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The Unknown Soldier (novel)

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The Unknown Soldier
Tuntematon sotilas.jpg
Author Väinö Linna
Original title Tuntematon sotilas
Translator Liesl Yamaguchi (2015)
Cover artist Martti Mykkänen
Country Finland
Language Finnish
Genre War novel
Published 1954 (WSOY)
Publication date
3 December 1954
Published in English
1957 (Collins, UK)
1957 (Putnam's, US)
2015 (Penguin Books) as Unknown Soldiers
Media type Print (Hardback & Paperback)
Pages 476, 21 cm
ISBN 9789510430866
OCLC 37585178

The Unknown Soldier (Finnish: Tuntematon sotilas, Swedish: Okänd soldat) or Unknown Soldiers is a war novel by Finnish author Väinö Linna, considered his magnum opus. Published in 1954, The Unknown Soldier chronicles the Continuation War between Finland and the Soviet Union during 1941–1944 from the viewpoint of ordinary Finnish soldiers. In 2000, the manuscript version of the novel was published with the title Sotaromaani ("the war novel") and in 2015, the latest English translation as Unknown Soldiers. A fictional account based closely on Linna's own experiences during the war, the novel presented a more realistic outlook on the formerly romanticized image of a noble and obedient Finnish soldier. Linna gave his characters independent and critical thoughts as well as displayed them with humane feelings, such as fear and rebellion.

Although published to mixed reviews, The Unknown Soldier quickly became one of the best-selling books in Finland and is considered an important classic in Finnish literature and a part of national legacy.[1][2] The novel was well received among frontline veterans, shot Linna to literary fame and has been described as creating a shift in the collective memory of the war. It has sold nearly 800,000 units, been translated into 20 different languages and adapted into three films with the latest one released in 2017.

Synopsis[edit]

Setting and characters[edit]

The novel follows soldiers of a Finnish Army machine gun company operating in the Karelian front during the Continuation War from mobilisation in 1941 to the Moscow Armistice in 1944. The company's action is based on Infantry Regiment 8 (Finnish: Jalkaväkirykmentti 8), the actual unit Väinö Linna served in.[3][4] The novel has no single central character and both begins and ends with an ironic play on the narrator's omniscience. Rather, its focus is on different responses and views on the experience of war from a frog perspective.[5][6]

The men of the company come from all over Finland, they have widely varying social backgrounds and political attitudes, and everyone has their own way of coping with the war. The novel paints realistic, yet sympathetic, portraits of a score of very different men: cowards and heroes—the initially naive and eventually brave upper-class idealist Kariluoto, the down-to-earth Koskela, the hardened and cynical working-class grunt Lehto, the company comedian Vanhala, the pragmatic and strong-nerved Rokka, the politically indifferent Hietanen and the communist Lahtinen.[7][2][5][8][6][9] Most of the characters are killed in action during the course of the novel. Nevertheless, the general atmosphere of the machine gun company is relaxed and business-like, even childish and jolly, throughout the story despite the war, losses and despair. The soldiers' continued disrespect for formalities and discipline is a source of frustration for some of the officers.[5][8]

Plot[edit]

'Koskela the Finn. Eats iron and shits chains.' [Koskela introducing himself while intoxicated.]

Väinö Linna, Unknown Soldiers, p. 298, translated by Liesl Yamaguchi in 2015.

The novel starts with the company transferring in June 1941 from their barracks to the Finnish-Soviet border in preparation for the invasion of the Soviet Union. Soon after, the soldiers receive their baptism by fire in an attack over a swamp on Soviet positions. Captain Kaarna is killed during the battle and the stern Lieutenant Lammio takes his place as company commander. Amidst a series of battles, the company assaults a Soviet bunker line on a ridge and stops an armoured attack, the ambushed and abandoned Lehto commits suicide during a regimental flanking maneuver, and the soldiers advance into East Karelia. The company eventually crosses the old border lost during the Winter War and the soldiers ponder the justification of the continued invasion. In October 1941, the company is stationed in the captured and pillaged Petrozavodsk where the novel follows the soldiers interacting with the locals.

