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by Bamber Gascoigne

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Timo K. Mukka (1944-1973)


Finnish novelist, poet, short story writer, and artist, who depicted in his works the sexual fervor and ecstatic religiosity of the Lappish people. Mukka's creative period lasted only six years. He died at the age of 28, his heath broken, depressed, and crucified by the leading sensationalist magazine of the 1970s. Mukka's best-known novel is Maa on syntinen laulu (1964, the earth is a sinful song), a story of sex, nature, fear of God, and death. Its rough, naturalistic film adaptation, directed by Rauni Mollberg, gained a huge popularity in the 1970s.

"Poudan Elina, joka on istunut aivan saarnaajan edessä, nousee seisomaan. Monet seuraavat hänen esimerkkiään, heidän silmänsä harittavat, kyyneleet eivät enää vuoda, vartalot huojuvat edestakaisin. Mäkelän äijä maiskuttelee suutaan, puristelee hurmioituneen naisen rintoja, Kurkelaisen emäntä tömistää jaloillaan. Saarnaaja alentaa ääntään kuiskauksiksi. Outakodan Armaan lyhyt, korkearintainen vaimo itkee:
- Antheeksi jiesus, antheeksi... yöläki mie sinua rukkoilin... silti meni lehmä... antheeksi."
Maa on syntinen laulu)

Timo Kustaa Mukka was born in Bollnäs, Sweden, where the family was evacuated during the war, but he grew up in the village of Orajärvi in Pello. His father, Kustaa Eemeli Mukka, married at the age of 42 Elli Tuomi, she was 12 years younger. Timo was their third child. Kustaa Eemeli earned his living in odd jobs, he was a Communist, and used to survive periods of unemployment. Mukka learned to read before he went to school. His artistic talents in painting, drawing, and literature were noted already in his childhood, and also encouraged by his family. At the age of 11 he lent from the small village library Dostoevsky's Crime and Punishment. After finishing the book he asked: "Do you have more from this Dostoevsky?" In 1957 Mukka contracted cerebral meningitis. The illness changed his personality – he suffered from headaches, retired into his shell, and in 1958 he tried to commit suicide. The rejection of his first novel, entitled Savottaromaani, was a passing disappointment. Mukka wrote it at the age of sixteen. This work, set in a logging site, dealt with sex, death, and abuse of young girls in a style that was honest and sensual.

After working in odd jobs and studying in Rovaniemi in a vocational school, Mukka left Lapland and entered in 1961, at the age of seventeen, The School of the Fine Arts Academy. During this period he met Tuula Pekkola, also an art student; they married two years later. In Helsinki Mukka's moods changed between depression and exhilaration, he neglected his studies, and he did not pass the probationary year. Occasionally he could paint enthusiastically, and although his formal art studies were relatively short, his sense of form became more firmer. Some of his paintings show the influence of Vincent van Gogh and Paul Gauguin. He returned in the spring of 1962 to Lappland, without any clear plan what he would do next. In an expressionistic oil painting from 1962 he presented two naked women praying. The other is pregnant and the heavy colors create an oppressive atmosphere. Later similar religious anxiety marked his first novels. During this aimless period he applied for a national basic pension due to psychic reasons. His doctor stated that the best cure for his neuroses would be service in the Army. Mukka had temporary jobs, and after a sudden religious awakening he spent some time in Posio. In 1963 he painted several portraits of his family, among them a watercolor of a dead man, his father. In 1963 Mukka read Hamsun's novel Hunger, which influenced him deeply, and also Aksel Sandemose become an important writer for him.

When his first book appeared Mukka was 19 – he had sent the manuscript of Maa on syntinen laulu (The Earth is a Sinful Song) to the publishing company Gummerus two years earlier. In spite of mixed critics the book sold well – southern critics were more negative than northern, but Mukka's romanticism was ignored, or misunderstood in general. In Helsingin Sanomat the work was considered brutal and banal. Mukka defended himself in a letter to his publisher in 1963, that "I don't intentionally aim at obscenities. I only write the way it must be written." The writer Panu Rajala has pointed out that Mukka had called his work "ballad" in its subtitle. It starts with a songlike poem and ends with words from a hymn. The story focuses on a young girl, Martta, her family, and the primitive living conditions in a remote village in Lappland. Martta falls in love with a young reindeer-breeding Laplander, Oula, and becomes pregnant. Her father, Isä-Juhani, chases Oula on thin spring ice, it breaks and Oula drowns. At the end Martta's gives a birth to an illegitimate child and Isä-Juhani hangs himself.

