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SELECTIONS FROM THE MAID SILJA: The history of the last offshoot of an old family tree

By Frans Eemil Sillanpaa

NOBEL PRIZE LIBRARY New York: Helvetica Press, Inc., 1971
77 pages (an excerpt

Bob Corbett
October 2014

The novel opens with the death of Silja. She had been working on the Kierikka farm, but was noticeably different from most hired farm workers. She had very nice clothes, ate little, and was seemingly quite satisfied with her small room. She dies at only 22, and was the last of her family. Her mother died first and her father soon after, and then an older brother and sister.

After a relatively short introduction to the “maid” of the title, the story shifts for a long time to the story of her family. 30 or so years earlier young Kustaa, Silja’s father, had inherited the Salmelus farm. His father died first and his mother soon after, and he then had the farm. He was in love with Hilma. She had been a farm worker on his parents’ farm and his father hadn’t taken this flirtation seriously, but Kustaa did.

Kustaa is a kind man and very honest. Hilma is very beautiful, and despite his aunt’s disapproval she moves in. His aunt, frustrated and angry, leaves. They eventually marry, however there is a scandal since she is already pregnant.

Their first baby is still born, but this just brings them closer together and much more in isolation.

The relationship with Hilma’s family is terrible, but the two young folks are in love and learn to carry on all alone. After some 10 years, however, the accumulation of bad choices by Kustaa, who, while being a very decent man, is simply not a very good farmer, leads them to lose their farm. They move to a small house and he does sort of odd-job work.

In their new work they have three more children, the last being Silja. The first two die in an epidemic which strikes the area, and within a short time her mother dies as well. Kustaa is left to raise his young daughter alone and does, at least, an adequate job.

Eventually when she is a teen her father dies and she is left to fend for herself. It is after that death of her father that the novel sort of harks back to the opening paragraphs when she is simply working as helper on a farm.

She managed to have even had a marriage and gathered some culture during that period when she was married to a professor.

There is little drama to the story, it sort of reads like a biography, but it is a very touching story of simple but decent people struggling to eke out a living and find some happiness in the bargain. It isn’t terribly exciting, but is very well written and has the ring of the real and everyday life of the masses.

Bob Corbett


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