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||Paavo Rintala (1930-1999)|
Prolific Finnish writer, who dealt with the experience of war and decline of moral values in modern society. In the 1960s, Paavo Rintala produced acclaimed documentary novels on the Continuation War (1941-44) between Finland and the Soviet Union. Rintala's most famous works include Pojat (1958), Jumala on kauneus (1959), the trilogy Mummoni ja Mannerheim (1960, My grandma and Mannerheim), Mummoni ja marsalkka (1961), Mummon ja marskin tarinat (1962), and the existential war novel Sissiluutnantti (1963).
"And that's how it actually appeared on the morning of the ninth as well. The shells whistled over into the hinterland behind the support hill. After this had been going on for a while, I got up, pulled my trousers and tunic over pyjamas, and went out. Planes were already showing up forward-left. They were large bombers. I started counting them: nine, nine, nine, nine, wave after wave was coming over, more than you could reckon, escort-fighters buzzing around them and gleaming in the sunshine." (from Sotilaiden äänet, 1966, translated by Herbert Lomas)
Paavo Rintala was born in Viipuri, Karelia, the son of Otto Aadiel Rintala, an agrolog, and Aino (Nikula) Rintala, a nurse. Due to his father's itinerant work, the family moved from place to place in the Karelian Isthmus. At the age of ten, Rintala lost his father, who died in 1940 in the Winter War. After being evacuated in the Central Finland and Northern Savo, the family – Rintala, his mother, grandmother, and uncle – settled in Oulu.
Rintala graduated from the Oulu Lyceum in 1951. At school Rintala wrote poems, some of which were published in the school magazine Valon Terho in 1948. He also translated Edgar Allan Poe's short stories into Finnish, and attended the school's literary society. Tolstoy's War and Peace influenced deeply Rintala's vision of history. He read Hemingway's To Whom the Bells Toll, and the works of Dostoevsky, Jung, Stendhal, Balzac, and Camus.
After serving in the army, Rintala entered the University of Helsinki, where he studied theology without graduting. In Helsinki Rintala married Raili Pihkala; they had four children. From 1955 Rintala devoted himself entirely to writing. In 1960 he moved with his family to Kirkkonummi, where he wrote most of his works.
Rintala's breakthrough work as a novelist was Rikas ja köyhä (1955), about the crisis and fall of a Laestadian entrepreneur, Aadolf Ruotaistenmäki. Rintala depicts realistically the post-war reconstruction period in Helsinki and Oulu, but at the same time the story has a strong religious basis. Before his redemption, Aadolf becomes a bootlegger. "What do you think of the immortality of the soul today," he asks challengingly in the toilet of Helsinki's finest restaurant, a limbo he visits on his way down.
In his early novels, such as Kuolleiden evankeliumi (1954) and Rikas ja köyhä, Rintala opposed spiritual and material values, which he often examined through the contrast between the city and countryside, money and work, or art and the world. Jumala on kauneus (1959) was partly based on the life of the Ostrobothnian painter Vilho Lampi (1898-1936). The protagonist has dedicated his life to Beauty and commits suicide after losing faith in his art.
Pojat (1958), set in Oulu, was about the schoolboys of Rintala's own generation, who grew up during the war. In the absence of fathers, the boys idolize German soldiers, and dream of heroic deeds. One of them, Immu, who studies at the lyceum, starts to develop a critical stand toward death and war. Mikko Niskanen's film version of Pojat was not especially faithful to the novel, but Rintala accepted the changes. The seventeen years old Vesa-Matti Loiri made an unforgettable performance as Jake, whose mother leaves him for a German soldier. In the novel Jake commits suicide, but at the end of the film Jake runs after a train, and dragged along by the last railroad car, cries for his mother. Rintala returned to the life of Immu, a disillusioned idealist, and Pate, a failed careerist, in Pikkuvirkamiehen kuolema (1959).
