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for Books and Writers
by Bamber Gascoigne

(Otto) Olavi Siippainen (1915-1963)


Finnish writer with a working class background. Olavi Siippainen entered in the 1940s the literacy scene with autobiographical works, but from the 1950s he attempted to enlarge his literary oeuvre. His most famous work is the trilogy Nuoruuden trilogia, which appeared between 1942 and 1959. "Siippainen also published short stories, whose success varied between average and brilliant, but the rest of his novels had no solid foundation or program," summarized George C. Schoolfied Siippainen's later publications in A History of Finland's Literature (1998).

"Köyhä on työläispojan runotar:
kalpea, repaleinen tyttö laitakaupungilta.
Ei hän rakasta utuista romantiikkaa,
ei hän suvaitse valheellisia haaveita,
hän rakastaa elämää,
joka kukkii väkevinä kärsimyksen polttavassa mullassa."

(from Kirjailijaryhmä Kiilan albumi, 1937)

Olavi Siipainen was born in Kuopio. His father, Otto Siippainen, was a painter, who died when Olavi was four years old. Anna Kustaava Happonen, Olavi's mother, supported her children by working at a matchstick factory factory and as a cleaning woman. The family of seven lived a one-bedroom apartment with a kitchen. After studies at an elementary school and lyceum, where he spent only one miserable year, Siippainen worked in odd jobs, among others as an errand boy, printer, mailman, cabinet maker, and stock clerk. During the periods of unemployment, he devoured books – Siippainen tells in his autobiographical article in Uuno Kailaasta Aila Meriluotoon (1947) that everyone in the family were readers. 

While still at school, Siippainen began to write poems. Inspired by such novels as Knut Hamsun's The Hunger, Jack London's Martin Eden and Toivo Pekkanen's Tehtaan varjossa, Siippainen dreamed of becoming a writer and devoured in the evenings books which he borrowed from the city library. In 1935-36 he studied at the Workers' Academy in Kauniainen – later Siippainen recalled this period as the most beautiful in his life. His older sister helped him financially, and he could read and write as much as he wanted. He returned to Kuopio, and after serving in the army, he worked at a carpenter's shop.

In 1938 Siippainen married Lempi Maria Thuren; they dicorced in 1945. For a period, he worked as a journalist in Varkaus and Kajaani. However, journalism was not his true calling. Siippainen's first book, Nuoruus sumussa (1940), was a collection of short stories. During the Continuation War between Finland and the Soviet Union (1941-44), Siippainen served in the army as a front correspondent and finished in dugouts his first novel, Suuntana läntinen (1942). It became the first volume of his major work, Nuoruuden trilogia (A Trilogy of Youth), which had much autobiographical elements. Its protagonist is a young worker, Aarne Korhonen, an outsider, who joins the Social Democratic Party, and starts his career as a writer. The second volume, Maata näkyvissä (1946), came out after the war, and the third, Menon yksinäisyys, was published eventually in 1959. Siippainen rewrote it many times. Siippainen's war document Verisavotta, about the Winter War (1939-40), remained unfinished.

Loppuun saakka (1942) was a collection of suggestive war stories, which drew on Siippainen's experiences at the front. Following the breakthrough of Soviet troops at Karelian Isthmus, Siippainen reported on the suffering of the Karelian refugees in the article 'Kolmas kärsimystie'. An exception in Siippainen's class-conscious fiction is Ikuisilla niityillä (1951), a fantasy novel. In the short story 'Pakolainen' (The Refugee) from Tarinaniskijä (1951), a homeless wanderer tells three different stories of himself, leaving it to the reader to guess which one, if any, is true. This kind of experiementation with the point of view technique was typical for modernist writers, but it was also utilized in Akira Kurosawa's film Rashomon (1950). 

Before the war Siippainen was a prominent member of the leftist literary movement Kiila with Elvi Sinervo, Arvo Turtiainen and Viljo Kajava. Later Arvo Turtiainen, a member of the Communist Party, criticized him for working against Kiila's ideological stand. Siippainen supported the cultural policy of the Social Democratic Party and tried in vain to build a counterweight to Kiila's influence. "Our forests do not know your peace, Whitman, / your message to brothers, comrades, lovers...." he stated in a wartime poem, entitled 'Ylistän rakkautta' (I Praise Love). For Siippainen, Socialism represented freedom of spirit, but he also criticized some younger colleagues, who advocated modernist ideas. In 1956 Siippainen founded the literary-artistic society Ukri. His interview in a local newspaper stimulated the founding of the literary association Vestäjä. Siippainen was inspiring conversationalist, who encouraged insecure writers in their first steps. Among the participants of his literary gatherings ("Siippaisen salonki") were the former fighter pilot Heimo Lampi (1920-1998), who became President of the Eastern Finnish Court of Appeal, Jouko Puhakka (1922-2002), who became known for his fishing stories, plays, and books for young adults, Eino Säisä (1935-1988), a novelist and playwright, and Erkki Ahonen (1932-2010), a novelist and poet. The youngest attendant was Lasse Lehtinen, who was still at school. ""Katkaishe napanuorashi, eroa koulushta ja lähde maailmalle", oli Siippaisen suorasukainen ohje. Paksu ässä Siippaisen puheessa johtui löysistä tekohampaista." (Lasse Lehtinen in his book of memoir, Luotettavat muistelmat 1, 1996) Siippainen's advises were always practical and realistic: In Kirjeitä kirjailijatovereille vuosilta 1945-1963 (1975) he said: "By the way: you want to develop as a writer. To solve that problem, the best thing to do is to write letters. Get yourself four-five correspondents. Some of them must be women. There is no better way to learn how to change the tone than in letters." Olavi Siippainen died on November 11, 1963, in Siilinjärvi. He received the State Literature Award four time, in 1942, 1951, 1955, and 1959.

