The Unknown Soldier is a novel by Finnish author Väinö Linna. It is a war novel, with its milieu being the Continuation War between Finland and the Soviet Union in 1941-1944. The story describes the tour of duty of a Finnish machine gun company and its men. The main protagonists are the men of rank and file and lower-ranking officers, who are all conscripts or reservists.(Not to be confused with the DC Comics character of the same name.)The novel is based on Linna's own experiences in the war before he was promoted to Sergeant and transferred to recruit training. The book is written in a very realistic style and is considered one of the best war novels ever written. Many of the protagonist personae are loosely based on real life persons from Linna's patchwork regiment where many soldiers came from different regions of Finland. The Unknown Soldier is considered a deep analysis of the psychology of soldiers and the effects of war on people as well as the makings of a good soldier.The novel has been made into a film two times: a black and white movie by Edvin Laine in 1955, and in colour by Rauni Mollberg in 1985. Both filmations had good success. The book has been translated into many languages; however the English translation not only omits some scenes but even changes some character's personalities entirely.
The novel contains the following tropes:
0% Approval Rating: Captain Lammio. His men universally hate him for being an absolute martinet but lacking actual faults to loathe.
Badass: Many. Usually against their will, like Sergeant Hietanen and Corporal Rokka.
Badass Boast: Lieutenant Koskela usually behaves in very correctly and prudently, but when drunk: Koskela Suomesta! Syö rautaa ja paskantaa kettinkiä! ("Koskela from Finland! Eats iron and shits out chain!")
Bling of War: Averted. Men considered it rewards for deeds which would be crimes in civilian life.
Character Development: Most notably to 2nd Lieutenant Kariluoto, who grows from Ensign Newbie into The Captain. Likewise, 2nd Lieutenant Jalovaara, who is initially Ensign Newbie, becomes the most competent officer in the company, and Major Lammio's trustee. Lammio becomes the battalion commander after the death of Major Sarastie.
Common Ranks: Finnish alikersantti (Sub-Sergeant) corresponds to Corporal in the US and British armies. Finnish korpraali (Corporal) is a rank of the rank and file, and corresponds to PFC in the US and Lance Corporal in the British armies.
Dying Alone: Private Riitaoja, who gets separated from his squad in the night outflank maneuvre, and gets machine-gunned by the Soviets from behind.
Dying Moment of Awesome: Lieutenant Koskela, who destroys a tank with a satchel charge, but fails to survive. Also Captain Kariluoto, leading a counterattack to capture positions lost earlier.
Ensign Newbie: Second Lieutenant Kariluoto. Also Second Lieutenant Jalovaara.
Earn Your Happy Ending: The Union of Soviet Socialist Republics won, and the second to finish was small but tenacious Finland, says Corporal Vanhala at the last page of the book. Finland managed to maintain her independence and freedom. Additionally, most of the surviving characters at the end of the book survived the war as field promoted non-commissioned officers, such as Vanhala, who began as Private.
I Shall Return: Corporal Rokka as he gets wounded in action and is stretchered away. He says to the stretcher bearers: "Goddammit, carry me head first. I won't be leaving here feet first." His Real Life counterpart, Viljam Pylkäs, survived the war unscathed.
Karmic Jackpot: Subverted by Corporal Lehto, who suffers one of the nastiest fates in the book. He gets wounded in action and paralyzed from chest down, and he shoots himself with his service rifle. Lieutenant Koskela says later: It was good it happened to Lehto. He was the best of us to suffer that kind of a fate.
More Dakka: Finns and Soviets used weapons of same caliber and cartridge size. The Finns always looted Soviet ammunition when they had a chance. Machine guns are notoriously dakka-hungry. Also played straight by Corporal Rokka as he single-handedly destroys a Soviet ski company with a submachine gun in an ambush. He has Private Lampinen with him just to fill up the magazines. He empties seventeen magazines.
Stealing from the Till: Corporal Lehto and privates Määttä and Rahikainen. They get caught by Lieutenant Lammio, who sentences them to stand in attention for half an hour in full gear in sunshine. Unfortunately, an air raid occurs while they are doing their punishment...
The Bully: Corporal Lehto. He is one of the most unpleasant characters in the book.
The Captain: Lieutenant Kariluoto and Lieutenant Koskela. Also 2nd Lieutenant Jalovaara at the final chapter.
The Neidermeyer: Staff Sergeant Sinkkonen. Double Subverted by Captain Lammio, who is a strict martinet with No Social Skills and an ego the size of a small nation. He is also an insanely brave soldier and efficient leader, but his complete lack of weaknesses along with his other traits does nothing to endear him to the rank-and-file.
The Quiet One: Lieutenant Koskela, who is nicknamed Ville Vaitelias ("Silent Billy").
War Is Glorious: Private Rahikainen earns well as a scrounger and feels this way. Otherwise the trope gets well averted.
War Is Hell: Played straight. The Unknown Soldier is praised for its strict realism.
Wingman: Private Susi to Corporal Rokka. They were neighbours in the civilian life. Also Sergeant Hietanen to Lieutenant Koskela.
You Are in Command Now: Lieutenant Koskela, who has to take charge of the whole company when all the higher officers get killed in the Soviet summer offensive 1944. The same happened to him already in the Winter War when he was Sergeant.
Zerg Rush: The usual Soviet tactics. Especially the Soviet assault where Corporal Lahtinen gets killed. Early in the book, Lahtinen responds to the boast "a Finnish soldier is as good as ten Soviets" with the matter-of-fact "yes, but what do you do when the eleventh one comes?"