Before the publication of the book, the writer Oiva Arvola met Mukka in Pello, where he lived a peaceful life with his wife, hunting and fishing, as he had done since his childhood. Arvola characterized his colleague as shy and taciturn; he struggled with words and Arvola felt that he was all the time embarrassed. After moving to Rovaniemi, Mukka could withdrew to his home for weeks, without even going out. Like Dostoevsky, he was an obsessive gambler. However, there was no casinos in Lappland. During his drinking bouts he could play all his money and end far from home – once as far as to Canary Islands. Mukka's affairs with other women made his homecomings often catastrophic.

In Rauni Mollberg's film version of The Earth is a Sinful Song nearly all of the actors were amateurs, whose ostentatiously less refined outlook arose a debate about racism. Especially Mollberg's portrayal of the Lappish people as primitive and exotic was criticized. Changes in Martta's somewhat plumb body became in the film a metaphor of the cycles of nature and life. Backwardness, pietism, and sex proved to be an irresistible combination for the public. The Earth is a Sinful Song was a phenomenal commercial and critical success and received much attention abroad as well. It was Mollberg's debut film, although he had directed much for the television.

In 1964 Mukka started his service in the Army. He was soon in conflict with its system by refusing to carry a weapon and swear his oath. In the military hospital he was given Librium. After Mukka was discharged he published a pacifist novel, Täältä jostakin (1965), which was largely based on his own experiences. Tabu (1965) depicted the sexual and religious awakening of a young girl. Milka falls in love with an elder man who has an affair with her mother. Eventually he leaves them both and Milka has his child.

Tabu was adapted into screen by Mollberg under the title Milka (1980). The film was praised for its photography and poetry. Again Mollberg used amateurs. The 17-year-old school girl Irma Huntus had several naked scenes, which later confused her life in the small village where she returned after the filming was over. Helena Ylänen wrote in the newspaper Helsingin Sanomat , that Mollberg had "unleashed his fascination with the white naked human flesh. He makes a number of excuses to undress people, in particular the undeveloped girl's body of Milka."

In 1966 Mukka published two thin books – Laulu Sipirjan lapsista, meditative observations about life in a northern village in two periods, and Punaista, a collection of songs and poems. Koiran kuolema (1967) was a collection of short stories about sexuality and death, and did not bring much new to Mukka's favorite themes. In the late 1960s he actively participated into various literary events and discussions. He had also joined the Communist Party in 1966 and two years later he stood as a candidate in the municipal elections without much success. He traveled in the Soviet Union and in 1969 he spent a month in Iceland, sitting much of the time at a bar counter. The artist Reidar Särestöniemi became Mukka's close friend in the mid-1960s, and together they traveled to Las Palmas in 1968. In addition to his literary writing, Mukka contributed short pieces to DX-aaja magazine; he was also a keen DX listener.

Ja kesän heinä kuolee (1968) was about a writer, who has problems with his writing, but his sexual energy is inexhaustible. Heimo Pihlajamaa called the work half-done in the literary journal Parnasso – "lyrical parts were awkward reading". Lumen taju was a collection of enigmatic, dream-like stories, defying easy interpretations. The graphic design of the book by his new publisher, WSOY, was more refined than in his previous works. In its last story, 'Susi' (the wolf), a border guard jaeger hunts a wolf and kills it when it is asleep. Back in the garrison a company commander kisses the dead animal. In the morning one of the jaegers has disappeared and the wolf lies in his bed. Kyyhky ja unikko (1970) appeared when Mukka was 25 – it was his last novel, a sad ballad of Pieti, who is tired of living, and Darja, a young girl, who brings love into his empty life, before Pieti kills her.

sometimes I think:
who owns this sky
and heartbeats?
who built the hills and mountains?
who is pushing me still closer to my childhood?

