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Literature / The Unknown Soldier

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The Unknown Soldier is a novel by Finnish author Väinö Linna. It is a war novel set during the Second World War on the Finnish-Soviet front between 1941 to 1944 (known as the Continuation War in Finnish historiography). 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 book is written in extremely realistic style. Battle scenes are not sanitized, and the traits, personalities and psychologies of the soldiers are well portrayed. Because of its utter naturalism, it is considered heavily an anti-war novel rather than a heroic epic.


During its writing, the Unknown Soldier saw extensive Executive Meddling by the publisher WSOY. The vulgarity of Linna's writing as well as many of the negative remarks by the characters of the book towards Finnish military high command, religion, communism, Soviet Union and the war itself were considered too Politically Incorrect for 1950s Finland and subsequently significant amount of these comments were deleted from the final release of the book by the publisher without them consulting with Linna about it. On the other hand the publisher also removed extensive Author Filibusters by the narrator that the publisher and many readers alike felt ruined the flow of the book and were oftentimes Anvilicious in nature. An uncut version of Linna's writings was published in 2000 under the title Sotaromaani (A War Novel). Whether these last minute changes ultimately improved the work or not is still hotly debated by critics and audiences alike.


The book has been translated into many languages; however the original English translation is very poorly translated. It not only omits some scenes but even changes some character's personalities entirely. A new English translation has been made in 2015 by Penguin Classics under the title Unknown Soldiers. It is highly recommended reading.

The novel has been made into a film several times. A black and white movie was made by Edvin Laine in 1955, and a color one by Rauni Mollberg in 1985; both films had good success. A third adaptation was released in October 27th, 2017, with a 7 million euro budget - the biggest and most expensive Finnish movie to date - with its premiere being part of the nationwide celebrations of the 100th year of Finnish independence.

Compare with the works of James Jones for roughly similar American works about World War II.

The novel contains the following tropes:

