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||Juhani Peltonen (1941 - 1998)|
Finnish novelist, playwright and poet, who depicted mythological, larger-than-life -characters with affection, humour and psychological understanding. Among Peltonen's best known heroes is Elmo, a super athlete, who falls on 100 meters run, but wins the race, and makes a new world record. Characteristic for Juhani Peltonen's works is his ironic world view with romantic undertones. His melancholic attitude is lightened by more or less black humour or comic interludes.
"Olen yksin. Tällä alalla
(I'm alone. In this line of work
Juhani Peltonen was born in Tuusula, the son of Jorma Angervo Peltonen, a salaried employee, and Kerttu Maria (Taivola) Peltonen, a. clerk. During summer holidays from the school learned seafaring as a ship's boy (1956-59) - his uncle had been a seaman before he became an agronomist. At home Peltonen shared his room with his grandmother, and listened with her radio plays in the evenings. Because Peltonen could not discern red and green, he had to forget his plans to become a seaman. He read works by Gogol, Dostoevsky, Kafka, Camus, and published his first columns at the school magazine. He said in 1988: "I'm always taking Chekhov or Dostoyevsky down from the shelves and reading their old, familiar, beloved words." ('The comi-tragedist' by Erkka Lehtola, in Books from Finland, 2/1988)
Peltonen graduated from the secondary school in Kerava in 1961, and after serving in the Navy, he entered the University of Helsinki where he studied literature and art history from 1962 to 1965. He also contributed to the student magazine Ylioppilaslehti. With the translator Juhani Koskinen and the poet Pentti Saaritsa he formed the "Hermetic Gang". At the cafe of the university, where they often met, they occasionally sat with the Marxist philosopher Pertti Lindfors. Peltonen's first serious literary efforts, a novel and radio play, came back with rejection slips. In 1965 he married Tuula Anneli Nykänen, a sales manager. They had two children.
After winning novel series in J.H. Erkko's writing
competition, Peltonen made his debut as a poet at the age of 23 with
the collection Ihmisiät
(1964). From the same years he devoted himself entirely to writing.
While in Copenhagen, where Peltonen went after receiving a travel
from the Union of Finnish Writers, he briefly shared an apartment with
the cinephile critic Peter von Bagh, the Executive Director of the
Finnish Film Archive. When Peltonen visited Rome, he saw there Bernardo Bertolucci's film Novecento
(1976, Twentieth Century) in cinema. He regarded the polemics against
the film as the most certain sign that it was an ingenius work of art. (Kirjailijan koti: Esseitä ja puheenvuoroja by Arto Virtanen, 2006, p. 238)
The most famous short story in Peltonen's second book, Vedenalainen melodia (1965) is 'Orjien kasvattaja,' which was anthologized in Uuden proosan parhaita (1969, edited by Pekka Tarkka) and has been translated into English as 'The Slave Breeder' in The Dedalus Book of Finnish Fantasy (2005, edited by Johanna Sinisalo, translated by David Hackston). The Kafkaesque horror story tells of a Werner Reiss, who abandons bourgeois life and retreats into his castle. There he becomes a master of slaves, whom he transforms into grotesque beings. Eventually his sadistic reign is ended by one of his own creations.
Oudot minät (1966) presented Peltonen as a subtle aesthetician. His other side came out in the collection Felix Navitan etu- ja takaraivo (1967), and introduced him as a master of wordplays. "Elokellarin vokabulaarissa / on mitä hän mukanaan kantoi / Siellä työntää mystistä itua / sen hitunen se" Many of the poems in the collection had first appeared in the student newspaper Ylioppilaslehti. The fruitful combination of silently observing poems and witty insights continued in Kesken asumisen (1968) and Pitkää, omalaatuista rykimistä, (1974). Peltonen's later collections, Välimatkakirja (1984) and Näköisveistos ruumiskirstusta (1987), were again more serious.
"And the cuckoo cries hundreds of times before the sun
Peltonen's first novel, Salomo ja Ursula, came out in 1967. It gained an immediate success. "The exuberance, which Peltonen offers with his text, must be praised: only a bold writer can be so generous," wrote Pekka Suhonen. ('Asunnottomat ja puheliaat' by Pekka Suhonen, in Parnasso, V/1968) Peltonen's novel was inspired by a newspaper article, which told about a young couple, who had difficulties in finding accommodation for them and their child to be born. The surrealistic love story of modern day Romeo and Julia was adapted into a television film. Salomo meets Ursula in a park - she is eating a pear and asks her, do you know what is "Otto tenet mappam, madidam mappam tenet Otto". She tells that she has not read Latin and don't know. They spent time in restaurant, railway station and after they are thrown out from Salomo's small room, in a church. Finally they find a place to live between railway tracks. Salomo, who plays piano, can't stand the noise. Ursula becomes pregnant. As in Shakespeare's play, the story ends tragically, Salomo is killed by a traffic accident and Ursula commits suicide in a public toilet. Salomo ja Ursula was read over two decades, generation after generation, in the schools. Valaan merkkejä (1973) was Peltonen's ambitious surrealistic novel. The protagonist, Joona Hemmermain, dreams about neglected manor house, and a whaling ship, but he must face harsh reality while serving tycoon Mundixon.