(from 'Good-bye waving field of wheat')

From the late 1969 Mukka planned a large book on Lapland, its myths, families, and sources of livelihood. One of its models was Chin Ping Mei, the classical Chinese novel from the 16th century. The project was never realized. Mukka continued with his suicidal habits – he smoked years about 3-4 packs of cigarettes daily, drank 30-40 cups of coffee, and stayed awake at nights. In 1972 he had an infarct of the heart. The notorious article, 'Riiput jo ristillä, Timo K. Mukka' (you are already hanging on a cross...), published in the magazine Hymy in 1973, was an additional, cruel blow on the author, and shadowed his last months. A few years earlier Hymy had written of Mukka in an article entitled 'Juon itseni hengiltä' (I drink myself to death). Mukka died in Rovaniemi of a heart attack on March 27, 1973. Next year appeared Erno Paasilinna's biography of the author, an analysis of the social conditions and personal problems that eventually broke him. Timo K. Mukka (1996), published by Pohjoinen in the Ars Nordica series, again drew attention to the work of "the holy sexus of the north" and introduced his lesser known artistic production.

For further reading: 'Tulkinta romaanista Maa on syntinen laulu' by Panu Rajala in Romaani ja tulkinta, ed. Mirjam Polkunen (1973); 'Riiput jo ristillä. Timo K. Mukka' by Risto Juhani in Hymy (1/1973); Timo K. Mukka: legenda jo eläessään by Erno Paasilinna (1974); 'Eräitä fragmentteja Timo K. Mukan kirjailijankohtalosta' by Oiva Arvola in Suomalaisia kirjailijoita: kirjailijat kirjailijoista, ed. Mirjam Polkunen and Auli Viikari (1982); Suomalaisia kirjailijoita Jöns Buddesta Hannu Ahoon by Lasse Koskela (1990); Marginalia ja kirjallisuus, ed. Matti Savolainen (1995); Timo K. Mukka 1944-1973, ed. Riitta Kuusikko (1996); Suomen kansallisbibliografia 8, ed. Kari Uusitalo et al. (1999); 'Pohjoiset reservit' by Maria Lähteenmäki, in Historiallinen aikakauskirja (3/2001); Olen maa johon tahdot: Timo K. Mukan maailmankuvan poetiikkaa by Leena Mäkelä-Marttinen (2008); Keskeltä melua ja ääntä: Timo K. Mukan myöhäistuotanto, kirjallisuuskäsitys ja niiden suhde 1960-luvun yhteiskunnallis-kulttuuriseen keskusteluun by Elina Arminen (2009); Kuvia pohjoisen tasavallasta: Mukka, Särestöniemi ja Palsa, edited by Jyrki Siukonen (2011) 

Selected works:

