Today, change in our material lives is a constant. Many now living have seen the advent not only of the mobile phone and the Internet, but also of space exploration, vaccines and even indoor plumbing. This in contrast to the world you now enter in The Railroad, where the diminutive Matti and Liisa are aging in a corner of the world in which peasant life has remained unaltered for centuries. When the iron rails reach the forests of Eastern Finland, however, that solitude and constancy are forever altered.
The Railroad (1884) was prose writer, poet, translator and journalist Juhani Aho’s first major literary work. There is some disagreement as to whether he or Aleksis Kivi (best known for his 1870 novel Seven Brothers) should be named the first professional Finnish author. There is no doubt, however, that Aho’s modern usage of the Finnish language and application of realistic style — although romantic elements also appear in The Railroad — place him as one of the progenitors of Finnish literature, which has been closely identified with realism ever since. In both his topics and his style we witness a critical stage in the cultural development of what is now one of the most advanced nations in the world.