Mikko Niskanen's intensive, existential film adaptation of
(1963), entitled Sissit
(The Partisans), premiered before the book came out; it was based on
the manuscript. Niskanen, Matti Kassila, and Jouni Apajalahti created a
frame for the story: old veterans meet again, and enter a restaurant.
note on the cabinet door reads, "The partisans of 20th D are drinking
here. All disturbers will be shot, except the waiters." At the end,
after a heavy drinking, they leave the place and waiters
clean the tables. Upon seeing the film, Rintala felt that Niskanen had
edge off his text and decided to take a more critical perspective on
the war. Rintala's eleventh novel was an immediate
bestseller, but created a storm of controversy with its portrayal of
affairs between officers and members of women's auxiliary services.
The narrator and central character, Lieutenant Erkki Takala,
is a former theology student. His experiences have made him a hard
leader and a perfect killer, who expresses his contempt
toward the common crowd. When peace is declared, he says to his
men: "There'll be another war. One day . . . somewhere . . . that's
quite certain . . . Let them make their peace. We can wait . . .
twenty years, at the very most. But never mind about the years . . . we
shall be needed . . . "
During the heated public debate, Rintala was accused of smearing the reputation of women, who had served their country with honor. Although the history of the corps did not confirm Rintala's vision, he seemed to argue that when life becomes meaningless, sex is reduced to the most primitive level. The novel launched the first of the great "literary wars" of the 1960s, in which the younger generation of writers, Paavo Haavikko, Veijo Meri, Hannu Salama etc., challenged established literary conventions as well as ideological and national taboos.
Mummoni and Mannerheim contrasted the experiences of the upper and lower classes through its two protagonists, a poor peasant woman, Eeva Maria Kustaava, and Carl Gustaf Emil Mannerheim, an aristocratic, general in the Russian Imperial Army, and President of Finland from 1944 to 1946. Rintala's view on Mannerheim is critical; his thoughts often contradict his public image. During the story the central characters approach from their own point of view the true values of life. Eventually Mannerheim grows into a Jungian "wise old man", who admits his weaknesses and realizes that he do not have a real home in the modern world.
Rintala's documentary novels from the 1960s were based on interview material. Sotilaiden äänet (1966), Sodan ja rauhan äänet (1967), Leningradin kohtalonsinfonia (1968), and Napapiirin äänet (1969) focused especially on the Continuation War. Soviet authorities allowed Rintala to visit Leningrad and interview its inhabitants. Rintala's approach, however, connected him with the New Journalism movement and Norman Mailer, Truman Capote, Jan Myrdal, Per Olov Enquist, Aleksander Kluge, who all produced "documentary-style" fiction. Rintala's documentary project continued with the novels Vietnamin kurjet (1970), Viapori 1906 (1971), Kesäkuu 44 (1974), and Nahkapeitturien linjalla I-II (1976-79).
Some of Rintala's novels originated from film scripts. Paavalin
matkat (1972) was produced as a screenplay for Erkko Kivikoski's
film Laukaus tehtaalla (1973),
about a crisis and shot at a metal factory. After artistic disputes,
Kivikoski and Juho Gartz revised the script together. Viapori 1906,
about a rebellion in the maritime fortress of Viapori, was born after
Mosfilm, the largest Soviet film and television production company,
offered cooperation. The film, directed by Sergey Kolosov, was
eventually made without Rintala's screenplay, which was rewritten first
as a book (1971) and then as a radioplay (1976).
The radio play Lenin
pakenee Suomen halki joulukuussa 1907
(Lenin takes flight across Finland in December 1907) was originally
written as a film script. The director Juli Karasik and Rintala left
the project, when it took a completely different direction, a film
about Lenin and Finnish independence, set in the last days of 1917.
This coproduction, Luottamus
(1976, Tust), was directed by Rauni Mollberg. Many of his radio plays,
beginning from Elokuun ääniä
(1966) Rintala wrote for the director Väinö Vainio. When the play was
performed in Prague, a couple of words dealing with the Continuation
War between Finland and the Soviet Union in 1941-1944 were censored.
