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||Martti Johannes Larni (1909-1993) - surname until 1942 Laine|
Writer and journalist, who became the best-known Finnish writer in the Soviet Union after publishing his satirical novel about the American way of life, Neljäs nikama eli veijari vastoin tahtoaan (1957, The fourth vertebra, or a scamp despite himself). Both Fidel Castro and Mikhail Gorbachev loved the book. Larni works have been translated into some 20 languages. After World War II, Larni lived a few years in Wisconsins, US.
"When a collection of my satirical sketches was published twelve years ago one critic described me as a "venomous mocker" who, armed with a sharp awl, lies in wait for his victims. I categorically reject such an accusation. I am not at all venomous; I am a kind, soft-hearted person and am especially fond of children and dogs – children, because they bark also on my behalf. As for the awl, it is the writer's tool. The first duty of a writer is to fight against social injustice. In the capitalist world there are still exploitation, racial oppression, political corruption, shameless strivings for personal gains, brazen attempts to establish world domination by force, and total callous disregard of the worth of human beings." (from 'Foreword' in Laugh with Larni, 1973)
Martti Johannes Laine (Martti Larni) was born in Helsinki, the
son of Johan Viktor Laine, a master painter, and Matilda Puntila, who
had strong family roots in Hauho, Häme. They had nine children; Martti
was the fourth. In his childhood, Larni spent several summers as a
shepherd – later he recalled this experience in Hyvien ihmisten kylä
(1942). At the age of fifteen, Larni wrote his first poems and short
stories. His early lyrics were published in 1926 in the magazine Juttutupa.
Two years later he became a member of the literary association Nuoren
Voiman Liitto, founded in 1921.
From 1923 to 1927, Larni worked as a horticultural assistant, then tried his luck as a businessman, and studied at a cooperative movement school. In 1936 he married Gurli Viola Zetterström. From 1937 to 1943, Larni was the editor of Elanto, a magazine published by one of the largest cooperative movements in Finland. In 1943 he was appointed departmental manager of the consumer cooperative Elanto. During World War II, Larni wrote screenplays for the production company Suomi-Filmi Oy, among them Tuomari Martta, based on Ilmari Turja's play. With the director Valentin Vaala he cooperated in several film projects, beginning from Keinumorsian (1943).
In 1948-49, Larni resided in the United States and again in 1951-54, working then as an editor at the publishing company Co-op. Public Association. Its newspaper, Työväen Osuustoimintalehti, was printed weekly. Between the years 1956 and 1959, Larnii was a departmental manager at The Cooperative Union of Finland. After returning to Finland, he worked as a departmental manager at The Cooperative Union of Finland (1956-1959) and editor of the magazine Me kuluttajat (We consumers; 1955-1965). In addition to publishing prolifically, he served as chairman of the Finnish Writers' Association (1964-1967). Larni died on March 7, 1993.
Larni made his debut as a novelist with the young adult's
novel Seikkailuja Saamenmaassa (1936), which he published under
the Lappish pseudonym Aslak Nuorti. His next novel, Kuilu
(1937), dealt with the traumatic civil war of 1917-18. At that time the
war was mostly seen from the side of the victorious White army. The
most notable exceptions were F.E. Sillanpää's Meek Heritage
(1919) and Elmer Diktonius's Janne Kubik (1932).
Kuilu was a story of the journalist and writer Unto Kamara, who has committed suicide. Kamara's autobiography reveals his homosexual affair with a literature scholar, "Doctor H." During the Civil War Kamara joins the Red Army and kills his seducer. He is imprisoned by the Whites and a white officers demands sexual favors from him. After his release Kamara tries to change his life, marries, but eventually kills his wife. Especially right-wing critics attacked Larni's book – it was considered "sick" and "morally harmful."
Partly due to harsh critic, Larni did not publish anything for
five years. In 1942 he changed his name officially from Laine to Larni,
leaving with this act his earlier identity as a writer completely
behind. Under the pseudonym Dan Aster, Larni published three books, Kahden
maailma (1944), Malttamaton intohimo (1945), and Musta
Venus (1946). Lähellä syntiä (1946) tells the melodramatic
story on Juhani Lundahl, the son of a waitress and later prostitute who
escapes from home. He finds work at a market garden, owned by a
debauched Baron Barring. Juhani joins workers'a association and
struggles for his rights. The book was made into a film 1955, directed
by Hannu Leminen. The director set the events during World War II
instead of the Civil War (1917- 1918). Taivas laskeutui maahan
(1948) was a historical novel, in which the protagonist was the friend
of the poet François Villon, René Saillant. The work was partly
inspired by Lorenz v. Numers' novel Snäckans bröder (1946) –
Larni had translated its poems into Finnish. Minnesota palaa (1952)
was about Finnish immigrants in the United States and the great fire of
1918 in Minnesota. Larni wrote the book while in the United States. One
of the characters, named Jack Hill, searches for his father, Henry
Hill, and is employed in a circus as a babysitter for freak children.
