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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).

Niskanen's intesive, existential war film, Sissit (1963), was based on Rintala's novel manuscript. It premiered before the book came out. After seeing the film, Rintala felt that Niskanen had rubbed the edge off his text and decided to take a more critical perspective. The novel, published under the title Sissiluutnantti (1963), was a bestseller but created a storm of controversy with its portrayal of affairs between officers and members of women's auxiliary services. The central character is a perfect killer, who expresses his contempt toward the common crowd. At the end, when peace comes, 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 . . . "

Rintala was accused of smearing the reputation of women, who were in the war. 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 the 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)

Selected works:

  • Kuolleiden evankeliumi, 1954
  • Baalin kuningatar, 1954 (play)
  • Rikas ja köyhä: romaani Helsingistä ja Oulusta vv. 1951-52, 1955
  • Lakko, 1956
    - Strejk (övers. av Hjalmar Dahl, 1958)
  • Rouva sotaleski, 1957 (play)
  • Pojat: kuvia vv. 1941-44 Oulun poikien suhteesta ajan suureen ihanteeseen, sotaan ja sen edustajiin, saksalaisen vuoristoarmeijan alppijääkäreihin, 1958
    - Chiopcy (tlumaczyly Cecylia Lewandowska i Natalia Baschmakoff, 1971)
    - film 1962, prod. Suomen Filmiteollisuus, dir. Mikko Niskanen, screenplay Mikko Niskanen, Paavo Rintala, starring Vesa-Matti Loiri, Pentti Tarkiainen, Uti Saurio, Hannu Vironmäki, Markku Söderström
  • Jumala on kauneus, 1959
    TV film 1985, dir. Hannu Heikinheimo, teleplay Hannu Heikinheimo, Marjatta Lohikoski, starring Hannu Kahakorpi, Oiva Lohtander: Tässä on elämä, TV film 2005, prod. Making Movies Oy, dir.  Heikki Huttu-Hiltunen, Jukka Hytti, starring Taisto Reimaluoto
  • Pikkuvirkamiehen kuolema, 1959
  • Mummoni ja Mannerheim, 1960
    - Mormor och Mannerheim (övers. av Karin och Bertel Kihlman, 1961)
    - TV series 1971, prod. Mainostelevisio (MTV), dir. Pauli Virtanen, teleplay Paavo Rintala, Juha Vakkuri, Pauli Virtanen, starring Saara Pakkasvirta (as Eeva-Maria), Helge Herala (as Mannerheim), Topi Reinikka, Seppo Kolehmainen, Aarno Sulkanen, Pekka Autiovuori
  • Mummoni ja marsalkka, 1961
    - Mormor och marskalken (övers. av Karin och Bertel Kihlman, 1962)
  • Mummon ja Marskin tarinat, 1962
    - Mormor och marsken (övers. av Karin och Bertel Kihlman, 1963)
  • 'Eino', 1963 (in Seitsemän novellia)
  • Jouluvieraita avaruudesta, 1963 (radio play)
  • Kunnianosoitus Johann Sebastian Bachille näytelmänä, 1963 (play)
  • Sissiluutnantti, 1963
    - Fjärrpatrullen (till svenska av Bertel Kihlman, 1964)
    - Partisanløjtnanten (oversat efter den finske originaludgave Anja og Gunner Gersov, 1964)
    - Geriljaløytnanten (till norsk ved Per Wollebæk, 1965)
    - The Long Distance Patrol (translated by Maurice Michael, 1967)
    - Commando de la mort blanche (préface de Jean Lartéguy; trad. de la version suédoise par K. E. Sjoden, 1967)