Two men are executed after refusing to follow orders to fend off a Soviet winter attack along the Svir river—during which Lahtinen is killed while trying to carry off his Maxim M/32-33 machine gun and Rokka distinguishes himself by ambushing a 50-strong enemy unit with a Suomi KP/-31 submachine gun. The story moves onto the trench warfare period of the war. The period includes the soldiers drinking kilju (a home-made sugar wine) till intoxication during Commander-in-Chief Field Marshal Carl Gustaf Emil Mannerheim's birthday celebrations, a new recruit being killed by a sniper for failing to listen to advice from experienced veterans and raising his head above the trench, and Rokka capturing an enemy captain during a nightly Soviet skirmish to the Finnish trenches.

The final act of the novel describes the defence against the Soviet Vyborg–Petrozavodsk Offensive of summer 1944, the withdrawal and counter-attacks of the Finnish Army, and the numerous losses that the company suffers. The company abandons their machine guns in a lake while withdrawing from a hopeless defence, and Lieutenant Colonel Karjula executes the retreating Private Viirilä in a burst of rage while trying to force his men into positions. Koskela is killed while disabling an attacking Soviet tank with a satchel charge and Hietanen loses his eyes to an artillery strike and later dies when his ambulance is attacked. Asumaniemi, a young private, is the last one to die during the company's last counter-attack. The war ends in a ceasefire in September 1944, with the soldiers rising from their foxholes after the final Soviet artillery barrage stops. The survivors listen to the first radio announcements of the eventual Moscow Armistice. The novel's last sentence describes the characters of the unit as "[r]ather dear, those boys."

Themes[edit]

Jorma Kariluoto had paid his dues into the common pot of human idiocy. [The narrator after Kariluoto's death.]

Väinö Linna, Unknown Soldiers, p. 412, translated by Liesl Yamaguchi in 2015.

Väinö Linna wrote in his manuscript cover letter to the publisher WSOY that he wanted "to give the soldiers, who bore the weight of the calamity, all the appreciation and strip war of its glory".[9][10] Gritty and realistic, the novel was partly intended to shatter the myth of a noble, obedient Finnish soldier. In Linna's own words, he wanted to give the Finnish soldier a brain, an organ he saw lacking in earlier depictions—such as Johan Runeberg's The Tales of Ensign Stål, where Finnish soldiers are admiringly portrayed with big hearts and little independent intellect.[11] The Unknown Soldier is closely based on Linna's own experiences as a Finnish Army soldier in Infantry Regiment 8 during the Continuation War with many of its scenes derived from factual events, but is more or less fictional.[2][5][12][3][13]

The novel has been described as an honest, uncomforting, forlorn, pacifist and critical outlook on the war between the Soviet Union and Finland. The Herald described Linna's aim as "not to home in on individual plights and agendas but to show the whole great shapeless mass of a platoon, one that is continuously besieged and pared down". The Independent stated that Linna examines nationhood and "the fate of small nations in particular" while the novel's "wisest characters come to regard nationality as a matter of chance".[5][6][14] Aku Louhimies, director of the 2017 film adaptation, analysed Linna's intentions: "I think [his] original idea was to show the events so that they would also act as a warning."[15]

Reception and legacy[edit]

The novel initially received mixed reviews and was not expected to be a commercial success by its publishers, but has since become a revered household classic that Finns were given to read in school. By 2017, it had sold nearly 800,000 units.[6][2] It launched Väinö Linna into a steady career as a public figure and The Unknown Soldier was adapted into different formats, such as theatre, cinema and audiobooks. Released ten years after the end of the Continuation War, the novel is considered to be the first medium that gave a realistic description of the conflict instead of a polished one. Although the book was criticized, for example, by senior officers of the Finnish Defence Forces as an erroneus account of the war, the book was well received by the masses and frontline veterans who thought it depicted their experiences accurately.[10][12][14][16]