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    Tropes A to D 

  • Actionized Adaptation: The 2017 film significantly cuts down on the Slow-Paced Beginning of the book and the two film adaptations and focuses more on the action sequences significantly more.
  • Adult Fear: The fate of the children orphaned by the war. Also the children who are either displaced and have to become refugees (like Rokka's family), or are left to survive in an enemy occupied territory (Aleksey, Tanya and Grisha).
  • Alcohol-Induced Stupidity: Marshall Mannerheim's 75th Birthday party. It's all fun and games until someone starts a fight.
  • Ambition Is Evil: The soldiers constantly suspect that their higher ups are sending them to though spots to gain glory and promotions, and aren't particularly understanding of the mentality.
  • Anyone Can Die: And they do. They really do.
  • Armor-Piercing Question: Rokka is once again ranting about the officers, how he doesn't get along with them and wonders, what's wrong with them for him and them always to start fighting after just a few words. Vanhala, amused, asks him has he ever considered the possibility that perhaps the fault is in Rokka himself. Rokka is bewildered by such a thought.
  • Badass Army: Mercilessly and hilariously deconstructed and reconstructed, to the disappointment of the more idealistic characters, who would not only want to be victorious, but to be victorious with style.
  • The Bad Guy Wins: While the definition of bad guy and hero is tricky if not impossible here, let's just say that yeah, the protagonists lose the war. And they know it half way into the story. The rest is just them coming into terms with their inevitable defeat and the futility of their sufferings.
  • Band of Brothers: The main characters whom the story follows.
  • Beneath the Mask: Most characters keep their truest self, thoughts and feelings to themselves, and maintain a mask of tough stoicism, boisterous masculinity or boyish cheerfulness.
  • Better to Die than Be Killed: The characters have encircled a lonely Soviet soldier into a thicket when to their dismay they hear him sobbing. Then a grenade goes off and they they find out that he blew himself up.
  • BFG: The Maxim machine gun.
    • Reality Ensues when the poor characters have to carry their BFG across forests and marshes, under enemy fire and while hungry and exhausted. Near the end they're gleefully happy to get to throw their machine guns into a pond and become an ordinary rifle company.
  • Black Comedy: After Lehto murders a prisoner of war and others, having heard the shot and the cry, come to see what happened: "What did he do?" "Died."
  • Bling of War: Averted. Men considered it rewards for deeds which would be crimes in civilian life.
  • Boisterous Bruiser: Half the cast, but Hietanen and Rokka take the cake.
  • Bomb Whistle: Discussed Trope. Sergeant Hietanen criticizes All Quiet on the Western Front for claiming you can hear from the whistle which grenades are dangerous and which aren't.
  • Boot Camp Episode: At the beginning, the characters are still doing their compulsory military service and being thoroughly tired of it. When the war breaks out and they're sent out of the barracks into the front, they're excited about this change in their tedious life.
  • Bruiser with a Soft Center: Sergeant Hietanen is strong, brave and badass... and emotional and tender. He not only feels acutely for the prisoners, the children and the civilians, and not only has genuine romantic feelings for women instead of the usual lecherous bragging about conquered women, but he also speaks constantly and openly about his feelings, about his fears and his hopes and his joys.
  • Brutal Honesty: The novel's style is very naturalistic, not shying away from describing any side of the life on the front.
    • Also some characters speak like this, especially Lehto.
  • The Bully: Corporal Lehto. He is one of the most unpleasant characters in the book.
    • However, he isn't unfair or unreasonable, simply very rough and emotionally cold. Even when he kicks the poor Riitaoja who's lying crying on the ground, Lehto is actually trying to force him to stand up and carry on, because otherwise he would get left behind the enemy lines and certainly die. Notably, he's the only one to stay for Riitaoja and make sure he gets back up. It works.
  • Bunny-Ears Lawyer: Viirilä is probably the best soldier in the battalion... but the other characters can never quite figure out if he's mentally insane or not. Rokka and Kariluoto suspect that he's truly off the deep end.
  • Butt-Monkey: Private Riitaoja. There's absolutely nothing funny about it either, his misfortune is just gut-wrenching.