In the 1960s and 1970s Peltonen wrote several works for radio and television, among them the radio plays Elmo, urheilija (1977) and Elmo - muu maailma (1978). Lars Svedberg, who had cooperated with Peltonen in the radio drama Kohti maailman sydäntä, directed the radio productions. The work was later enlarged into a novel, titled simply Elmo
"The most accurate characterization of the novel Elmo
is that is perhaps a burlesque satire of the outworn and politically
problematic nationalistic metaphors in circulation in Finnish public
life in general." ('Nature Boys, Supermen, Fanatics: Perspectives on Finnishness in Three Sports Novels' by Henrik Meinander, in Sport, Literature, Society: Cultural Historical Studies, edited by Alexis Tadié, J.A. Mangan and Supriya Chaudhuri, 2014, p. 106)
Originally, in an unfinished manunscript, Peltonen's hero was a
master guitar player, not an athlete. With this book Peltonen made his
breakthrough as the forefront satirist. The text imitated the
nationalistic language of sports commentators (especially that of Raimo
"Höyry" Häyrinen and Paavo Noponen) and undermined the exhalation
of world wide sports events. However, especially sports fanatics
adopted Elmo as their patron saint which effectively watered down
Peltonen's attack on chauvinism. One internationally successful Finnish
decathlonist, Petri Keskitalo, was later nicknamed "Elmo." The English
translation of the play received an honorary prize at a cultural
festival in Montreux in 1979.
Peltonen's multi-talented super-athlete, member of the athletic club Kainalniemen Hiki (Armpitpeninsula Sweat), is interested in church architecture and growing of apples. He is an unbeatable single-man football team, and he plays card during a marathon, but wins all the competitions. A pacifist, Elmo doesn't want that sports achievements are celebrated by march music (traditionally by March of The Pori Regiment), he prefers Järnefelt's Berceuse. Finally, after being disappointed in love, Elmo disappears into the space, becoming an UFO. The idea perhaps derives from Salomo and Ursula, where Peltonen refers shortly to a athletic contest, where an illiterate winner from the mountains approaches the goal with a transcendental smile on his lips. In the character Peltonen chrystallized some of his central themes, his fascination with eastern mysticism and surrealism, nostalgia, loneliness, and unhappy love.
In the 1980s Peltonen wrote columns for the newspaper Helsingin Sanomat. He travelled several times in the Soviet Union, attracted by his own version of religion, which he called orthodox mysticism. He was also interested in Latin American and Spanish poetry. Several of his novels and short stories reflected the surrealistic worlds of Magic Realism. Stereotyped religious views were dealt in Iloisin suru (1986), in which Peltonen continued his religious meditations. The story portrayed a deputy Lutheran minister, Sauli Rekelä, whose wife and daughter have left him. The only joy in the gloomy life of Rekelä is his relationship with his 11-year old son Aleksi. In Jumalan kuopus (1980) life is a dream, novel a fiction, and God is a fascist. Peltonen considered that his books, Välimatkakirja, a collection of poems, Iloisin suru, a novel about a deputy parson, and Näköisveiston ruumiskirstusta, formed a kind of trilogy about loneliness.
Peltonen's travel stories, which he published in Helsingin Sanomat
between 1974 and 1990, were collected in Matkoilla (2005). An
outsider as his fictional characters, Peltonen occasionally writes of himself in the third person -
he is P., Ivan Jormanovitš Malopoljev, Koito Susirenka, know-how-mies,
and Matkamies Maan. After several tragicomic attempts to visit
Chekhov's estate in Melikhovo, Peltonen eventually managed to see the
place with the help of Kalevi Sorsa, Finland's Prime Minister. Peltonen
become acquainted with him in 1963 in Paris, where Sorsa at that time
worked for the Unesco. With Pekka Suhonen, he translated H.W. Janson's acclaimed survey History of Art (1962) into Finnish under the title Suuri taidehistoria (1965).
Much of his life Peltonen lived in Korso, in a house called "Villa
Orrela." In the late 1970s he was forced to leave his home and his dear
Chekhovian apple orchard due to construction work, which changed the
idyllic area. Orrela was pulled down, and the loss of the orchard was a
deep blow to the author. He even tried to appeal to Kalevi Sorsa, but
the Prime Minister could not help. Peltonen moved with his family to
Loppi, where he bought a school house, "Heikkilä's old school," where
he began small scale sheep farming. In the new surroundings, he wrote
two darkly hilarious collections of poems, several radio plays, three
novels, and four collections of stories. Peltonen died in Loppi, on
February 27, 1998.
Peltonen's final novel was Kuolemansairauteen rinnastettava syli-ikävä (1991). The story was set in the war years 1808-09, which led to Finland's annexation to the Russian Empire and end of the Swedish rule. A group of prisoners is taken to Russia. Captain Värnhjelm leaves his nostalgic farewells to his country, wife Ottiliana and daughters Catharina and Sofia. He discusses with the feverish Major af Åkerlille about death on the way to a small village on the banks of the river Volga. There af Åkerlille meets the youngest daughter of a prince, Marfusa. She tells that she don't believe in God – God is bitter, disappointed and lonely. "Me too," answers af Åkerlille. Pensasaidan takana (1993), Peltonen's last radio play, was based on a short story published in Puisto jouluksi (1990). The protagonists are two old people (in the radio adaptation the actors Pentti Siimes and Elina Pohjanpää, a real life couple), who began to plan a life together.
For further reading: 'Nature Boys, Supermen, Fanatics: Perspectives on Finnishness in Three Sports Novels' by Henrik Meinander, in Sport, Literature, Society: Cultural Historical Studies, edited by Alexis Tadié, J.A. Mangan and Supriya Chaudhuri (2014); Juhani Peltonen ja "vedenalaiset" maailmat' by Irma Perttula, in Groteski suomalaisessa kirjallisuudessa (2010); 'Poem of Our Land,' in A Way to Measure Time, ed. by Bo Carpelan (1992); 'Juhani Peltonen,' in Miten kirjani ovat syntyneet 3, ed. by Ritva Haavikko (1991); 'Juhani Peltonen,' in Suomalaisia nykykirjailijoita by Pekka Tarkka (1989); 'The comi-tragedist' by Erkka Lehtola, in Books from Finland (2/1988)