeting connection between grandfather and grandson is a repeating theme in Seppälä’s stories. He dealt with this subject as early as his novel Silta (‘The bridge’, 1989), and a man also sinks into profound contemplation while remembering his grandfather in the short story ‘Kimalaisen mettä’, from the collection Mitä sähkö on (‘What electricity is’, WSOY) published in 2004.

A new Seppälä introduced himself in the short story collection Super Market (1991). Its texts are not controlled modernism, but instead brazen and unrestrained postmodernism. In place of a closed narrative form, Seppälä wrote open-ended, raunchy and paradoxical fragments, in which the desires and impulses hidden in the subconscious are unleashed.

The blaspheming prose that began with Super Market has been a part of Seppälä’s work from that point on. In the book Tunnetko tyypin? (‘Do you know that guy?’, 1995) he writes brief, mischievous sketches of lesser-known historical figures – generals, models, athletes. He clings to tiny details, invented irrelevancies and thus, in a roundabout way, hits on the fundamental aspects of being human.

The book Suomen historia (‘History of Finland’. 1998) is written in the same spirit. In it Seppälä sheds light on his homeland’s past through sideways-looking essays, which turn solemn patriotism into a laughing stock. This ironic and satiric approach, nevertheless, does not obscure from view the fact that Seppälä as a writer is extremely interested in national questions, the identity of Finns and the past. One of his chief works is the novel Sydänmaa (‘Heartland’, 1994), which tells the great tale of Finland in a compressed form – the gradual disappearance of agrarian society, the descent of the country into internecine war in 1918, the world war, contemporary urban life, and the chain of generations.

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