  • Buxom Is Better: Both Rahikainen and Hietanen notice the handsome bosom of their object of special attention. And even when their size is not specified, breasts are frequently the thing about the female the men notice and long for. Kariluoto and Hietanen even have the sparkling joy of having gotten to accidentally slightly brush a breast of their special someone.
  • Conscription: All the rank and file and the junior officers are either conscripts or reservists.
  • Call That a Formation?: Finns are not really parade soldiers.
  • Camp Cook: Corporal Mäkilä. He does his best to keep everyone fed, but the army is making the men survive with way too little nutrition, not to mention that the little food they get at best tastes bland, at worst is near inedible. Poor Mäkilä has to receive the complaints of this fact that in no way is his fault.
  • Cannon Fodder: The Soviets. In Real Life their losses were horrendous, and not solely for their use of the Zerg Rush tactic either.
  • The Captain: Lieutenant Kariluoto and Lieutenant Koskela. Also 2nd Lieutenant Jalovaara at the final chapter.
  • Cast of Expies: Linna consciously drew inspiration from a culturally important 19th century novel, Seven Brothers by Aleksis Kivi, and mentioned half seriously that his novel was the story of Kivi's brothers going to war. The story does have a core cast of about 7 or 8 men, all part of the Band of Brothers, and similarities have been seen between them and the brothers of Kivi's novel. See also Write Who You Know.
  • Character Development: Many characters stay rather static through the story, but some go through clear arcs.
    • 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.
    • Sergeant Hietanen grows up from a carefree Manchild to a serious and even brooding man that can be counted on.
    • Vanhala grows out of his shyness and proves to be a reliable man and a good soldier.
  • Class Clown: Private Honkajoki A, A-1. He has assumed his comedic role to pass his and other's time during the slow, wearisome trench war of frozen fronts, and by now is so immersed in his role that he can't act normally again.
  • Cold Sniper: Corporal Lahtinen. Not with sniper rifle, though, but with Maxim machine gun.
  • Colonel Kilgore: Lieutenant Colonel Karjula.
  • Combat and Support: The rifle platoons and the machine gun squads work this way. A platoon of riflemen attack the enemy, and a squad or two of machine gun men gives them support fire. The main cast belongs to Koskela's machine gun platoon, to its first and second squads, and their role in fighting is to support Kariluoto's platoon of riflemen.
  • Comedy as a Weapon: Both the author and the characters use parody and comedy as means of shooting down propaganda and idealism.
  • Coming and Going: The story is as full of life as it is of death, and almost as full of sex (or talk or dreams of it) as it is of dying. The men are constantly afraid of death, but they never speak about it, instead their topic of choice is almost always either sex or food (unless it's complaining about the circumstances and the bad decisions of the higher ups.) At one point, when they're trying to shrug off their shock at one of their own dying, someone comments that "All that's lost is life received through fucking.". Lehto also compares battle to horses having sex.
  • Conditioned to Accept Horror: The first act follows in detail how the young soldiers little by little grow apathetic to the horrors around them, and begin to accept them as part of their daily life.
  • Conflicting Loyalty: Because of the deep social and political divisions in the 1940's Finland, some of the soldiers feel they're fighting in the ranks of their enemies (the capitalists) against their ideological brethren (the communist Soviets). The prime example is corporal Lahtinen.
  • Cool Gun: The Suomi submachine gun.
  • Cowardly Lion: All the characters fear death. Some just hide it better than the others, and some are able to act despite it more successfully.
  • Common Military Units: A machine gun company with three platoons with four machine gun squads in each.
  • 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.
  • Cultured Warrior: Major Sarastie is aspiring to be one, though oftentimes it's more of a role to play than reflection of his actual, more down-to-earth thoughts.
  • Curb-Stomp Battle: First Finland and Nazi Germany deliver this to the Soviet Union. Then the tables are turned...
  • The Cynic: Corporal Lahtinen. He not only has a very cynical view of the world and the human societies, he's also the resident Grumpy Bear who at the times of success and general excitement seemingly enjoys bringing others down with ominous predictions of future difficulties.
  • Dad the Veteran: Lieutenant Koskela's father was a company commander for the Reds in Finnish Civil War.