Niko said nothing, but the parrot in the cage screamed: "Down with dictators! Hang the colonels!
The Russian translation of Neljäs nikama came out in 1959. It was published without the knowledge of the author – the Soviet Union had not undersigned the Bern convention on copyright issues. The first time Larni realized that he had written a bestseller, was when he saw a woman reading his book on an airplane. Copies were distributed for free at Soviet airports. The work was translated into some 20 languages, but not into English, and turned into a stage adaptation.
"They say you need three or four months to get back to normal after an operation like that. Do you remember the book "The Fourth Vertebra," by the Finnish author Martti Larni? It is a wonderful book. In my case it was the fifth (vertebra). I've started walking again, but every beginning is difficult." (Mikhail Gorbachev in Spiegel, August 16, 2011, after a spine operation.)
The protagonist is Jeremias
Suomalainen, a teacher and journalist, who is called "the greatest
truth-speaker in the word" by one of his readers, but in the trial, he
is accused of being the world's biggest liar. The character had already appeared in Arvokkaat köyhät ja heidän kirjava seurakuntansa (1944), a picaresque novel. After
moths in a jail, Jeremies moves to the United States. In his new home
Jeremias becomes the assistant of the chiropractic Isaac Rivers, who
was modelled after Hannes Kolehmainen's massage therapist, and
Jerry Finn, a citizen of the world. Rivers has a theory: all backaches
come from the fourth vertebra. Larni mocks quick marriages and quick
divorces, miracle doctors, Hollywood, self-contentedness, ignorance of
other cultures, and advertising. In one scene Jerry peddles books; he
has an abridged edition – 102 pages – of Anatole France's collected
works. At the end, he is catapulted into fame and riches. Noteworthy,
Larni himself had hurt his vertebrae during WWII.
The poet Pentti Saarikoski
confessed in his review of the book that his sympathy was on the side
of the cheerful Americans (Parnasso, no. 3, 1958). In the magazine Valvoja (no. 5, 1957) V.A. Koskenniemi compared Larni's style
to that of Jerome K. Jerome, but he saw that in the choice of his
subject the author follows in the wake of Eric Linklater. On the other
hand, Koskenniemi considered Larni's humor rudely exaggerated, too far
from the reality to be effective. In 1973 the Soviet Novosti Press
Agency published a collection of the author's satirical sketches, Laugh
Mostly Larni laughed at the U.S., with the exception that 'Putting History into the Corner' condemned Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn's novel August, 1914, which he had not read at that time. He even hinted that Solzhenitsyn was of Jewish origin by referring to him with the term "rootless intelligentsia". It is possible that Larni was paid by the KGB, which sent his comments in the German Stern magazine to Swedish and Czechoslovakian papers (Solženitsyn: elämä ja eetos by Erkki Vettenniemi, 2015, pp. 160-162). Foreboding Solzhenitsyn's exile from the Soviet Union in 1974, Larni wrote: "Several years ago a Soviet writer who likewise did not love his country and people, set out looking for happiness in foreign lands. He changed his name, declared himself a "citizen of the universe" and ... was lost in a London fog."
For further reading: Uuno Kailaasta Aila Meriluotoon: suomalaisten kirjailijain elämäkertoja, ed. by Toivo Pekkanen & Reino Rauanheimo (1947); 'Martti Larni' by Sakari Virkkunen, in Suomen Kuvalehti (14.9.1979); Kapinalliset kynät III by Raoul Palmgren (1984); Suomalaisia kirjailijoita: Jöns Buddesta Hannu Ahoon by Lasse Koskela (1990); Suomen kansallisfilmografia 3, ed. by Kari Uusitalo, et al. (1993); Kotimaisia sotakirjailijoita by Martti Sinerma, et al. (2001); 'Larni, Martti' by Lasse Koskela, in Suomen kansallisbiografia 5, ed. by Matti Klinge, et al. (2005); Satiiri Suomessa by Sari Kivistö & H.K. Riikonen (2012)