When it comes to international repute, Mika Waltari's (1908–1979) sole competitor in Finnish literature is the national epic, Kalevala. In Finland too the extensive and variegated production of this master of narrative has maintained its reputation and reading audience nearly half a century after the end of the author's most powerful creative phase. Waltari's books continue to be read by young and old alike, sparking interest among ordinary readers and literary scholars.
Waltari's genius emerged early on. Even as a twenty-year-old he was a prominent figure in the Finnish literary movement known as Tulenkantajat (the Flame-bearers), which sought to throw open the windows of Finnish literature to Europe. His first novel, Suuri illusioni (1928; Grand illusion), which depicted à la Fitzgerald the lost generation following the first world war, was a huge success in Finland.
Waltari is best known both in Finland and abroad for his vast historic novels. The first of the series was Sinuhe egyptiläinen (1945; The Egyptian, 1949), a projection of the writer's own sense of post-war pessimism onto the life of an Egyptian physician living in the 14th century BC. The novel became a world-wide bestseller. The Egyptian was followed by an array of historic novels set in various epochs, all of them depicting the problematic lot of the individual in an age of immense historic