  • Dangerous Deserter: Subverted. The Russian deserters in Petrozavodsk cause no problem and indeed the Finnish soldiers have nothing against them, as they too would want nothing better than go back home. Later on during the chaotic retreat many Finns become deserters themselves. Koskela is of the opinion that they're not a problem for the army at least, as the men who become deserters are so mentally and physically tired they'd be of no use in fighting anyway.
    • Truth in Television: in the Real Life most Finnish deserters simply returned voluntarily back to their units once they had gotten rest and their minds sorted out. No further consequences ensued.
  • Dare to Be Badass: 2nd Lieutenant Kariluoto.
  • Darkest Hour: During the retreat phase the battalion comes close to being entirely destroyed. The Soviets outflank it and cut it off from their own forces, the battalion leader dies, the counter attack attempting to open the route back to their own fails and the new battalion leader dies in the attempt, the battalion is almost closed in a cauldron and its remnant only manages to save itself through a dangerous outflanking maneuver through the marshes... once they get back to their own side of the front line, they're forced to engage the enemy again, only to have their leader die again and everyone fall into a chaotic panicked escape. It's said the battalion perhaps would have fallen apart altogether if the fleeing men hadn't reached the Finnish soil again and regained their fighting spirit. Three of the four most central characters die during this sequence of events.
  • Darkness Equals Death: The deep dark of the nightly forests is full of danger and death, filling the men with terror of the unseen. Lehto dies while trying to find their own in the darkness, unable to see the enemy just ahead of him.
  • A Day in the Limelight: With the Loads and Loads of Characters Ensemble Cast, nobody gets to keep the limelight all the time, but number of characters get to have their moment or moments. Kariluoto stands out, as he's not actually part of Koskela's platoon that the story is following, but who gets many scenes and sequences dedicated to him both at the beginning and near the end of the tale.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Sergeant Hietanen. Others get their moments too, especially corporal Lahtinen.
  • Death by Ambulance: Double Subverted by Sergeant Hietanen's case. The ambulance carrying him to the field hospital gets ambushed and everyone inside are killed.
  • Death from Above: Their constant fear. The randomness of the such deaths makes it all the worse.
  • Defeat Means Friendship: The soldiers don't hate the enemy, and when Russians are caught as prisoners, most characters treat them with sympathy, curiousness and friendliness.
  • Defeat Means Respect: After being taught for years to despise and belittle the Russians as inferiors in every way, witnessing their skill, bravery and ultimately the material superiority of the Soviets first hand turns the Finnish soldiers into respecting them as opponents. At the end of the war this turns into Defeat Means Friendship, as Finland established friendly relations with Soviet Union.
  • Defrosting Ice Queen: Vera. She's understandably not happy about the enemy occupation of her home city, and treats the Finnish soldiers visiting her with cool if polite distance. However, she warms up slightly to Hietanen's genuinely good heart... though not enough to let him have any real hopes with her.
  • Despair Event Horizon: Two years or so into the war the soldiers start to suspect that the war will be lost. Others hold onto to hope of final victory longer than the others, but each must at some point come to face the reality and accept that there's no hope left.
  • Desperately Looking for a Purpose in Life: Kariluoto. He has a dire need to be part of something greater and to gain honor in achieving high, idealistic goals. So he ends up accepting the militaristic ideals of his era and social circles, but the reality of war makes him constantly waver in what to believe in and what to want. Ultimately he dies without answers to the problems of life, as confused and lost as he ever was.
  • Downer Ending: There's a small Hope Springs Eternal sparkle to it, but it's hard to get past the fact that majority of the cast is dead, the war is lost and Finland gained nothing from the whole useless affair.
  • Dying Alone: Private Riitaoja, who gets separated from his squad in the night outflank maneuver, and gets machine-gunned by the Soviets from behind. Also corporal Lehto, who gets left behind after being mortally wounded and falls down just in front of the enemy positions, so that bringing him back would be impossible. The narrator and the other characters note how the loneliness of this death makes it all the more horrible.
  • 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.
  • Dwindling Party: One by one, the Band of Brothers grows smaller and smaller...