The Unknown Soldier and its first film adaptation of 1955 created a shift in the cultural memory of the war. Likewise, the novel is widely believed to have a special cultural status whereby only a limited number of ways to adapt the canon text are considered acceptable.[2] The cover art of a soldier's white silhouette against a red background, designed by Martti Mykkänen, became similarly famous and is often used as a symbol for war in Finland.[12][16] The novel contributed numerous expressions and idioms into Finnish culture and language that are still in use and referred to, even to the point of clichès. Few remember exactly how the different characters are portrayed in the book, but their phrases are known word by word. Some of the characters became role models of the society. For example, the disobeying but efficient and pragmatic Rokka or the humane jokester Hietanen are described as typical desirable models, while the calm, fair and composed Koskela is the paragon of every Finnish leader. In conclusion, the novel is considered to be a defining part of the national legacy and identity of Finland. As such, the 1955 film adaptation by Edvin Laine is displayed on national television every Independence Day and seen by nearly 20% of the Finnish population.[2][7][9][17][18][19]

Editions[edit]

The first United Kingdom edition of The Unknown Soldier by Collins in 1957

By 2017, the book had been printed in 60 editions in Finland.[2] Its first English translations were published in 1957 by William Collins, Sons and G. P. Putnam's Sons in the United Kingdom and the United States, respectively. It has since been translated into 20 other languages.[20] An unedited manuscript version was published in 2000 by WSOY as Sotaromaani ("the war novel")—Linna's working title for The Unknown Soldier.[21] Penguin Books published a new English translation by Liesl Yamaguchi in 2015 with the alternative title Unknown Soldiers to reflect the lives of young Finnish soldiers in the war.[22][23]

Film adaptations[edit]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

Footnotes[edit]

