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Oscar Parland (1912-1997)


Swedish-speaking Finnish writer and psychiatrist, whose brothers Henry Parland and Ralf Parland also gained fame as writers. Oscar Parland's novels reflect his long career as a psychiatrist and his cultural background. His works are mostly autobiographical. For his poems of spiritual rebirth especially the childhood memories from the Karelian Isthmus are central.

--"When I was a child, this road was the main road above all others. It was the road to Viborg and the longest road in the world, leading to the great unknown. In parts it now looked more like a dried up stream, wheel tracks overgrown with grass, here and there the road completely wiped out or hidden by vegetation so that you thought it had come to an end. But my bicycle flew on, purring quietly and contentedly as if burning with excitement to be reunited with the world of childhood." (from Den förtrollade vägen, 1953)

Oscar Percival Parland was born in Kiev, Ukraine, the son of Oswald Parland, a graduate engineer who worked for the Russian railways, and Ida Maria (Sesemann) Parland. His father's family originated from England. From the mother's side the family were merchants and came from Germany. His childhood Parland spent in Tikkala, near Vyborg. "My life began in Tikkala," said Parland later. He lived there with his mother and her relatives, his father remained in St. Petersburg but visited the family during weekends and holidays.

At the outbreak of the Russian Revolution, the family moved to Finland, but it was not until 1921, when his father managed to cross the border. Oswald then worked for the Finnish railways. At home the family spoke German and Russian. Parland learned Swedish when he went to the school in Grankulla. Eventually Finnish became his second language. An accomplished piano player, Parland dreamed of a career in music in one period of his life. After studying medicine at the University of Helsinki, Parland received in 1944 his Lic. Med.

In 1941 Parland married the critic and translator Heidi (Runeberg) Enckell; she divorced her first husband, the writer and painter Rabbe Enckell. Parland later dealt with the triangle drama between Heidi, Rabbe and himself in Flanellkostym och farsans käpp (2003)  Parland once tried to throw himself under a car in desperation, and in 1941 Rabbe stabbed him with a knife. He was arrested and confined in a mental hospital for a short period of time. Parland did not press charges against him.

The Winter War (1939-40) and Continuation War (1941-44) between Finland and the Soviet Union depressed deeply Parland. However, he served in the army although he was pacifist. After suffering a mental breakdown, he was sent to Lapinlahti hospital. During the Continuation War Parland served at Pitkäniemi's military psychiatric institution. His own role had changed from a patient to a doctor.

Parland worked as a doctor at the hospitals of Pitkäniemi (1945-47), Lapinlahti (1949-50), and Nikkilä (1947-75). From 1952 to 1978 he had a private practice. In the late 1940s he was a music critic at the newspaper Arbertarbladet. In 1948 Parland joined the leftist literary association Kiila ('wedge') along with a number of other Swedish-speaking Finnish writers, including Ralf Parland, Heidi Parland, and Thomas Warburton. Parland died in Helsinki on September 27, 1997. Heidi Parland had died seven years earlier.

Parland's novels show the influence of Thomas Mann, Marcel Proust, and Yury Olesha, a prominent figure of Russian expressionism, whose gift for making things from the past to come alive Parland admired greatly. At the age of fifteen Parland met Gunnar Björling, the pioneer of Finland-Swedish modernism, and later Rabbe Enckell and Elmer Diktonius. Modernist free expression with unchained imagination became typical for Parland's works.

In his first novel Förvandlingar (1945), inspired by Gide's The Counterfeiters and musical melodies, Parland painted a lightly concealed portrait of his family. The central character is a psychiatrist but in the following novel he sees his family from a child's point of view. Den förtrollade vägen (1953, The Enchanted Way) takes place during World War I and the Russian Revolution on a tumble-down Karelian estate. His surroundings Parland depicts in a mythical light  houses have faces, animals talk to him, a firebird falls from the sky and dances in the dark. Parland believes that he has existed before, in other places, although he cannot remember it. The women of the family his mother, grandmother, aunt Adéle and other aunts  have crucial role in the life of the young narrator.

