Author: Helvi Hämäläinen

Mothers and sons

Issue 1/2008 | Archives online, Fiction, Prose

Extracts from Helvi Hämäläinen’s novel Raakileet (‘Unripe’, 1950. WSOY, 2007)

In front of the house grew a large old elm and a maple. The crown of the elm had been destroyed in the bombing and there was a large split in the trunk, revealing the grey, rotting wood. But every spring strong, verdant foliage sprouted from the thick trunk and branches; the tree lived its own powerful life. Its roots penetrated under the cement of the grey pavement and found rich soil; they wound their way under the pavement like strong, dark brown forearms. Cars rumbled over them, people walked, children played. On the cement of the pavement the brightly coloured litter of sweet papers, cigarette stubs and apple cores played; in the gutter or even in the street a pale rubber prophylactic might flourish, thrown from some window or dropped by some careless passer-by.

The sky arched blue over the six-and seven-storey buildings; in the evenings a glimmer could be seen at its edges, the reflection of the lights of the city. A group of large stone buildings, streets filled with vehicles, a small area filled with four hundred thousand people, an area in which they were born, died, owned something, earned their daily bread: the city – it lived, breathed….

Six springs had passed since the war…. Ilmari’s eyes gleamed yellow as a snake’s back, he took a dance step or two and bent over Kauko, pretending to stab him with a knife. More…

The last melody

Issue 3/1995 | Archives online, Fiction, Prose

Extracts from the novel Kadotettu puutarha (‘The lost garden’, WSOY, 1995). Introduction by Riina Katajavuori

Their sojourn at the villa extended into the autumn of 1944; the schools did not go back as usual on the first of September. Repair of the university buildings progressed rapidly; the work had begun immediately after the bombing. The Doctor went to town from time to time, but nothing bound the family to it, and he returned to his desk in the attic room and to his solitary walks by the lake. His heart troubled him from time to time. It did not like these walks, did not like exertion; but he had succeeded in concealing the matter from Elisabet. After one particular attack, he had secretly seen a doctor in town, and now, instead of camphor tablets, he always had those little buttons in his pocket, the breast pocket of his waistcoat. He swallowed one from time to time on these expeditions, a pain in his wrists and his eyes staring dimly at a clump of ferns that seemed to have become hazy, or a tree-top that seemed to be falling toward him. He did not wish Elisabet to know. Not this, in Elisabet’s world, not this, in air that was suffused with grief for their dead son Leo, with well controlled and beautifully expressed emotion, with concern for the remaining boy, who was there, on the frontier, with the burdensome and universal tragedy that filled the air as light filled it in daytime. More…

The enchanted garden

Issue 4/1993 | Archives online, Fiction, Prose

An extract from Säädyllinen murhenäytelmä (‘A respectable tragedy’, 1941). Introduction by Soila Lehtonen

Artur sat on the balcony and contemplated the windowpanes, hot and bright as dragonfly’s wings. He reached into his pocket and produced an ivory cigarette-holder, inserted a fresh salt-capsule and a cigarette, and began smoking, but the cigarette was not to his taste. His mouth felt hot and dry; he probed the roof of his mouth with his tongue.

An ant was making its way across the floor; Artur’s gaze rested on the garden’s universe of flowerbeds, swarming with insects and blooms; the atmosphere in the garden had the tint of hot dust, apart from the lawn, with its limeblossom-tinged half­ light. He started to make for the garden: the flowers would all be needing water, and he could go for a swim in the pond. But first he wanted to take a look at his mother: she might manage an hour’s sleep in this heat. He tapped a drift of blue-grey cigarette­ash onto the floor. He tiptoed heavily to the old lady’s door, making the floorboards creak, and opened it a fraction. In the green aqueous light thrown by the blind he could make out the reposing outlines of a weak, almost immaterial body; her throat and chest moved gently under her star-crocheted lace, but otherwise the old lady was sleeping lightly as a bird. More…

Caravans of winds

Issue 2/1988 | Archives online, Fiction, poetry

Poems from three collections. Introduction by Kaija Valkonen

The river of death froze

It froze, the river of death,
	froze too the boat of death in the nights of the Winter War, 
			in the Winter War's nights.
The men shed blood,
				shed blood ,
		and it froze, the river of death.
In the nights of the Winter War, it froze, the river of death.

Day of mourning

For one day I’ve the right to mourn,
for one day I’ll shut the windows of the sky,
I’ll dismiss the blue,
I’ll raise a black sun to mark my mourning.
For one day I’ll wilt the flowers,
for one day I’ll silence the birds. More…

A respectable tragedy

Issue 2/1988 | Archives online, Fiction, Prose

An extract from the novel Säädyllinen murhenäytelmä (‘A respectable tragedy’, 1941). Introduction by Kaija Valkonen. The central theme of the novel is love: young, old, passionate, innocent, proper, improper. The main characters are a middle-aged couple, the doctor and his wife Elisabet, his sister Naimi and the love of her youth, Artur. Hämäläinen’s fine irony, careful and thoughtful psychology and colourful language have made the novel a bestseller. Naimi, an aesthete and an uncompromising character, has left her husband Artur twenty years ago because of his infidelity. But slowly she begins to forgive: this tragic but compassionately told love story, not without tragicomedy and humour, ends in reconciliation

Embalmed passion

In that new Helsinki of the ‘thirties, which had opened like a garden flower, gaily coloured, sunlit, practical and impractical, in love with every novelty of the moment, which it thought astonishing, lived Naimi Saarinen, back from her exile, where she had been driven by wounded passion twenty years before. More…