During the the time of President Kekkonen, Rintala was one of
writers who accompanied Kekkonen on his trips to the Soviet Union.
Rintala voted for Kekkonen and was a presidential elector in 1962.
Rintala, a Tolstoyan pacifist and myth breaker, was also one of the
leaders of the peace movement Suomen rauhanpuolustajat (Finnish Society
of the Defenders of Peace), which was labelled in the right-wing press
as a Marxist-Leninist cover organization, taking its orders from
Moscow. Officially Rintala did not criticize the U.S.S.R's role in the
nuclear arms race, but privately he was very concerned about the Soviet
military buildup in Central Europe.
In the 1980s, Rintala satirized in several books his idealistic political odyssey, which had undermined his reputation as an independent author. Eläinten rauhanliike (1984), full of insider humor, was inspired by Orwell's Animal Farm, in Finnish Eläinten vallankumous. Porvari Punaisella torilla (1984) told of a Finnish delegation in the promised land of peace conferences, the Soviet Union. These works came out before the first wave of academic research on self-censorship and the code of silence which had guided Finnish foreign policy toward Russia. St. Petersburgin salakuljetus (1987) was about a cat-and-mouse game between the narrator, who tries to smuggle a manuscript out of Leningrad, and a KGB officer, who knows his every move. Rintala offers also an excursion into the history of the city and the social psychology of censorship.
In the 1970s Rintala found the work of Marc Bloch (1886-1944) - Le société feodale, Apologie pour l'histoire and L'étrande défaite. "Bloch is my Virgil, on our century's journey from hell to hell," the writer once said. Rintala published several novels on the legacy of European cultural and moral values. These works combined history, real-life figures, myths, and personal recollections with a mastery rare in Finnish literature.
In Minä, Grünewald (1990), the central character was the German Renaissance painter Matthias Grünewald, whose Isenheim Altarpiece reveals darkness in the heart of a whole civilization. Faustus (1966) concluded Rintala's "attributes of beauty" trilogy, in which art and life are the different sides of the same coin. The trilogy began in Aika ja uni (1993) and continued in Marian rakkaus (1994). In the last volume Rintala identifies himself with the old Faustus, the old Europe. His basic question is, why we sell our souls to the devil in order to achieve good goals?
In the mid-1990s, Rintala contracted Parkinson's disease. He died on August 8, 1999, in Kirkkonummi. Before his death, Rintala finished the opera libretto Aika ja uni (2000, The Age of Dreams), which was commissioned by the Savonlinna Opera Festival and composed in collaboration by Herman Rechberger, Olli Kortekangas, and Kalevi Aho.
For further reading: Paavo Rintalan saarna ja seurakunta by Pekka Tarkka (1966); 'Paavo Rintala' by Pekka Tarkka, in Valitut teokset by Paavo Rintala (1970); 'Paavo Rintala', in Miten kirjani ovat syntyneet, ed. by Ritva Rainio (1967); 'Paavo Rintala', in Suomalaisia nykykirjailijoita by Pekka Tarkka (1980); A History of Scandinavian Literature by Sven H. Rossel (1982); 'Paavo Rintala', in Miten kuunnelmani ovat syntyneet, ed. by Matti Savolainen (1983); Paavo Rintala: dokumentaristi by Kai Ekholm (1988); 'Paavo Rintala', in Linnasta Saarikoskeen by Juhani Salokannel (1993); A History of Finland's Literature, ed. by George C. Schoolfield (1998); '"Kun lottaharmaata häväistään". Näkäkulmia Sissiluutnantti-debattiin' by Tiina Kinnunen, in Historiallinen aikakauskirja 1 (2001) Minuuden liitupiiri: tutkimus Paavo Rintalan myöhäisvaiheen proosatuotannosta by Pirkko Alhoniemi (2007); 'Paavo Rintala: Sissiluutnantti (1963)' & 'Mikko Niskanen: Sissit (1963),' in 50 suomalaista kirjaa ja elokuvaa by Juri Nummelin (2017)