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||Urho Karhumäki (1891-1947) - wrote also as Jussi Haukka, Nalle and Tavi Ylämaa|
Prolific Finnish writer who received the gold medal in epic literature for his book Avoveteen (To Open Waters) at the Art competitions at the 1936 Summer Olympics. The story depicts a young man, Yrjö Niemelä, who drifts from a job to another, but finally finds his place and true love in the world. In the final of the novel Yrjö, who is a talented athlete, wins an international competition, the 5 000 meters run.
"Hän aloittaa urakkansa varhain aamulla, sillä teillä muutamissa paikoin on tällöin vielä lumesta hiukkasen apua. Sitä paitsi hänen on oltava perillä illalla hyviin aikoihin, muuten ukko imee kaikki löylyt nahkaansa. Hän juoksee aamupuolen keveästi hölkkien kestävyysjuoksijan tapaan. Lihakset ja hermot eivät hetkeksikään saa virittyä siihen tunnetilaan, että on jokin urakka suoritettavana. Hän juoksentelee niinkuin hermot olisivat kierretyt kerälle reppuun. Hän väheksyy penikulmataipaleita, jopa mielessään suorastaan halveksii niitä. Penin kuuluma? Mitä se onkaan? Tuparakin ääni kajeana syysaamuna mäeltä mäelle!" (from Avoveteen, 1936)
Urho Karhumäki was born in Multia into a farmer family. When he was
13-years old the family moved to Saarijärvi. There Karhumäki began to
read enthusiastically all the books he could borrow from the public
library of Saarijärvi, among others works of Aleksis Kivi, Johannes Linnankoski and Juhani Aho
– the latter became his favorite writer. In 1913 Karhumäki graduated
from the teacher's training college in Jyväskylä. He worked as a
elementary school teacher in Alavus (1913-14), Padasjoki (1914-1915)
and Vihti/Nummela (1915-29). Between the years 1929 and 1949 he was as
an official at the Pellervo-Association. Several of his works were
later published by Pellervo. Avoveteen, which won the gold medal at the Berlin Olympics, was published by WSOY. The silver medal went to Um den Gipfel der Welt,
written by the German poet Wilhelm Ehmer (1986-1976). At the Summer
Games, Finland won eight gold medals, Karhumäki's first prize included.
With the royalties, he paid off some of his huge debts from a failed
As a writer Karhumäki made his debut with the novel Rantasuon sankarit, which came out in 1924. The work was finished in ten days while he was recovering from pneumonia. The following books were also written in short periods, usually on vacation. Besides novels Karhumäki published juvenile books, several plays and short stories. Some of his books he wrote under the pseudonym of Jussi Haukka. In 1938 he was appointed director of the literary association of Nuoren Voiman Liitto, which published among others texts from aspiring writers. Noteworthy, the juvenile novel Päivärannan kesä (1944), which was written during the last year of the Continuation War between the Soviet Union and Finland (1941-1944), called for voluntary work, but did not contain war propaganda.
The end of the Winter War (1939-40) gave immediately birth to a number of books dealing with the national struggle, among them Pentti Haanpää's Korpisotaa (1941), Yrjö Jylhä's Kiirastuli (1941), and Karhumäki's Miesten matkassa (1941). This practically forgotten work was written in first person and based on real-life experiences of the writer's friend, Eemeli Lamminaho, a farmer's son. Karhumäki looked the war from the viewpoint of the common soldier, who doesn't hate the enemy, but who defends without hesitation his country and freedom. "Hän on syyntakeeton, vain asetta käyttelevä välikappale mahtavimpien voimien kädessä. Ihmisenä minulla ei ole siis mitään syytä eikä edes oikeutta häntä vihata. Mutta tällä paikalla, missä seison, minulla on vapaan maan asekuntoisena kansalaisena oikeus, jopa pyhä velvollisuus hänet tuhota. Minä teen sen! Totisesti minä puolustan maatani ja vapauttani, tätä paikkaa tässä tahollani niin kauan kuin sydämeni sykkii ja tämä verraton tuliase kädessäni laulaa." Jylhä and Haanpää portrayed the war with much more intensity and depth, whereas Karhumäki uses rough humor and nearly surrealistic images. When a dying comrade confesses that he has killed, not only in the war, but in Lapland during the peace, Eemeli consoles him: "Don't worry, it goes to the same account anyway..." Karhumäki depicts also the strange moment, when peace comes, and the shooting ends in silence. Russian soldiers climb out of the trenches, former enemies shake hands, sharing tobacco, bread, what they have. "Why should we hate each other," concludes Eemeli.
Three of Karhumäki's books adapted to screen: Avoveteen in 1939, directed by Orvo Saarikivi, Yli rajan (1942), directed by Wilho Ilmari, and Rantasuon sankarit (1942), directed by Orvo Saarikivi. Yli rajan, set in the 1930s, was a love story about a Finnish girl who escapes from the Soviet Union to marry his beloved in Finland. Yli rajan received the fourth prize at Venice's film festival, but some critics considered it sentimental and slow. Rantasuon sankarit, set in the 1860s, was a romantic story about a young farmer, who is cheated and falsely condemned to prison. Karhumäki admitted that the movie version was better than his novel. The legendary Finnish producer Toivo Särkä wrote the screenplay, which emphasized – as in the films of the Soviet director Alexander Dovzhenko – the bond between man and the earth.
From 1923 Karhumäki had in Vihti a farm called Sahapelto, which
became an important place for him. In an interview he stated that "the
living soil gives a man continuously refreshing resources." His books
reflected the same deep sense of land, work and strenght, and longing
for unrestricted way of life in the rural regions of Finland. Karhumäki
was married to Elin Ida Sipilä from 1916. He died in Vihti on February
26, 1947. A few months before he had said that his inability to focus
on certain activities had been a major drawback in his life.
For further reading: Uuno Kailaasta Aila Meriluotoon, ed. by Toivo Pekkanen and Reino Rauanheimo (1947, pp. 46-52); 'Kultamitalikirjailija' by Leo Kalervo, in Suomalaisia kirjailijoita, ed. by Mirjam Polkunen and Auli Viikari (1982); Suomen kansallisfilmografia 3, ed. by Kari Uusitalo (1993); Suomen kansallisfilmografia 2, ed. by Kari Uusitalo (1995); 'Karhumäki, Yrjö' by Lasse Koskela, in Suomen kansallisbiografia 4, ed. by Matti Klinge, et al. (2004)