    Tropes E to L 

  • Ensemble Cast: Trying to identify the main character is impossible, as there isn't one. Instead there are a number of central characters, who take turns in being in the focus.
  • 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.
  • Eye Scream: Hietanen has both of his eyes torn out by a shrapnel and gets blinded.
  • Even Mooks Have Loved Ones: During the first act the protagonists kill Russian soldiers left and right, without too many moral problems with it. During the second act they conquer a Russian city. There they meet and befriend young Russian children, who were orphaned when their father fell during the Finnish assault.
  • Fate Worse than Death: Happens to Corporal Lehto, who gets a hit on his spine and is paralyzed from chest down in the night outflank maneuvre. He decides to eat his gun.
  • Father to His Men: Lieutenant Koskela. Actually he's only about 7 years older than his men, but he's already a veteran, and as the readers of Under the North Star trilogy know, the perpetual big brother who already as a child tried to look after others.
  • Farm Boy: Finland still being a relatively poor, agricultural, unurbanized country, many of the characters come from small low income farms. Linna himself did so too, and was fond of the character type. At least Hietanen, Rokka, Susi, Salo and Mäkilä all are mentioned to have farming background, and with Koskela it's emphasized that deep within, he's just a simple gentle Farm Boy.
  • Fearless Fool: Asumaniemi, who is exceptionally brave simply because he's too young and foolish to understand this deadly game could actually really get him killed. He finally understands it during the last five seconds of his life.
  • Field Promotion: Happens to several of the protagonists, due to Anyone Can Die.
  • Fighting for a Homeland: Those soldiers whose homes were lost to Soviet Union during the preceding Winter War are fighting to get them back.
  • Fire-Forged Friends: In a society still deeply torn by a Civil War fought only 23 years ago, Kariluoto comes from a decidedly White background (right wing, upper class, highly educated, idealistic) and Koskela from a Red background (leftist, working class, lowly educated, down-to-earth). However, after initially somewhat looking down upon Koskela, after Koskela proves himself in the practical reality of war, Kariluoto comes to greatly appreciate him and even hold him as a personal role model, seeking for his approval and valuing his praise. Doubles as Inter Class Friendship.
  • Friend to All Children: Sergeant Hietanen. He brings his own rationed food to the local Russian children orphaned by the war (and teaches them Finnish obscenities!)
  • Friendly Sniper: Corporal Rokka, with a Suomi submachine gun. He single-handedly slaughters a Soviet ski company in an ambush. This is based on a Real Life event.
  • The Friend Nobody Likes: Corporal Lehto intentionally keeps everyone distant from himself, as he doesn't want to form any emotional bonds. The others sense there's something dark and sinister about him, and some are even scared of him. However, they do respect and trust him as an efficient soldier.
  • The Ditz: Private Salo is characterized by his naivety and tendency to believe nonsense. He genuinely believes in war propaganda and the idealistic drivel thrown at them. He also takes very seriously the National Stereotypes about his own home region as the home of brave heroic warriors. He believes whatever the prisoners of war or the local civilians tell them to get their way. The others mercilessly mock him for his naivety.
  • Future Badass: 2nd Lieutenant Kariluoto (Ensign Newbie), Private Asumaniemi (New Meat).
  • Gallows Humor: Among all the death, suffering, fear and bitterness there's plenty of life, and surprisingly often the reader finds himself laughing teary eyed at the cheeky banter of the characters. They need to find a way to cope with the misery of their situation, and doing so they help to prevent the reader from phasing out.
  • Good Is Not Soft: Lieutenant Koskela and sergeant Hietanen are probably the most genuinely good-hearted characters in the story, and also among the best, most efficient soldiers in it. Also Captain Kariluoto, once he takes number of levels in badass.
  • Gorn: Purposefully averted by the author, with only a few small exceptions here and there. Linna wanted to make the reader to emphasize with the characters as if they were real people and thus feel sadness when they die, instead of trying to "shock" the reader by brutal descriptions of what happens to their bodies. As he said, important is what is dying, not how it's dying.
  • Grey-and-Gray Morality: The protagonists aren't good and the people they fight against aren't evil. They're all just humans, to varying degrees flawed, trying to survive. Likewise, the countries involved in the war - Finland and Soviet Union - can both be seen as the guilty one or the innocent one in the situation, or both at the same time, depending of what factors one chooses to remember or to ignore.
  • The Half-Platoon: Most of the main cast belongs to the first and second squads of Koskela's platoon, or work closely with it.
  • Half the Man He Used to Be: Mäkilä is cut in half by a grenade when he tries to bring the men their food. The same grenade also kills the horse pulling the cart and the next one pours soil on them as if in a burial.
  • Handsome Lech: Rahikainen. He's constantly chasing skirts, whenever the opportunity arises. Usually he's successful, but not always. When he's not occupied with some woman, he's bragging about his previous conquests and planning future ones.
  • Happily Married: Rokka and his wife Lyyti.
  • Hate Sink: Lammio. The characters don't hate their enemy. Instead, the character of Lammio ends up being at the receiving end of all their bitterness. Word of God acknowledges that Lammio only did everything for what he perceived to be the good of the men, but that they couldn't understand it.
  • Hates Everyone Equally: Private Korpela. Also Corporal Lehto.
  • Have I Mentioned I Am Sexually Active Today?: As bragging about their sexual feats is a popular past time activity, the soldiers end up making themselves bigger Don Juans than they actually are.
  • The Heart: Sergeant Hietanen. He genuinely likes and cares about people, and it's easy to like him.
  • The Hedonist: Rahikainen in particular, but actually most of the men are far more interested in carnal pleasures than the high goals of the war.
  • Heroic BSoD: 2nd Lieutenant Jalovaara, when war is over. He falls in a heap, crying openly over the fate of Finland. Kariluoto experiences one when he returns to the front from his Wartime Wedding and finally understands the army has practically collapsed and defeat is unavoidable.
  • Heroic Resolve: Private Salo, who attempts to shoot down an Il-2 Shturmovik with his service rifle. He gets wounded and loses his leg.
