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Mika Waltari

Mika Toimi Waltari
Born September 19, 1908, Helsinki. Died August 26, 1979,  Helsinki.

Master of Arts, 1929 (Theoretical Philosophy, Aesthetics and Modern Literature), University of Helsinki

Author, screenplay writer, translator
Book reviewer, 1932-42, Maaseudun tulevaisuus newspaper
Editorial secretary, 1936-38, Suomen Kuvalehti weekly
State Information Office, 1939-44
Member, Academy of Finland, 1957-78

Honorary Doctor, University of Turku, 1970
Honorary member, Finnish writers’ union, 1960
Pro Finlandia literary award, 1952
State Award for Literature, 1933, 1934, 1936, 1949 and 1953
Honorary award, Aleksis Kivi Fund, 1947

Mika Waltari’s bibliography

Photo: Wikimedia Commons
Written by Tomas Sjöblom and Lauri Lönnström
Translated by John Calton

Waltari and the Torchbearers

The Torchbearers were a group of writers and artists active in the 1920s. Their unifying factor was the literary association Nuoren Voiman Liitto ('Young force association', link in Finnish) which published the poetry album Tulenkantajat ('The torchbearers’) in 1922.  It was here that Mika Waltari met some of the most significant writers and young literary prospects of his day.

The atmosphere among the Torchbearers was relaxed and carefree. It was characterised by faith in humanity and the future of Finnish culture, as well as an interest in the new developments in the world of art and literature. The Torchbearers are especially well-known for reinventing Finnish lyric poetry, but in the late 1920s many of the writers in the group focused more on novels.

For a long time Waltari considered himself first and foremost a poet. He was, in the true Torchbearer spirit, interested in such matters as industrial romanticism. In 1928, Waltari published a collection of industrial romantic poetry called Valtatiet ('Highways') in collaboration with Olavi Paavolainen. Paavolainen later became one of Waltari's most prolific critics. The fellow Torchbearer mocked Waltari's prodigious output, for example in his 1931 pamphlet Suursiivous eli kirjallisessa lastenkamarissa ('Spring cleaning, or in the literary nursery').

The Torchbearers played their part in Waltari finding his own literary voice. At the beginning of his Torchbearer era, he mostly wrote poetry. However, influenced partly by the leading Torchbearer figure Joel Lehtonen and partly by other Torchbearers, Waltari shifted his attention to writing prose, which is what he is most famous for.

Waltari's breakthrough novel Suuri illusioni ('The Great Illusion', 1928) was published when he was still in active contact with the Torchbearers. He left the group in the late 1920s, even as it began to disband.

Sources (in Finnish):

  • Panu Rajala, Unio Mystica. Mika Waltarin elämä ja teokset (’Unio mystica. Mika Waltari’s life and works’), Helsinki 2008.
  • Markku Envall, Mika Waltari, Lasipalatsi media centre. Accessed March 4, 2015.
  • Markku Envall, ’Waltari, Mika’. National Biography of Finland online. Accessed March 4, 2015.
  • Mika Waltari, Suomen Näytelmäkirjailijat ja Käsikirjoittajat - Finlands Dramatiker och Manusförfattare ry:n (Finland’s playwrights and screenwriters) online. Accessed March 3, 2015.
Photo: WikimediaCommons.​
Photo: WikimediaCommons.​


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