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Ralf (Thomas Friedrich) Parland (1914-1995)


Writer and journalist, whose brothers Henry Parland and Oscar Parland, also gained fame as writers. With Bengt Holmqvist, Harry Järv, Göran Schildt, Sven Willner, and Henrik Tikkanen, Ralf Parland was a representative of the generation, who returned from the war without illusions and without the old system of values on which the pre-war Finland had been built. He has been called both modernist and timeless mystic. From the late 1940s Parland lived in Sweden. He received the Nils Ferlin award in 1989.

"Vem tjänar denna nya tid?
Förbröding och isande kunskap
är stjärnornas svar."

Ralf Parland was born in Vyborg into a family with a distant English background. His father Oswald Parland was an engineer and bridge builder, who worked for the Russian civil service. Parland's mother Ida Maria came from a Baltic-German family, the Sesemanns, prominent in Vyborg's history. At the outbreak of the Russian Revolution, the family moved to Finland. After graduating in 1932 from secondary school in Kauniainen, Parland studied at Technical High School, but dropped his studies and became a full-time writer.

In his early works he shared Henry Parland's light style and ironic view. His first book, Busch, a collection of short stories, appeared in 1934 and was followed by Ebonit in 1937. Parland also contributed music  he played violin  and other columns to several magazines, among others Nya Argus, Stocholms-Tidningen, Dagens Nyheter and Perspectiv. In 1938 he married the toy designer and writer Eva Aline Wichman (1908-1975); they divorced after seven years and Parland married Heli Gestrin (1901-2006). His third wife from 1960 to 1965 was the Swedish artist Helga Henschen (1917-2002), who had been married to German-Swedish author Peter Weiss.

As a poet Parland continued to explore the modernist vein of Elmer Diktonius and Gunnar Björling with his book Avstånd (1938). Diktonius was his neighbour in Grankulla and Parland spent a good deal of time with him in his youth. In his postwar production Parland moved away from Diktonius's influence, becoming more abstract.

Like his younger brother Henry, Parland filled his poems with images from jazz, natural sciences and technology, but often with pessimistic undertones. He also contributed to the publishing house Holger Schildts' new cultural magazine, a quarterly, which had liberal editorial policy. In 1939  Parland started his career as translator with Marcu Valeriu's Machiavelli, renessansmänniskan och maktfilosofen. Other translation's from German and Finnish include Goethe's Den unge Werthers lidanden (1949), Robert Musil's Tre kvinnor (1957), Eeva Kilpi's novel Tamara (1974), Daniel Katz's novel Orvar Kleins död (1978), and Peter Rosei's Von Hier nach Dort (1980).

During World War II Parland took a critical stand on Finland's policy, and opposed the war against the Soviet Union. With Lars Hjalmarsson Dahl and Atos Wirtanen he translated into Swedish Olavi Paavolainen's diary from the years 1941-44, Finlandia i moll (1947, Gloomy soliloquy), which had caused after its publication considerable controversy due to its hidden anticipation of the defeat of Germany  then Finland's ally  and criticism of the Greater Finland ideology, a taboo subject during the Continuation war.

In the late 1940s he joined the leftist literary association Kiila (Wedge) with Oscar Parland, Thomas Warburton and a number of other Swedish-speaking Finnish writers. Parland left Finland for Sweden in 1948, and thereafter spent most of his time in that country, publishing poems and short stories with Orwellian science fiction themes (Eros och elektronerna, 1953; En apa for till himmelen, 1961). With these works he took distance to modernism, but he had already revealed in Abel y Aifairs sånger (1941) his interest in myths, and in Mot fullbordan (1944) his interest in China and India.

Parland become a well-known figure among the so-called Klarabohemerna, writers, journalists, and artists, who spent their time in Klara in the central part of Stockholm. Music remained an important part of his life, too. When the Russian composer Dimitri Shostakovich won in 1958 the Sibelius Award, Parland interviewed him for the Finnish Broadcasting Company.

Like a bell's hollow blow
in my temple: About years that have passed.
About years that are fulfilled
far from myself.
In the gardens I never shall enter.

