Review: Tale of the Forest Folk by Veikko Huovinen

Conifer cone. Photo: Public Domain
Conifer cone. Photo: Public Domain

“Miksi ne siten lisäsivät pituuttaan ja paksuuttaan, pidensivät juuriverkostoaan ja ottivat kesästä irti kaiken minkä suinkin saivat. Ne eivät kerro, niillä ei ole suuta joka sanoisi eikä kieltä jota me ymmärtäisimme.”
~Veikko Huovinen, Puukansan tarina

Plot summary

“(H)umans do not have a large role in the book. It is an homage to the wisdom of the forest, the story of a community of trees that grows to their full perfection, the main protagonist a wise elder pine more than 400 years old.” More on Books from Finland

On Veikko Huovinen

“Veikko Huovinen (1927-2009) was a Finnish novelist known for his realism, pacifism, sharp intellect, and peculiar humor. He wrote 37 books.

Medieval stone structure at Liikistö (Ulvila, Finland). Photo: Jukka Peura (CC BY 2.0)
Medieval stone structure at Liikistö (Ulvila, Finland). Photo: Jukka Peura (CC BY 2.0)

Huovinen was a graduate of the forest research programme at Helsinki University and worked for a period as a forest ranger. In the 1950s he began working as a full-time writer after his first novel, Havukka-ahon ajattelija (‘The thinker of Havukka-aho’, 1952), achieved great success.

Havukka-ahon ajattelija is the story of a stubbornly ruminative backwoods philosopher who ponders natural phenomena and the great political turning points that he hears about on the radio. The novel has been translated into six languages.” Goodreads and Books from Finland

Key concepts
  • Brave adventures of a pine tree
  • Rebirth of a forest after a major forest fire
  • Historical changes in reforestation
Photo: Okko Pyykkö (CC BY 2.0)
Photo: Okko Pyykkö (CC BY 2.0)

This is my first review on a Finnish novel. I am usually very bad at reading books by my fellow nationals, but occasionally I do. It is good for one’s language skills as well, to keep up with one’s mother tongue. Without further ado, I give the floor to Veikko Huovinen‘s Tale of the Forest Folk (originally published in Finnish as Puukansan tarina, 1984). There are some quotes in Finnish, so bear with me 🙂 Unfortunately I could not find quotes from the English translation of the novel.

In the late 18th century, there was a remote forest in the back corners of the world, and there was a big fire. This is the story of what happened after the fire.

Tale of the Forest Folk tells the story of the change in the status of the forest in Finland (check out Hytönen’s Master’s thesis on the novel). Huovinen uses such a rich language to describe details from the forest and the nature. The humans, who come and go but do not stay for long, are minor statisticians overpowered by the mighty pine tree.

Jossain salon sydämessä kyyhötti koirankaulalle salvettu laukopuoli, ja jonkin antoisan haukiluhdan rannalle oli tiheään kuusikkoon tehty pieni ja matala sauna, sellainen, että siinä jalat koukussa sopi kelleksistä tehdyllä laverilla makailemaan yösydämen.” ~Veikko Huovinen, Puukansan tarina

Pine tree. Photo: Public Domain
Pine tree. Photo: Public Domain

The novel is a symphony dedicated to the trees, the animals living in the forests and the change undergoing in forestry. The humans occasionally bear witness to the changes but they mostly lack character that is reserved for the trees. The story is above all else a humanist story, despite the distance to actual human characters in the plot. I think one of the lessons the novel tries to convey to us is that nature should not be looked upon, it is an essential element on this planet. Nature can do just fine without us but we human cannot cope without nature.

Huovinen’s most known novel, Backwood Philosopher, describing life in the 1950s in Kainuu in the Northern part of Finland (the same area as in Tale of the Forest Folk), follows an almost sleepy rhythm. I think this is a prevalent feature in Huovinen’s novels. The characters are peculiar and it seems as if the nature is in the main role in the film. The main character, Konsta Pylkkänen, is a self-taught philosopher who keeps thinking about great concepts, such as “välikäsi” (“middleman”), and he makes a scientific discovery by shooting down a “pyymetso“, a hybrid species of a hazel grouse and a wood grouse, a species unknown to science in real life. You gotta love Huovinen, he is a rare gem of peculiar literature.

On Friday, I picked up another novel by Huovinen from the library, Koirankynnen leikkaaja (1980), a novel centered on the late 1940’s and a wounded ex-soldier in the post-war period in Finland. I have seen the film from 2004, so it is high time to read the original novel as well. Let me get back to you with a potential review on the novel. I also picked up a copy of Emmi Itäranta‘s Memory of Water (Teemestarin kirja, 2012), a dystopic science fiction novel depicting a world where water is running out.

Have a good election day in Finland!

More information Backwood Philosopher (2009) by Kari Väänänen, link retrieved on 15 March 2017
– Outi Hytönen: Veikko Huovisen Puukansan tarina luonnon ja kulttuurin rajan kuvaajana, Master’s thesis published at the University of Tampere in March 2014, link retrieved on 15 March 2017
– Pekka Tarkka: Veikko Huovinen (1927–2009) in memoriam, published on Books from Finland on 23 October 2009, link retrieved on 12 March 2017


Author: fictivestina

Hey, I'm a native Helsinkian but a cosmopolitan at heart :) Outdoors, reading, writing and cultural attractions are my passion. Hiking in Lapland cannot be competed with!

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