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||Kalle Päätalo (1919-2000)|
Finnish writer, former building construction supervisor, whose books were national bestsellers every autumn when they appeared before the Father's Day. Päätalo's major work, the nearly 17 000 pages long autobiographical Iijoki series, depicts the author's own path from the backwoods of Northeast Finland to the publication of his first book and to literary fame. The last part of the series, Pölhökanto Iijoen törmässä (1998), finished his 28-year long writing job. Päätalo died two years later.
"Seutu, josta olen kertonut, ei ole pystynyt evästämään ketään suurilla maallisilla rikkauksillaan. Kuitenkaan ei synnyinseutu ole työntänyt luotaan ilman perintöä. Ehkä se kaipuu suureen maailmaan, jota on tuntenut lohduttoman synkkinä tuiskupäivinä ja luonnon selittämätön kauneus aurinkoisina kesäpäivinä autereisten järvien vaiheilla, ovat sytyttäneet sisälle tunnelmia ja mielikuvia, jotka ovat pakottaneet niin monen siellä syntyneen tarttumaan kynään. Luulisin, että tässä on selitys, miksi tuon syrjäisen maankolkan ihmiset ja maisemat elävät niin monien kaunokirjallisten teoksien lehdillä." (Kalle Päätalo by Matti Vehviläinen, 1978)
Kalle Päätalo was born in Taivalkoski in the small village of Jokijärvi. His father, Lauri Herman Päätalo, called Herkko, was a lumberjack, hard working, stingy, temperament man who suffered from mental problems. He married in 1913 Priitta-Stiina (Neulikko) Päätalo, called Riitu, who was seven years younger. They did not have any property, nor a home of their own. Kalle admired and feared his father who prided himself on doing his work better that anybody in the region, but who also mastered an ingeniously colorful language which he used to humiliate his family.
The family lived in other people's rooms before Herkko managed to save enough money to build a humble house on the shore of the river Jokijärvi. At first, all the windows were single glazed which made the house very cold during the winter season. Jokijärvi and its surroundings was to become the center of Kalle's life, his novels and later a tourist attraction. Kalle's childhood was poor and full of hard labour, but already at the early age he dreamed to be writer. He knew the letters and could writer his name before entering the elementary school. Päätalo read widely, lending books from the school library and the public library which was situated in the centre of the county, 20 kilometers from his home. Among his favorite books were Robinson Crusoe, Robin Hood, Jäämeren sankari by Kaarlo Hänninen and Runeberg's epic poem Vänrikki Stoolin tarinat.
"Yritin kirjoittaa keskitalven vitilumella välppäävistä auringon sädesiruista, kevään hankikannosta, juoksemaan auenneesta kevätpurosta, muuttolintujen saapumisesta ja lähtemisestä, jalan alla murenevasta jäkälästä, suon- ja kanervien tuoksusta - kaikista niistä luonnonilmiöistä, jotka olivat minussa herättäneet voimakkaita tunnetiloja. Mutta esimerkiksi jaamantien monenkirjavat kulkijat, tutut ja tuntemattomat, eivät tullet lainkaan mieleeni kirjoituksia tehdessäni." ( Huonemiehen poika, 1971)
As a student Päätalo was above average, better than his admits in his
Iijoki series, although he was jailed for a short time for playing card. From 1933
to 1939 Päätalo was a forest worker, but managed to find time in the hard
conditions for creative writing. He read several times Mika Waltari's guide for an
aspiring writer, Aiotko kirjailijaksi (1935). It was not until 1975 when
Päätalo met the older writer. Waltari was deeply moved when Päätalo
showed him his well-worn copy of the book.
During The Winter War (1939-40) and Continuation War (1939-1944) he served at the Finnish Army, and was wounded in the front. These years he later described in such novels as Ukkosen ääni (1979) and Tuulessa ja tuskussa (1981). Päätalo's viewpoint to the war arises from tightly restricted individual experiences, and as Väinö Linna in The Unknown Soldier (1954), he concentrated on the ordinary soldiers.
After the war Päätalo married and moved to Tampere where he studied at the technical school and become a building master in 1949. His short stories started to appear in the magazines Pohjolan Jätkä, Sirpale, Nyyrikki, and Perjantai. He wrote in longhand and it was not until in his late 30s, when he purchased a typewriter. In 1951-52 Päätalo worked in Taivalkoski. His first marriage was stormy and unhappy, with many quarrels. Päätalo always wanted a family, whereas his wife was not ready to children. The marriage ended in divorce and Päätalo then married in 1955 Elli Helena (Janakka) Päätalo; they had two daughters.
Päätalo's childhood's dream came finally true at the age of 39 when
his first novel Ihmisiä telineillä
[Builders], published by Gummerus, came out. The protagonist is
named Mauno Joensivu, and like Päätalo, he works as a building
contractor in Tampere. Ilmari Kianto, who had read the novel, planned to attack it because of its language, "dirty talk".
Following the success of his novels, Päätalo devoted himself entirely to writing from the 1960s. Koillismaa (1960, Our Daily Bread), a story about the struggle to survive during the Great Depression in Finland, was translated into English by Richard Impola in 1990 and Myrsky Koillismaassa in 1993 under the title Storm Over the Land. The novel depicts the life of Kauko Sammalsuo and his neighbors in a remote area of northeastern Finland during the years 1939-44. Päätalo's point of view is on the common soldiers and the families behind the battle fronts. Also Selkosen kansaa (1962) has been translated into English (but not published).
The novels Viimeinen savotta (1966) and Kairankävijä (1968) inspired the director Edvin Laine, whose Viimeinen savotta was the most successful film in 1977. It won Spede Pasasen's Häpy Endkö?, an Uuno Turhapuro comedy, which later in the 1980s were the unbeateble box office hits. Laine's Ruskan jälkeen (1979) was based on Mustan lumen talvi (1969) but this time Spede's comedy Koeputkiaikuinen ja Simon Enkelit won with some 80 000 viewers. Laine's production was not a critical success. The two following Päätalo films, Life's Hardy Men (1986) and Lumbercamp Tales (1988), which depicted Päätalo's childhood and the end of his youth, were directed by Mikko Niskanen. They were Niskanen's last films, made with deep passion and devotion to Päätalo's world.
Päätalo's Koillismaa series and Iijoki series draw the
meticulous picture of the world of farmers and lumber workers' in
northern regions of Finland in social and historical
settings. The novels are strongly based on Päätalo's own experiences
and use skillfully dialect and humour to soften the unembellished view
of life, where the world is a place of great undeserved suffering.
During the slow flow of the story, readers share with Päätalo
his constant struggle with his surroundings, his persistence, and his success. The leading
theme, feeling of shame, resonated with Finnish readers, and created an unique bond between readers and the books.
Generally called "Kalle," the author did not hide anything from his
life – including contracting gonorrhea. Due to his openess and full and
detailed narrative, he becomes thoroughfully familiar person, as real
as a member of the family.
Most probably Iijoki series, which contains 26 volumes, is the longest narrative autobiograph ever written, beating Karl Ove Knausgård's autobiographical My Struggle (Min kamp, 2009–2011) by 20 volumes. Originally Päätalo planned Hyvästi, Iijoki (1995) to be the final installment. At the time of its writing he was recovering from lung cancer treatment. Feeling pressured by readers expectations, he wrote another last volume called Pölhökanto Iijoen törmässä (1998). Päätalo's daughter Riitta said once in an interview, that she stopped reading the series after the pages, where his father told about his suicide attempt.
Within this monumental
fresco of the backwoods, hidden behind naturalistic portrayal of life, is the
Christian idea of work as both penance and virtue. The first part,
Huonemiehen poika appeared in 1971. Päätalo did not deliberately decide to spend quarter of a century for the work, but his
insistence on details stretched the story to giant measures.
(In comparison, Michelangelo's work upon the Sistine Chapel took only four years, and
Marcel Proust spent the last fourteen years of
his life writing Remembrance of Things Past;
a work which Päätalo never read.) Päätalo's exceptional
ability to recall with precision events and conversations that are
decades old was an unique gift, but it became also a burden – for a
truly complete description nothing could be omitted. However, his
memory also provided him with a large vocabulary and an extremely keen
ear for local language dialect and nuances.
Päätalo's path from the backwoods to the position of a celebrated writer had much similarities with the story of Martin Eden, Jack London's hero from his famous novel, or Ivar Lo-Johansson's eight-volume autobiographical series published between 1951 and 1960. Päätalo had read an article about the American author before the war and he was especially impressed how persistently London's protagonist struggled to become a writer.
In his own life and his literary works Päätalo
emphasized the value of honesty and hard work. He served as a model
of unyielding struggle against drawbacks of life. Although Päätalo
has been readers' favorite, the critics have been more reserved. However,
in the 1980s and 1990s the author won his decades long war of attrition
with the culture establishmed. First Panu Rajala, then Vesa Karonen in Helsingin Sanomat began to look at his novels with care and attention. Koillismaa series was a favorite of the eco-philosopher and writer Pentti Linkola.
Among the several awards and homages Päätalo eventually received was Väinö Linna Literature Award (1999). Taivalkoski county with Kalle Päätalo Association and the Päätalo Institute have arranged yearly in July Päätalo festivals – the author himself participated at the events from morning to night. Päätalo died at the age of 81 in Tampere, on November 20, 2000. He had suffered from the 1990s from pulmonary cancer, probably caused by asbestos which was widely used at construction sites in the 1950s. Päätalo's last book, Selkosten viljastaja, was a collection of short stories, written in the 1960s for the magazine Rakennustaito. Posthumously have appeared Kannaksen lomajuna (2001), a collection of stories, and Vikke Nilon tarina (2002), which presents the whole story of one of Päätalo's most interesting fictional characters, the colorful lumberjack Vikke Nilo.
For further reading: Kalle Päätalo by Matti Vehviläinen (1978); Mestarin eväät by Eero Marttinen (1994); Mestarin selkonen by Eero Marttinen (1996); Mestari elämän telineillä by Eero Marttinen (1999); Kalle Päätalo - Ison miehen savotta 1919-2000 by Seppo Porvali (2000); Päätalon juurella, ed. Tero Liukkonen (2000); 'Päätalo, Kalle' by J.P. Roos, in Encyclopedia of Life Writing: Autobiographical and Biographical Forms, edited by Margaretta Jolly (2001); Miehenkuva. Kalle Päätalon perintö by Jenni Janatuinen (2005); Kunnioitettu herra mestari - ihailijakirjeitä Kalle Päätalolle 1958-1985, ed. Jenni Janatuinen (2006); "Lestatiuksen oppiin" seuraajia: Kalle Päätalon kirjojen lestadiolaiset ynnä muita kirjoituksia by Pekka Tapaninen (2008); Kirvestie 22: Kalle Päätalon koti, ed. by Miisa Lindén (2009); Jokijärven rannalta: tuokiokuvia Päätalon Iijoki-sarjan vaiheilta by Raimo Jokisalmi (2012); Päätalon matkassa: johdatusta Iijoki-sarjaan by Kai Hirvasnoro (2013); Tervaksinen toteemi: Kalle Päätalon Iijoki-sarjan vastaanotto ja vaikutus by Ritva Ylönen (2013); Haltiakuusen alla: suomalaisia kirjailijakoteja by Anne Helttunen, Annamari Saure, Jari Suominen (2013); Kersantti Kalle Päätalo: mestarikirjailijan sota by Seppo Porvali (2015); Kalle Päätalo. Kirjailijan elämä by Ritva Ylönen (2017); Kallio-poika: Peilikuvassa Kalle Päätalo by Antti Heikkinen (2019); Kirjeitä IIjoelle: Kalle Päätalon elämän naiset by Karoliina Timonen (2019). See also: Mika Waltari and his guide Aiotko kirjailijaksi . Literary festivals: Kivi Festivals in Nurmijärvi and Pentinkulma Days in Urjala (Väinö Linna Association). - Films based on Päätalo's works: Viimeinen savotta (1977), dir. Edvin Laine, starring Jyrki Kovaleff, Olavi Ahonen, Leni Katajakoski, Torsti Kovaleff; Ruskan jälkeen (1979), dir. Edvin Laine, starring Kauko Helovirta, Elsa Turakainen, Jorma Falck, Sirkka Muurikoski; Elämän vonkamies (Life's Hardy Men, 1986), dir. Mikko Niskanen; Nuoruuteni savotat (Lumbercamp Tales, 1988), dir. Mikko Niskanen. Note: Päätalo kuunteli Dan Anderssonin, Ruotsin suomalaismetsien runoilijan lauluja, Martti Kadeniuksen tulkitsemana, useaan otteeseen kirjoittamisen lomassa Tampereen Myllykylässä. Laulukasetti ilmestyi kunnianosoituksena Kalle Päätalon 75-vuotissyntymäpäivänä vuonna 1994. Päätalo's home town from the 1950s was Tampere, where also lived such prominent Finnish authors Lauri Viita , Väinö Linna and Alex Matson.