(From Eolita, 1956)

Hymner från Santsche-pi (1959) was an antiutopia, with connections to the James Hilton's more simple story of Shangri-La. "Jag är kommen till Santsche-Pi / att lärä er oberördhetens broderskap / det blå medvetandets sanning: / Varen rör / för detta viddrag från tingen! / Ty det är icke ni / det är vinden genom er." Parland's dystopic science fiction culminated in I: en roman om förhävelsen (1973), a prose expansion of the Santsche-Pi myths. Sonat för fallskärm och kalebass (1964) showed the author's affection for Russian culture. Parland's short stories were usually sketchy. Like his brother Oscar, he returned in several works into his childhood milieu, among them Hem till sitt hav (1957) and En hundpredikan (1966). Parland died on May 22, 1995, in Stockholm.

For further reading: Femtio år finlandssvensk litteratur by Thomas Warburton (1951); Modern finlandssvensk litteratur by Bengt Holmqvist (1951); 'Ett folk som blött' by Johan Wrede in Den Svenska Litteraturen, Vol. 6 (1990); 'Bohemer - mer eller mindre' by Sven O. Bergkvist, in I Klarabohemernas värld by Sven O. Bergvist and Dan Mellin (1993); A History of Finland's Literature, ed. by George C. Schoolfield (1998); "Jag strängar min buk och spelar de skimrande tarmvredssonater" by Marit Lindqvist, in Nya Argus, 90 (1997); Finlands svenska litteraturhistoria. Andra delen: 1900-talet, ed. by Clas Zilliacus (2000)

Selected works:

  • Dusch, 1934
  • Ebonit, 1937
  • Avstånd, 1938
  • translator: Marcu Valeriu, Machiavelli, renessansmänniskan och maktfilosofen, 1939 (original title: Machiavelli, die Schule der Macht)
  • Abel y Aifairs sånger, 1941
  • translator:  Illés Kaczér, Svart erotik, 1941 (original work: Pao)
  • Mot morgondag: en åhörares betraktelser om musik, 1942
  • Mot morgondag, 1942
  • Mot fullbordan, 1944
  • translator:  A. B. Normi, En vagabond, 1946
  • Oavslutat människa: dikter och legender, 1946
  • Himlens stenar: noveller, 1947
  • translator (with Lars Hjalmarsson Dahl and Atos Wirtanen): Olavi Paavolainen, Finlandia i moll: dagboksblad från åren 1941-1944, 1947 (original title: Synkkä yksinpuhelu 1-2)
  • Nattens eldar: dikter 1938-1948, 1949
  • translator: J.W. von Goethe, Den unge Werthers lidanden, 1949 (original title: Die Leiden des jungen Werthers)
  • Relief: dikter, 1950 (illustrated by Erik Prytz)
  • Brev till ett tomrum, 1951
  • Hårt ljus: noveller, 1952
  • Det blåser ur intet, 1953
  • Eros och elektronerna, 1953
  • De två vägarna: prosa i urval, 1954
  • translator: Carl Pidoll, Sista symfonin, 1955 (original title: Verklungenes Spiel)
  • Eolita, 1956
  • translator: Robert Musil, Tre kvinnor 1957 (original title: Drei Frauen)
  • Hem till sitt hav: Karelska noveller om mycket vatten, 1957
  • Hymner från Santsche-pi, 1959
  • Zodiaken: en diktsvit, 1961 (illustrated by Börje Sandelin)
  • En apa for till himmelen, 1961
  • Sonat för fallskärm och kalebass, 1964
  • translator (with Brita Edfelt): Norbert Kunze, Den sista bron 1965 (original title: Die letzte Brücke)
  • En hundpredikan, 1966
  • translator (poems, with Leo Lindeberg): Boris Pasternak, Doktor Zjivago, 1966 (translated from the manuscript by Sven Vallmark; original title: Doktor Zjivago)
  • Bländverket: Dramatiskt poem i tre satser, 1968
  • Regnbågens död, 1970
  • translator:  Esther Vilar, Den dresserade mannen, 1972 (original title: Der dressierte Mann)
  • I: en roman om förhävelsen, 1973
  • translator: Eeva Kilpi, Tamara, 1974 (original title: Tamara)
  • translator: Reima Kampman, Du är inte ensam: en undersökning av människans sidopersoner, 1976 (original title: Et ole yksin)
  • translator: Daniel Katz, Orvar Kleins död, 1978 (original title: Orvar Kleinin kuolema)
  • translator: Peter Rosei, Utanför: roman, 1980 (original title: Von Hier nach Dort)

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