Veikko Huovinen (1927–2009) in memoriam

23 October 2009 | Authors, In the news

Veikko Huovinen 1927–2009

Veikko Huovinen (1927–2009). – Photo: Irmeli Jung /WSOY

Author Veikko Huovinen died on 4 October at his home in Sotkamo, in northern Finland, at the age of 82.

Huovinen was a graduate of the forest research programme at Helsinki University and worked for a period as a forest ranger. In the 1950s he began working as a full-time writer after his first novel, Havukka-ahon ajattelija (‘The thinker of Havukka-aho’, 1952), achieved great success.

Havukka-ahon ajattelija is the story of a stubbornly ruminative backwoods philosopher who ponders natural phenomena and the great political turning points that he hears about on the radio. The novel has been translated into six languages.

The soil that Huovinen’s works spring from is his northern community surrounded by deep forest, and his characters are modelled on its inhabitants: a self-sufficient business owner, a vagrant rascal, an ill-tempered hermit. They withdraw into the shelter of their homes, where the arctic winds and the evil of the world can’t reach them. Such humoresques might bring to mind Mark Twain or the early works of Nikolai Gogol.

Huovinen wanted to broaden his field of interest and brought his playful critical eye to bear on some of the cruellest dictators from world history: Hitler, Stalin, Peter the Great. These works are parodies of biographical research, but making dictators into droll figures, something in the manner of Chaplin’s The Great Dictator, was an insufficient foundation for his critique. His Stalin parody was read in the former Eastern block countries, it’s true, but did not achieve a wider audience.

It was perhaps the uniqueness of his novel Puukansan tarina (1984) that ensured its translation into German and English (as Tale of the Forest Folk, 1994); humans do not have a large role in the book. It is an homage to the wisdom of the forest, the story of a community of trees that grows to their full perfection, the main protagonist a wise elder pine more than 400 years old.

Huovinen’s most jubilant writings are his ‘short specials’, brief parodic pieces that poke ironic fun at the bureaucratic welfare state, political correctness, and absurdities of consumer society such as the invasion of the north by mass tourism.

The burlesque merriment of the style and language in these pieces is difficult to capture in a translation, but one example of a hilarious success is David Barrett’s ‘A spot of transmigration’ (Books from Finland 3/1987), which tells the tale of a dead northern traveler’s soul that migrates into the body of a crow, a freshwater cod-fish, a stray dog, a liquor store proprietor, and finally into a crane on its travels into the wilds of Lapland.

For Huovinen’s translations, see the database.

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