Later, during the Continuation war (1941-44), Parland paid a visit as a soldier to the scenes of his childhood and noted. "The countryside all around me was hostile. All this no longer belonged to me, but lay beyond the limits of my reality." Everything is destroyed by the war, houses have been burnt down, and his "enchanted way" is already overgrow with grass. Intimations of violent death appear in Tjurens år (1962, The Year of the Bull). The narrator is a young boy, Rikki, as in Den förtrollade vägen. "For as long as I can remember, there has been War," starts the novel. Now death becomes part of Rikki's games and imagination. "Du ska ska döden dö Döden dö Döden dö Khe Khe Khe Ua Ua Ua DÖDEN DÖ!" In the 1980s these both works were dramatized for television (1987 and 1989) by Benedict Zilliacus and directed by Åke Lindman. Spegelgossen (2001), which Parland left unfinished, ended his autobiographical trilogy. The themes were death, sexuality, and Rikki's encounter with his other self, a boy in a mirror. Flanellkostym och farsans käpp, also published posthumously, is a portrait of Parland's brother Henry, or Mario in the book.

Parland's output was small. His psychoanalytic training marked deeply his writing. Parland saw that relationships inside a family reflect the family history. Problems are transferred from generation to generation. He has revealed that his studies of primitive lyrics opened the gates to an understanding of his childhood at the family home in Tikkala. Gide's Les faux-monnayeurs (1926) strengthened Parland's conviction that his debut novel should have a clear but polyphonic structure. It was not until fifteen years after the death of his brother Henry, before he could finish Förvandlingar. The mental collapse and attempted suicide of the mother, after Henry's death, form the climax of the work. In his collection of essays Kunskap och inlevelse (1991) Parland stated that everything he has written is only a fragment of totality, which embraces his own life.

For further reading: Miten kirjani ovat syntyneet, ed. by Ritva Rainio (1969); 'Riki och den förtrollade vägen' by Kristina Björklund, in Skrifter utgivna av Svenska Litteratursällskapet i Finland (1982); Löytöretki lapsuuteen, ed. by Heli Karjalainen (1988); Proosan murros by Juhani Niemi (1995); A History of Finland's Literature, ed. by George C. Schoolfield (1998); Finlands svenska litteraturhistoria. Andra delen: 1900-talet, ed. by Clas Zilliacus (2000) - "Saattaa olla, että piirtäminen ja maalaaminen ovat vaikuttaneet tapaani komponoida romaani. En kirjoita lineaarisesti romaanin lopullisessa aikatasossa - kuten kai moni kirjailija tekee - vaan valmistan mosaiikkeja yksittäisistä palasista. Peitän pinnan, ja kuvamainen kompositio kehkeytyy vähitellen esiin." (from Miten kirjani ovat syntyneet, 1969)

Selected works:

  • Förvandlingar: roman, 1945
    - Forvandlinger (på norsk ved Corgus Coward, 1947)
    - Muuttumisia (suom. Eeva-Liisa Manner,  yhteistyössä tri Parlandin kanssa, 1966)
  • Den förtrollade vägen, 1953
    - Lumottu tie (suom. Eeva Liisa Manner, 1955)
    - Der verzauberte Weg: Roman (aus dem Schwedischen von Brigitte Steinwach-Steil, 1987)
    - The Enchanted Way (translated from the Swedish by Joan Tate, 1991)
    - TV film 1987, prod. Finlands Svenska Television (FST), Yleisradio (YLE), dir. Åke Lindman, teleplay Benedict Zilliacus, starring Marcus Hietanen, Pirkko Mannola, Dorle von Wendt, narrator: Oscar Parland
  • translator (with Heidi Parland): Jurij Oljesja, Avund, 1961 (original title: Zavist)
  • Tjurens år, 1962 
    - Härän vuodet (suom. Eeva-Liisa Manner, 1963)
    - The Year of the Bull (translated from the Swedish by Joan Tate, 1991)
    - TV film 1989, prod. Finlands Svenska Television (FST), SVT Drama, Yleisradio (YLE), dir. Åke Lindman, teleplay Benedict Zilliacus, starring Marcus Hietanen, Dorle Stenius, Pirkko Mannola, Johan Simberg, Andreas Toth  
  • editor: Henry Parland, Hamlet sade det vackrare: samlade dikter, 1964 
  • editor: Henry Parland, Den stora dagenefter: samlad prosa 1, 1966
  • editor: Henry Parland, Säginteannat: samlad prosa 2, 1970
  • Kunskap och inlevelse: essayer och minnen, 1991
    - Tieto ja eläytyminen: esseitä ja muistelmia (suom. 1991)
  • Spegelgossen, 2001 (edited by Oliver Parland and Monica Parland)
    - Peilipoika (suom. Eila Kostamo, 2002)
  • Flanellkostym och farsans käpp, 2003 (edited by Oliver Parland and Monica Parland)

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