(This is a guest entry of sorts written by Daniel since I feel like as a Finnish classics, his thoughts on this one may be more intriguing than mine :) )
The inaugural premise of this book leaves a curious impression on the reader, it is introduced in a way which paves the emotional wave awaiting the reader; this is followed by brutal, desperate situations that you share with the soldiers whom you have come to know and love.
After reading this moderately long book, I have a sense of loss; one of the most memorable aspects of this novel is the connection that you gain with the characters. One can confidently compare this connection to the relationships seen between the soldiers in the HBO miniseries Band of Brothers. This connection does not necessarily stem from the bonding between each character but rather from the delicate descriptions and intricate stories belonging to each of the characters. Some characters I abhorred and some I highly enjoyed; but whether I hated or loved I still cared for them. I will purposefully avoid any information relating to spoilers but it was quite an exciting/traumatising ordeal following each character; that is all I will say on this.
Unknown Soldiers was translated from Finnish to English by Liesl Yamaguchi. I therefore cannot give a judgement of the novel through how the author intended it to be but for what I read I gained a sense of pride, courage and how brutal war can be. It is all too common these days for war to be glamorised in Hollywood by a single soldier, cemented in mud, blood and usually an American flag as he simultaneously eradicates numerous people with a single bullet. The beauty of Unknown Soldiers is its raw, in-depth, realistic cruelty and violence. Nothing is glamourized and it feels like the most realistic account of war I have read; this expresses the quality of the book as, it is fictional. I have never read or watched anything similar to this, it was frightening to imagine and is definitely the closest I wish to be to a war zone.
I am a very lucky individual to have Finnish girlfriend, due to this my knowledge of Finnish history is much greater than the average non-Finnish person. This novel appropriately articulates a sense of pride and understanding from a Finnish perspective. It discusses the topic of war from a point of view that doesn’t necessarily fall under the term ‘slander’ but rather understanding. I believe my former, non-Finnish experienced self would sympathise with the characters and opinions of the book. It is not a lecture about the diplomatic decisions circulating around the ethics of war, but it highlights upon the peoples war and why ‘dancing with the devil’ might be the way to go.
On the most part, the translation was very good but sometimes the sentences did not flow as well as they could, they all made sense but seemed to stem from a verbally spoken point of view, rather from a written piece of literature.
The plot of this novel was very simple. I am very glad it is not complex and full of crazy side plots that are so very common these days. It shadows a battalion of soldiers from the completion of their training until the end of a four year long war (1941 – 1945). This is based upon the continuation war of Finland; I would recommend you read upon this war, as from an Englishman’s point of view I found this rather interesting. The simplicity and elegance of the plot did not drag, even when the book lead us through the standard lives of soldiers on the front line. There is an eloquent assortment of surprise and normality, which gives a steady and exciting pace of the novel.
An interesting point is that this book is based upon a war, yet it is entirely fictional. Some of the characters are vaguely based upon real life individuals but none of the battles actually took place. The author participated in the war and started writing the first half while at war. For myself, part of the enchantment of this book is its ability to describe and articulate situations that could be real. Instead of replicating something real, it produces a passage of text purely from abstracted imagination of events, in essence this book is more detailed than a text that stems from a real battle as little details are not missed.
The characters in this book exceeded in captivating my interest, as their development was profound. Similar to real life you get individuals who stagnate in a pitiful array of arrogance, some who have always been what they are or what they want to be and those who desire is to excel in every way manageable. The range of characters I this book satisfy these characteristics in the best way possible as you can see and feel how the war wears them down and turns them into someone new.
Unknown Soldiers was given to me as a present; gifted as a prized collective of Finnish literature and read simultaneously across four countries with my beloved girlfriend. I was pleasantly surprised with its direct, ruthless expression of war and the progression of how men can develop into inhumane machines but still hold humanity to their heart. It takes you through a relinquished journey, from childish wishes, adult impersonations to absolute abandonment; this is truly a novel that should be seated upon the greats of war related books.
PS. I love the cover.
PS. I love the cover.