From 1946 Siippainen was married to the writer and psychiatrist Laura Latvala (1921-86). With her Siippainen published the poetry collections Menon yhteisyys (1951) and Toisillemme (1965). Her husband, who did not toleraty any kind of falseness or pretensions in writing, was Latvala's first reader. In a poem she wrote: "There is no other,  who lashes me, without mercy and with stern accuracy, like you do . . . " Siippainen's letters from 1945 to 1963 to colleague writers appeared in 1975. It was edited by Laura Latvala, who influenced Siippainen's views of the connection between a neurotic character and writing – he saw anxiety as a major factor in creative work, as he wrote in Kirjeitä kirjailijatovereille: "Loppujen lopuksi lienee niin, että neuroottinen luonne lienee lähtökohta luovalle taiteelle. Mutta vaikkapa niinkin, olen vankasti sitä mieltä, että luova työ on pelastanut useampia neurootikkoja elämälle kuin koko psykoanalyyttinen koulukunta." Their home first in Paihola, then in Harjamäki in Siilinjärvi, was a meeting place for aspiring writers and established names. Latvala's Pikku-Marjan eläinkirja (1947), illustrated by Helga Sjöstedt, has been one of the most popular children's books in Finland. By 2001, it had sold over 300,000 copies.

For further reading: 'Olavi Siippainen,' in Uuno Kailaasta Aila Meriluotoon, edited by Toivo Pekkanen and Reino Rauanheimo (1947); Kirjailija ja omatunto: Pekkanen, Linna, Siippainen ja Viita eettisinä kirjailijoina by Leo Vuotila (1964); A History of Finnish Literature by Jaakko Ahokas (1973); Kirjeitä kirjailijatovereille, edited by Laura Latvala (1975); Kapinalliset kynät: Itsenäisyyden työväenliikkeen kirjallisuus II-III by Raoul Palmgren (1984); A History of Finland's Literature, edited by George C. Schoolfield (1998); Kirjailijakohtaloita: Olavi Siippainen, ohjaaja Pekka Tarmio, suunnittelu Hannu Tarmio (DVD, 2013)

Selected works:

  • 'Voimakkaampi', 1938 (short story; in Kirjailijaryhmä Kiilan albumi)
  • Vaella nuoruus, 1939 (contribution to an anthology)
  • 'Rohkeus', 1940 (poem; in Kirjailijaryhmä Kiilan albumi)
  • Nuoruus sumussa: neljä novellia, 1940 [Youth in the Fog]
  • Loppuun saakka: kertomuksia kahdesta sodasta, 1942 [To the End]
    - In i det sista (övers. av Brita Hiort af Örnäs, 1943)
    - "Viisi erinomaisen vaikuttavaa novellia. Ne eivät ole sotakirjallisuutta sanan tavallisessa mielessä, vaikka niissä kuvattujen ihmisten kohtalo joutuukin ratkaisevaan vaiheeseen sodassa. Kaiken pohjalla on aito, voimakas, yksinkertainen isänmaallinen tunne." (Helle Kannila, in Arvosteleva kirjaluettelo, 7-8/1942)
  • Suuntana läntinen, 1943 [Course West]
    - Att vinna klarhet (övers. av Brita Hiort af Örnäs, 1944)
  • Ylistän rakkautta, 1943 (illustrated by Tapio Tapiovaara)
    - "Nämä laulut ovat sisällöltään ja muodoltaan todella runollisia. Ne vaikuttavat välittömästi. Niiden ääressä ei tarvitse ponnistella ymmärtääkseen, mikä runoilija tarkoittaa. Rakkausrunot ovat kauniin puhtaita, melkein aineettomia. Sodasta aiheensa saaneet pyrkivät olemaan liian raskaita." (O.T:n, in Arvosteleva kirjaluettelo 5/1943)
  • Sinimekkoinen tyttö, 1946 [Girl in a Blue Dress]
  • Maata näkyvissä, 1946 [Land in Sight]
    - Land i sikte (övers. av Maj Britt Cederström, 1948)
  • Ikuisilla niityillä, 1951 [In the Eternal Fields]
  • Menon yhteisyys: vaelluslauluja, 1951 (with Laura Latvala)
  • Tarinaniskijä: tarinoita sekä jokunen novelli, 1951 [The Storyteller]
    - "Kokoelma on hiukan epätasainen, mutta todistaa tekijänsä yhä vapautuneemmasta ja rikaspirteisemmästä kertojantaidosta. Aiheet ovat enimmäkseen perin kiintoisia ja kirjailija kertoo niistä mukaansatempaavasti ja elävästi." (Alpo Routasuo, in Arvosteleva kirjaluettelo 7/1951)
  • Nainen ja viisi miestä: ajanvietekertomus, 1953
  • Herätys: suomalainen sarja, 1955
  • Pyörättömien piiri: romaani, 1957 [The Circle of Pyörätön]
  • Yllätyksiä Kämmensaaressa: kertomuksia nuorisolle, 1958
  • Nuoruuden trilogia, 1959 (contains Suuntana läntinen, Maata näkyvissä, Menon yksinäisyys) [A Trilogy of Youth]
  • Opossumi ja IV A, 1959
  • Toisillemme: runoja 1957 ja 1964, 1965 (with Laura Latvala)
  • Kirjeitä kirjailijatovereille vuosilta 1945-1963, 1975 (edited by Laura Latvala)

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