    - film: Sissit 1963, prod. Fennada-Filmi, dir. Mikko Niskanen, screenplay Jouni Apajalahti, Matti Kassila, Mikko Niskanen, starring Matti Oravisto, Kauko Laurikainen, Paul Budsko, Heimo Lepistö, Valde Pitkänen
  • Palvelijat hevosten selässä, 1964
    - Diener auf dem Pferderücken: Roman (übers. von Peter Krüger, 1966)
  • Ihmisiä syövät hevoset, 1964 (radio play)
  • Keskusteluja lasten kanssa, 1965
  • Sukeltaja, 1965
  • Satu pienestä pojasta, joka sukelteli meren avaruudessa, 1966 (radio play)
  • Sotilaiden äänet, 1966
    - Soldaternas röster om genombrott på Karelska Näset 1944 (inspelade av Rundradion; till svenska av Bertel Kihlman, 1967)
  • Elokuun ääniä, 1966 (radio play)
  • Satu pienestä pojasta, joka sukelteli meren avaruudessa, 1966 (radio play)
  • Musta talvi, valkea kesä, 1966 (with Matti Saanio)
  • Mummoni ja Mannerheim, 1966 (play)
  • Sodan ja rauhan äänet, 1967
    - Och denna stund finns ej mer i morgon (övers. från finskan: Paul Jansson, 1984)
    - TV film 1967, prod. Yleisradio (YLE), dir. Heikki Ritavuori, teleplay Paavo Rintala
  • Suomeni täyttää 50 vuotta, 1967 (television drama)
  • Sodan ja rauhan äänet, 1967 (play)
  • Leningradin kohtalosinfonia, 1968
    - Leningrads ödessymfoni: Berättelsen om staden som tyskar och finnar belägrade 1941-1943 (till svenska av Bertel Kihlman, 1969)
    - Leningrader Schicksalssymphonie: Bericht über die von den Deutschen und Finnen in den Jahren 1941-1943 belagerte Stadt und ihre Einwohner (übertr. von Peter Krüger, 1970)
  • Laulu Suomenlahdelle, 1968 (script)
    - TV film 1968, prod. Yleisradio (YLE), dir. Matti Tapio, starring Uljas Kandolin, Pekka Laiho and Irma Tanskanen  
  • Kekkosen aika, 1968 (play, with Rauli Jokelin)
  • Oi rakkaani, oi Leningrad ja Viipuri. I-III, 1968 (radio play)
  • Napapiirin äänet, 1969
  • Paasikiven aika, 1969
  • Jänisjahdissa, 1969 (radio play)
  • Lenin pakenee Suomen halki joulukuussa 1907, 1970 (radio play)
  • Kekkosen aika, 1970
  • Vietnamin kurjet, 1970
  • Valitut teokset, 1970
  • Mummoni ja Mannerheim, 1971 (television drama)
    - TV film 1971, 6 episodes, prod. Mainostelevisio (MTV), starring Saara Pakkasvirta, Helge Herala, Topi Reinikka, Seppo Kolehmainen, Aarno Sulkanen, Martti Tschokkinen; TV film: Eeva Maria Kustaava, 1980, prod. Yleisradio (YLE), dir. Eija-Elina Bergholm, screenplay Paavo Rintala, starring Eeva-Kaarina Volanen
  • Viapori 1906, 1971
  • Paavalin matkat, 1972
  • Uu ja poikanen, 1972
    - TV film 1972, prod. Yleisradio (YLE), dir. Leena Paavonen, Raili Rusto, teleplay Paavo Rintala, starring Jaana Jääskeläinen, Eeva Kantanen and Matti Oravisto
  • Iltaa, Paavali Hruštšev tulee, 1973 (radio play)
  • Laukaus tehtaalla, 1973 (screenplay, with Erkko Kivikoski and Juho Gartz)
    - film 1973, dir. Erkko Kivikoski, prod. by Jörn Donner, starring Urpo Poikolainen, Aarne Hakulinen, Pentti Viljakainen, Artturi Haikonen, Erkki Helo
  • Se toinen Lili Marlen, 1973 (play)
  • Kesäkuu 44, 1974
  • Romeo ja Julia häränvuonna, 1974
  • Se toinen Lili Marlen, 1975 (play)
  • Šamaanien etuoikeus, 1975 (radio play)
  • Elokuun ääniä, 1976 (radio play)
  • Valkoinen valas = Moby Dick, 1976 (radio play, from Herman Melville's novel)
  • Viapori. 1-2, 1976 (radio play)
  • Nahkapeitturien linjalla I, 1976
