The wisdom of the harvester

30 September 2007 | Authors, Reviews

Eeva Tikka

Eeva Tikka. Photo: Gummerus

In our fast-paced times, many people throw themselves into the fast-flowing current of stimulus. Eeva Tikka has remained on the shore, and on her own two feet. Her works include environmentally polemical tales and poems marked by nature mysticism and religious searching, but she is best known for her short prose.

Tikka (born 1939), who has won four Government Literature Prizes, worked as a biology teacher before beginning her career in writing. Her works dealing with everyday life, human relationships, and northern Karelian nature have been translated into five languages.

Tikka’s middle-aged characters often find themselves confronting the inevitability of abandonment. The days of their youth flash before them like a longed-for Eldorado, at other times like the playing field of a desperate game whose cruel words and wordless rejections mark the beginnings of their inner estrangement.

Though Tikka’s language is calm and measured, the destinies she describes are far from serene. A recurring theme of Hidas intohimo (‘A slow passion’, Gummerus, 2007) is the inexplicability of life and of human consciousness. What worlds, what longings, reversals, passions and disappointments these outwardly drab people conceal.

‘There have been so many twists and turns in this road. Indeed the twists and turns are what makes life’s journey longer, so that you know you’ve really lived,’ a wheelchair-bound nursing-home resident asserts in the story ‘Yökirjat’ (‘Night books’).

But do you really know? There is a lingering uncertainty in Tikka’s stories as to which memories are true and which have been adapted and embellished. The characters are skilful dramatisers of their own lives, editing out the troublesome parts.

Tikka’s fondness for the Russian classics is apparent. Love’s disappointments and the deficiencies of daring in youth come back to rattle the gates of her characters later in life. But Tikka doesn’t abandon her encapsulations of humanity to Chekhovian gloominess. Her scope is not so much crime and punishment as it is guilt and atonement.

In the story ‘Hyvä isäntä’ (‘The good host’), the first-person narrator must put his dog down, then attends his wife’s funeral. When a miserly friend brings a dog suffering from epilepsy to be put down, the narrator is given a new opportunity, he’s allowed to see that ‘In spite of everything, a person sometimes has the power to say no to death.’

The title story of the collection breathes a longing that is lingering and close to nature. A man who tends an allotment garden makes plans to invite the woman from the neighbouring cottage, on the other side of the hawthorn hedge, over for coffee. The evenings become darker and the apples ripen while he dreams and plans. But waiting is part of the wisdom of being human.

Tikka offers this harvester’s wisdom to her readers with humour, irony, and an undercurrent of melancholy.

Tags: