Hannu Salama Essay - Critical Essays

Salama, Hannu


Salama, Hannu 1936–

Salama is a Finnish novelist and short story writer who presents a merciless and realistic picture of life. Because of this, he has been under attack from both the Stalinists and the Church, the Church at one time succeeding in having him jailed for blasphemy.

Kai Laitinen

[Kenttäläinen käy Talossa ("Kenttäläinen Visits a Farm") and Minä, Olli ja Orvokki ("I, Olli and Orvokki")] are well-written, personal works. Kenttäläinen käy talossa contains several studies of lonely or misunderstood persons…. In the central short story, which has given the title to the book, one meets several persons from [Salama's] novel Juhannustanssit. In two important short stories, the protagonist is a writer, to some extent identified with Salama himself; they are excellent stories on a writer's depression period and show indirectly how wounded Salama has been by the process [of his indictment and sentencing for blasphemy]. (p. 624)

[Minä, Olli ja Orvokki] could be considered a report on human evil and corruption. Olli is a rich playboy, coaxed by the "I" and his rival to invest his money in their enterprises. Everybody plays with double cards, hiding unpleasant facts, trying to show himself in as positive a light as possible. All the persons live in the air of flattering, lying, and lack of confidence. One central theme is the relation of the "I"—also a writer—to his parents and old friends. In the end, the "I" suffers defeat and leaves the city, beginning a new vicissitude in his life, understanding that the persons who break down leave behind "mourning, a little light."

Juhannustanssit ["A Midsummer Dance"] had struck many readers with its frank naturalism. [Minä, Olli ja Orvokki] is written, perhaps still more consciously, in the same style. As before, Salama often makes use of dialogue, skillfully reproducing the shades of colloquial language. Especially splendid are the drinking scenes—a description of a summer night party in a country villa, and a report on a trip to Stockholm by a group of drunken Finnish tourists.

The novel has been critized by some reviewers for being too long. This is partly true, but on the other hand, the repetition of a few scenes and idle talk is a conscious trick of the writer. The book is composed like a screw, and this structure also expresses something essential of the life and situation of the characters. (pp. 624-25)

Kai Laitinen, "Finno-Ugric and Baltic Languages: 'Kenttäläinen käy talossa'," in Books Abroad (copyright 1968 by The University of Oklahoma Press), Vol. 42, No. 4, Autumn, 1968, pp. 624-25.

Philip Binham

Salama certainly does not romanticize his Tampere communists [in Siinä näkijä missä tekijä]. They are rough and tough; every second word they use is a bad one—but then Salama has long been an acknowledged and dogged master of obscenity. And his communists are unreliable—there is even a double agent.

The title of this book is an apothegm from old Finnish law which implies that there is no crime without an eyewitness. The sabotage and other disruptive activities of the Finnish communists during World War II are constantly revealed to the police. This makes the story exciting enough. And there is a certain fascination in the deathbed apologia of Jaska, the traitor who has been leaking information yet claims he has tried to protect his fellow communists. The style of this long section is rambling and Faulknerian; perhaps long-windedness is unavoidable in Salama's monumental, brick-upon-brick style of writing.

An impressive feature of this book is the author's method of revealing character. Many of the chapters are written from the point of view of a handful of central figures. This gives opportunity for contrasting—even contradictory—pictures of their own and each others' personalities. It is not a new approach, but it is masterfully handled here. One must admire the skill with which Salama has drawn the complex threads of his theme together, as well as the thoroughness, patience and courage with which he has tackled a delicate subject that few have dared to approach.

Philip Binham, "Finno-Ugric and Baltic Languages: 'Siinä näkijä missä tekijä'," in Books Abroad (copyright 1973 by the University of Oklahoma Press), Vol. 47, No. 4, Autumn, 1973, p. 801.

Pekka Tarkka

Hannu Salama's work and his development as a writer reflect the relationship between literature and society in Finland. Salama was born in 1936 in the industrial city of Tampere, which since the fifties has been Finland's second literary capital—the retreat of the realists, of those opposed to the Helsinki modernists. Earlier Tampere writers like Lauri Viita … and Väinö Linna … represent the "proletarian writer" type in Nordic literature….

Hannu Salama did not join the Tampere group. Having dropped out of school, lonely and fearing hereditary schizophrenia, he shut himself up in the attic of his proletarian home in order to learn to be a writer…. He was able to view his own unusualness objectively in his first novel Se tavallinen tarina (The Usual Story; 1961), which describes how a young girl is driven to mental illness. The work can be interpreted in terms of R. D. Laing's existential psychology, for it describes how depersonalization is encouraged in everyday life, especially in a family with a history of schizophrenia, to the point where the sensitive individual is forced outside the organizational lines of society.

By 1963, after the publication of three works, Salama began to enjoy an established position as one of Finland's promising young modernists. But the following year he published Juhannustanssit (A Midsummer Dance), a "well-made" novel telling the story of ritual midsummer festivities which end in disaster, and a literary storm was unleased. He was taken to court and heavily criticized by the Church. The underlying reason for this furor was undoubtedly Salama's mercilessly realistic picture of the superficiality of life in the upper social classes. The leading figures of the Church and the Conservative Party succeeded in finding a paragraph of the law by which they could accuse him of blasphemy. (p. 28)

After Juhannustanssit he took refuge in a way of life outside all the approved social classes. A bitter disillusionment pervades his description of bohemia in the novel Minä, Olli ja Orvokki (I, Olli and Orvokki; 1967); he sought new contacts with the proletariat in Siinä nakijä missä tekijä…. (pp. 28-9)

"I, Olli and Orvokki" can be regarded as a weapon of revenge. The novel is written in the first person; the narrator is a writer who breaks off his relations with the bourgeoisie and becomes involved in a petty but destructive relationship concerning money and love in the world of Tampere shopkeepers and small-time businessmen. The description of destruction is violent; its spiritual parents are Céline and Henry Miller, but in the background is also the older bohemian tradition of the nineteenth century….

As if as a side product, this bohemian novel gives a picture of a society in which nothing stays still: no social status is permanent; the position of soldiers, technologists and businessmen is shown to be transitory; the heroic struggle of the proletariat to secure basic human rights has largely ceased. Salama paints an aggressively satirical picture of the reality of "capitalist morality." But in the end the main character of the novel understands that his permanent rebellion has isolated him from other people; he finds himself in a state which could be called the shipwreck of individualism. Like Dostoevsky's heroes, he has turned the relationship between normality and abnormality on its head. He sees himself as a modern barbarian who wants to preserve a real awareness of life, passionately to oppose anything which closes people's eyes to all but their own well-being. This kind of attempt to be a superman is not easy. The Finnish philosopher G. H. von Wright has found it in Dostoevsky and calls it "the tragedy of freedom." The attempt at unconditional freedom turns into its opposite: slavery to impotent desires, the state of possession.

But there is one thing which Hannu Salama's writer must hold sacred: he can deride everything but his own novel, which he has been planning for a long time, an "epic about an ideal communist people."… The "I" of the book always declares himself to be on the side of the workers and against their enemies, the bourgeoisie and the power of the state. But he has no desire to become an unconditional admirer of the left wing—his own experiences lead him to distrust such blind idealism. (p. 29)

In Salama's novel the different generations of the family he describes throw communism's stages of growth into sharp relief. The Salminen family, central in the novel, represent the country people who have recently moved to the city and whose grandparents' generation were still living in the forests under primitive conditions ruled by belief in magic and even witchcraft. Their descendants have become embittered in their new city lives, and from their ranks Salama develops two extremely vivid characters: the parents of the writer Harri Salminen, the novel's main speaker. The father is a comic, picaresque hero, boastful, self-important and at bottom a helpless rogue; the mother, on the other hand, is bloodthirstily bitter about her social conditions, changeable in her support of different causes, a vital female, a kind of cross between Moll Flanders and Mother Courage. A Stalinist critic later dismissed these characters as "quarrelsome and sneering."

In the workers' suburb of Pispala, as Salama describes it, there are also representatives of industrial communism, warriors of the class struggle with a strong grounding in the theory of revolutions. There are unresolved problems between them and the backwoods people, but the front against the surrounding world is all the same united; for this workers' community, set on a ridge between two magnificent lakes, has through the pressures exerted by "official" society, become a compact citadel fortress whose members' solidarity is genuine. They know who are "them" and who are "us"; they are exiles in their own country. Their heroes are their comrades who have emigrated to the Soviet Union or to the United States, and from them they expect help.

The basis of...

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