  • Laulu Suomenlahdelle, 1977 (radio play)
  • Eeva Maria Kustaava, 1977-78 (play)
  • Lakko. Eino, 1978
  • Eeva Maria Kustaava, piika, nahkurin vaimo, leski, isoäiti, hänen maansa, maailmansa, 1978 (play)
  • Tolstoista puheenollen, 1978 (radio play)
  • Nainen Oulun horisontissa, 1979 (radio play)
  • Nahkapeitturien linjalla II, 1979
  • Kenties kaipaustakin tarvitaan, 1980 (radio play)
  • Lähdön jäljet, 1980 (with Matti Saanio)
  • Mummoni ja Mannerheim, 1980 (Mummoni ja Mannerheim, Mummoni ja Marsalkka, Mummon ja Marskin tarinat)
  • Syntyisin ei-mistään, 1980 (radio play)
  • Dostojevskin ikonit, 1981 (radio play)
  • Paluu Ithakaan, 1981
    - TV documentary, prod. Yleisradio (YLE), dir. Eeli Aalto, script Eeli Aalto, Paavo Rintala
  • Jättiläinen, 1981 (play)
  • Puolan malja, 1982
  • Valehtelijan muistelmat, 1982
  • Velkani Karjalalle, 1982
  • Maatyömies ja kuu, 1983
  • Hans Carossa Karpaateilla, 1983 (radio play, from Hans Carossa's novel Sotapäiväkirja)
  • Dostojevskin galleria, 1983
    - TV film, prod. Yleisradio (YLE), dir. Eeli Aalto, Leena Salonen, script Paavo Rintala, starring Eeli Aalto, Paavo Rintala, Markus Aalto, Anna-Leena Härkönen, Jorma Koho, Pirkko Laakso
  • Maatyömies ja kuu, 1983 (radio play)
  • Eläinten rauhanliike, 1984
  • Porvari Punaisella torilla, 1984
  • Vänrikin muistot, 1985
  • Carossa ja Anna, 1986
  • Kolme bagatellia. Carossa; Louvainin tuulet; Anna, 1987 (radio plays)
  • Divina passio, 1987 (with Yrjö Sariola, Antti Takala)
  • St. Petersburgin salakuljetus eli kaupunki mielenkuvana, 1987
  • Omakuva nuoruuden vuosilta, 1989, (radio play)
  • Rainer Maria Rilke Pariisissa, 1989 (radio play)
  • Minä, Grünewald, 1990
    - Mina, Grünewald (tõlkinud Mart Mäger ja Debora Vaarandi, 1994)
  • Pitkä matka Veronaan ja muita näytelmiä, 1990 (plays)
    - Stol’ dlitel’noe putesšestvie v Veronu: p’esa v dvuh dejstviâh (perevod M. Kononova, 1995)
  • Sitaatteja historiasta, 1990 (radio play)
  • translator: Bobrowski, Johannes: Runoja, 1990
  • Sarmatian Orfeus, 1991
  • Kuuntelen ja puhuttelen Johannes Bobrowskia, 1991 (radio play)
  • Stendahl, ratsuväenupseeri, 1991 (radio play)
  • translator: Igorin laulu, 1992
  • Via Dolorosa - kärsimystiet. Raamatun juhlavuoden näytelmä, 1992 (play)
  • Aika ja uni, 1993
  • Igorin laulu, 1993 (radio play)
  • Krivulin, Viktor: Runoja, 1993 (with Alexandr Volodin)
  • translator: Vaarandi, Debora: 'Auschwitz', 1994
  • translator (with Aleksandr Volodin, Jukka Mallinen): Krivulin, Viktor: Runoja, 1994
  • Marian rakkaus, 1994
  • Pitkä matka Veronaan, 1994 (radio play)
  • Gentin alttarin aika, 1994 (radio play)
  • Olen Julien Sorel, madame, 1994 (radio play, from Stendahlin's novel Punaista ja mustaa)
  • Aurinko ja kuu, nuo Nelly Sachsin kierosilmäiset todistajat, 1995 (radio play)
  • Faustus, 1996
  • Rouva Bovary. Kauniin rouvan tragedia, 1996 (radio play)
  • translator: Celan, Paul: 'Haapa', 2000
  • Aika ja uni, 2000 (opera libretto, composed by Herman Rechberger, Olli Kortekangas, and Kalevi Aho)
    - The Age of Dreams: Opera Trilogy: Libretto (translated by Roderick Fletcher, 2000)


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