  • Savottaromaani, 1960 (novel, publ. in Näin hetki sitten ketun, 2010)
  • Maa on syntinen laulu, 1964
    - Jorden är en syndig sång: ballad (övers. av Pekka Arto och Kerstin Gulbrandsen, 1975)
    - Zemlja je pregrešna pesem (prevedla Birgitta Orešnik, 1977)
    - Zeme je hrisna pisen (prelozil Jan Petr Velkoborský, 1980)
    - Bunrol dalol a föld (fordította: Jávorszky Béla, 1981)
    - Zemâta e grehovna pesen (prevel ot finski Ivan Stoev, 1986)
    - Ziemia jest piesnia (przelozyla z finskiego: Joanna Trzcinska-Mejo; wiersze w przekladzie Jerzego Litwiniuka, 1988)
    - Maa on patune laul tõlkija: Maarja Lõhmus, 1995)
    - Zeme - nuodminga giesme (is suomiu kalbos verte Danute Sirijos Giraite, 1998)
    - Eana lea suttu luohti: balláda (sámás: Jovnna Ánde Vest, 2009)
    - Film 1973, prod. RM-Tuotanto, dir. by Rauni Mollberg, screenplay by R.M., Pirjo Honkasalo, Panu Rajala, starring Maritta Viitamäki, Pauli Jauhojärvi, Aimo Saukko, Milja Hiltunen, Sirkku Saarnio. 'Arvostelijat katsoivat, että seksuaalisuuden ja kuoleman "raadollinen", "rehevä", "estoton" tai "ankaran realistinen" kuvaaminen oli elokuvan – tai Mukan romaanin – sanoman kannalta tärkeää ja siksi motivoitua ja sallittua. Tällaisen symboliikan katsottiin siis vahvistavan elokuvan aitoutta ja alkuperäisyyttä. Kuten Pentti Harjunmaa kirjoitti: "tällaista on elämä jos uskallan katsoa sitä".' (Anu Koivunen in 'Villin Pohjolan sexus?', Suomen kansallisbibliografia 8, ed. Kari Uusitalo et al., 1999)
  • Toivo, 1964 (novel, publ. in Näin hetki sitten ketun, 2010)
  • Tabu, 1965
    - Tabou: roman (trad. du finnois par Gabriel Rebourcet, 1974)
    - Tabbu; Haj-jamin ha-aharonim shel ha-shana (käännös: Rami Saari, 1998)
    - Films: Milka, 1980, prod. Arctic-Filmi, dir. by Rauni Mollberg, starring Irma Huntus, Leena Suomu, Matti Turunen, Eikka Lehtonen; 1988, Tabu, prod. Zespól Filmowy "Oko", dir. by Andrzej Baranski, starring Krzysztof Gosztyla, Olaf Lubaszenko, Bernadetta Machala-Krzeminska, Zofia Merle, Bronislaw Pawlik, Grazyna Szapolowska
  • Täältä jostakin, 1965
    - TV drama: Kuoleman hellä kosketus, 1982, prod. Yleisradio (YLE), teleplay Timo K. Mukka, dir. by Veli-Matti Saikkonen, with Mauno Blomqvist, Sulevi Peltola and Pertti Sveholm
  • Rakastaa, 1965 (with others)
  • Sankarihymni, 1965 (radioplay, publ. in Näin hetki sitten ketun, 2010)
  • Laulu Sipirjan lapsista, 1966
    - Sången om Sipirjas barn (övers. av Pekka Arto och Kerstin Gulbrandsen, 1976)
    - Laul Sipirja lastest: romaan (soome keelest tolkinud Ants Paikre, 1982)
    - Zeme je hrisna pisen. Pisen o detech Sipirje (Prelozil Jan Petr Velkoborsky, 1992)
    - Sipirjá (sámás: Jovnna-Ánde Vest, 2005)
    - TV film 1973, prod. Yleisradio (YLE), teleplay Kalle Luotonen, narrator Timo K. Mukka, with Marjatta Aaltonen, Orma Aunio, Vera Jankin, Terttu Juoksukangas
  • Punaista, 1966
  • Tuula Mukan kuu, 1967 (poems, publ. in Näin hetki sitten ketun, 2010)
  • Koiran kuolema, 1967
    - "Parhaimmillaan Mukka on ollut ja kai pysyy puhtaasti emotionaalisena kirjoittajana: elämys siirtyy usein koko voimalla pakottomasti hänen tekstiinsä. On vahinko, että kelpo materiaali on jäänyt materiaaliksi, vahinko sikälikin, ett' 'Koiran kuolema' on jo Mukan kuudes kirja eikä sitä enää hevin viitsi sanoa lupaavaksi." (Hannu Mäkelä in Parnasso 1, 1968)
  • Ja kesän heinä kuolee, 1968
  • Lumen pelko, 1970
  • Kyyhky ja unikko, 1970
  • Puhetta pohjoisen köyhyydetä, 1971 (with others)
  • Kustannustoiminnan vaihtoehtoja, 1972 (with others)
  • Nuoruuden romaanit, 1988
  • Näin hetki sitten ketun. Runoja, proosaa ja muita kirjoituksia 1960-1972, 2010 (toim. Toni Lahtinen)
  • Annan sinun lukea tämänkin: kirjeitä 1958-1973, 2012 (toim. Toni Lahtinen)

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