  1. ^ "The Unknown Soldier". suomifinland100.fi. Archived from the original on 16 November 2017. Retrieved 16 November 2017. The Unknown Soldier, the story, the characters, their experiences and suffering are part of Finland’s national legacy – and part of the identity of the war generation and their children. It is a story we must not forget. 
  2. ^ a b c d e f g Pajunen, Julia; Korsberg, Hanna (2017-11-16). "Performing Memory, Challenging History: Two Adaptations of The Unknown Soldier". Contemporary Theatre Review: 1–11. doi:10.1080/10486801.2017.1365715. ISSN 1048-6801. 
  3. ^ a b "Tuntemattoman sotilaan todellinen rykmentti" [True regiment of The Unknown Soldier]. Yle (in Finnish). 12 September 2016. Archived from the original on 7 November 2017. Retrieved 4 November 2017. 
  4. ^ "Väinö Linnan Tuntematon sotilas pohjautuu pitkälle kirjailijan oman jalkaväkirykmentin sotataipaleeseen". Ilta-Sanomat (in Finnish). 6 December 2015. Archived from the original on 15 November 2017. Retrieved 14 November 2017. 
  5. ^ a b c d e Sjåvik, Jan (19 April 2006). Historical Dictionary of Scandinavian Literature and Theater. Scarecrow Press. p. 173. ISBN 9780810865013. Archived from the original on 7 January 2018. 
  6. ^ a b c d "Vaino Linna: Unknown Soldiers (Penguin Classics)". The Herald. 26 April 2015. Archived from the original on 7 November 2017. Retrieved 7 January 2018. 
  7. ^ a b Malmberg, Ilkka (2016). "Kohti uutta tuntematonta" [Towards the new unknown]. Helsingin Sanomat (in Finnish). Archived from the original on 20 July 2016. Retrieved 23 January 2018. 
  8. ^ a b Vilkman, Sanna (24 October 2017). "Aku Louhimiehen Tuntematon sotilas vie kunnian sodalta, mutta ei sotilailta" [Aku Louhimies' The Unknown Soldier takes honor from war, but not from soldiers]. Yle Uutiset (in Finnish). Archived from the original on 1 December 2017. Retrieved 29 November 2017. 
  9. ^ a b c Jörgensen, Aki (18 August 2015). "Essee: Kaikkien tuntemat sotilaat - "Haluaisin elokuvan hiljaisista, jotka ovat meille yhä tuntemattomia"" [Essay: The all-known soldiers - "I would like a movie about the silent, who are still unknown to us"]. Savon Sanomat (in Finnish). Archived from the original on 14 November 2017. Retrieved 14 November 2017. 
  10. ^ a b Vilkman, Sanna (24 October 2017). "Aku Louhimiehen Tuntematon sotilas vie kunnian sodalta, mutta ei sotilailta" [Aku Louhimies' The Unknown Soldier takes honor from war, but not from soldiers]. Yle Uutiset (in Finnish). Archived from the original on 1 December 2017. Retrieved 29 November 2017. 
  11. ^ Zetterberg, Seppo (1987). Suomen historian pikkujättiläinen. Helsinki: WSOY. pp. 867–868. ISBN 9510142530. 
  12. ^ a b c Syrjä, Jaakko (2004). Muistissa Väinö Linna 1. Helsinki: WSOY. ISBN 9510296465. 
  13. ^ "Väinö Linnan Tuntematon sotilas pohjautuu pitkälle kirjailijan oman jalkaväkirykmentin sotataipaleeseen". Ilta-Sanomat (in Finnish). 2015-12-06. Retrieved 2017-11-14. 
  14. ^ a b Liu, Max (7 May 2015). "Unknown Soldiers by Vaino Linna; trans. Liesl Yamaguchi, book review". The Independent. Archived from the original on 8 January 2018. Retrieved 3 November 2017. 
  15. ^ Rossing Jensen, Jorn (10 January 2017). "I am not keen on presenting heroes". Cineuropa. Archived from the original on 10 November 2017. Retrieved 9 November 2017. 
  16. ^ a b Helen, Olli (2005). Tunnetko Tuntemattoman?. Tampere: Kustannus Oy Aamulehti. ISBN 9525601005. 
  17. ^ "The Unknown Soldier". suomifinland100.fi. Archived from the original on 16 November 2017. Retrieved 16 November 2017. The Unknown Soldier, the story, the characters, their experiences and suffering are part of Finland’s national legacy – and part of the identity of the war generation and their children. It is a story we must not forget. 
  18. ^ Koistinen, Wesa (4 December 2015). ""Mennäänpäs mokoman suon yli, että heilahtaa" – Mitä Tuntemattoman sotilaan lausahduksia sinulle on jäänyt mieleen?". savonsanomat.fi – Savon Sanomat (in Finnish). Archived from the original on 7 November 2017. Retrieved 4 November 2017. 
  19. ^ "Finnish Independence Day: Galas, protests and war memories". Yle Uutiset. Retrieved 2017-11-08. 
  20. ^ "The Unknown Soldier". Bonnier Rights Finland. Archived from the original on 7 November 2017. Retrieved 4 November 2017. 
  21. ^ "Sotaromaani" [A War Novel]. WSOY (in Finnish). Archived from the original on 7 November 2017. Retrieved 3 November 2017. 
  22. ^ "Unknown Soldiers by Väinö Linna". Penguin Books Australia. Archived from the original on 7 November 2017. Retrieved 4 November 2017. 
  23. ^ "New translation of Finnish classic". Yle Uutiset. 6 September 2014. Archived from the original on 8 November 2017. Retrieved 8 November 2017. 

General[edit]

  • Linna, Väinö (2017). Tuntematon sotilas (Centenary Independence ed.). Helsinki: WSOY. ISBN 9789510430866. 
  • Linna, Väinö (2015). Unknown Soldiers. Translated by Yamaguchi, Liesl. London: Penguin Classics. ISBN 0141393645. 
  • Linna, Väinö (2000). Sotaromaani. Helsinki: WSOY. ISBN 9510251879. 

External links[edit]