    • Even though, this isn't meant to be simply a straightforwardly heroic thing to do. Salo has through the story wanted to be braver than he is, only to be put down and mocked by the others. Now he uses this opportunity to shine, even if it means unreasonably and pointlessly exposing himself to mortal danger. But it works - the other characters are so impressed with his bravery that their entire memories of him are changed, and even though they never see him again, from then on they remember him as a brave man.
  • Hero of Another Story: Lieutenant Koskela, who appears in Linna's major opus Under the North Star. Likewise, whenever the characters meet men of others troops, who have fought in nearby fronts.
  • Heterosexual Life-Partners: Rokka and Susi. They're Child Hood Friends and neighbors, who fought together already in the Winter War, and now don't want to be separated from each other. Rokka even makes a number of it when it's suggested that they would have to sleep in separate rooms. Near the end Susi is wounded, but Rokka refuses to leave him behind, and is himself wounded while carrying Susi on his shoulders.
  • Honor Before Reason: This type of idealism isn't exactly understood by the author, or the men of whom it is asked of.
  • Hopeless Suitor: Hietanen too understands he could never get Vera. For one, he's in her eyes an enemy soldier, and even if it wasn't so, someone as beautiful, intelligent and cultured as her is leagues above his level.
  • Humans Are Flawed: Very much so, and among other things it drives them to die in pointless wars, but still the story doesn't give up on humanity altogether.
  • I Control My Minions Through......: Fear, by Corporal Lehto. Lieutenant Colonel Karjula tries it, unsuccessfully, as the men fear the enemy more than him.
  • I Did What I Had to Do: The characters have only a brief discussion about the morality and justification of war, and that too only in the beginning of it. They quickly learn to not to think about such things and just assume that the higher ups know what they ask. Hietanen even thinks to himself that the state and its priests will sort out the question of his potential sins with God.
  • 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.
  • Insatiable Newlyweds: Kariluoto and Sirkka. Kariluoto has black eye bags from how little sleep he got during his wedding leave.
  • It Gets Easier: Seeing your own fallen, getting up and acting while under fire, facing and causing death... yeah, it gets easier - by learning to not to think about it. Deep down the horror never really leaves.
  • It Seemed Like a Good Idea at the Time: At the beginning, the Finns are very optimistic about their chances of success, thanks to their alliance with Nazi Germany, which seems to be curbstomping the Soviets. Then the German advance halts and ultimately turns into a retreat... uh oh.
  • Jerkass: Private Korpela in his short appearance shows not even the slightest respect for other humans... but he does care for the horses trapped in the fight.
  • Jerkass Has a Point: For all the hate Lammio gets from his men for his dislikable personality, most of the time Lammio is being reasonable and even in right. Such as, when he tells the men not to gather together during danger of enemy artillery fire, when he commands that the thieving from the till must end and the stolen goods must be returned, when he asks what would the utterly drunken half-platoon do now if there was an alarm, when he expects Rokka to obey simple orders like the others to not to loosen up the chains of command all around, and when he points out that he has been practically endlessly forgiving towards Rokka, in a way most other commanders wouldn't.
  • Jungle Warfare: Much of the fighting takes place in the wilderness; in the primeval forests and marshes. Apart from the Scenery Porn, it serves to make the experience all the more miserable and uncomfortable for the soldiers.
  • Karma Houdini: Major Lammio, who survives the war.
    • He never really does anything to deserve to die, though, unless having zero social skills and very annoying personality warrants death. The other characters hate him, sure, but at the end of the day, he always does his job to his best (very considerable) ability.
  • 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.
  • Know When to Fold 'Em: A sign of a good officer is to know when the tactic used isn't working. In the end, the whole country decides it's time to fold it and seek peace with Soviet Union.
  • The Lady's Favor: Subverted. Hietanen himself asks for a memento from Vera, knowing that they will probably never meet again (and they won't). Vera lets him take her membership pin of the Young Communist League. He puts it in his wallet and later on looks at it to recall her.
  • Laser-Guided Karma: Private Korpela, who insults and yells at Lammio and is about to become a Dangerous Deserter, and soon gets killed in an artillery barrage.
  • Last-Name Basis: By rule the characters call each other by their surname, even if they were close companions who have fought side by side for years. The cases of First-Name Basis therefore stand out as signs of special closeness. Koskela is called Ville sometimes by his men and always by Kariluoto, and Rokka and Susi call each other Antti and Tassu respectively.
  • Last Stand: At the very end of the war, after receiving a brutal Curb-Stomp Battle beating from the advancing Soviets, when the Finns reach Finnish soil again, they finally stop their semi-panicked retreat and without a word of command decide to stand their ground. The Soviet assault is successfully stopped there.
  • Lemony Narrator: The narrator enjoys his sarcasm to the fullest.
  • The Load: Riitaoja is not only incapable of performing his tasks, but he needs to be dragged along like a child. However, the others sympathize with his fear and weakness and treat him with kindness. Other than Lehto, of course.
  • Loads and Loads of Characters: Apart from the about a dozen essential central characters, there are a few dozen side characters.
  • Long-Distance Relationship: Any relationships the men have are turned into this for three years.
  • Losing Is Worse Than Death: Kariluoto collapses into a tearful Heroic BSoD when it finally dawns on him that Finland is going to lose the war. He's willing to rather die to not to have to see it.
  • Losing the Team Spirit: The third act of the novel is basically the main characters taking beating after a beating to the point of ceasing to have any shame at running away from the enemy. Even those who would like to try to stand and fight don't bother too much, because they know that even if they hold their ground, the guys next to them will give in and flee. This is incredibly stressful and demoralizing to the officers, who are trying to organize defense, but nothing works when the men lack the will to fight.
  • Lovable Coward: Riitaoja. He's afraid like a child and incapable of controlling his panic. Most other characters don't hold it against him, because they all know they're afraid too. Instead his vulnerable childlike personality is endearing and discourages mockery or cruelty.

    Tropes M to R 

  • Machiavelli Was Wrong: People don't obey out of fear, they obey out of trust and respect.
  • Madness Mantra: As Riitaoja's condition grows worse, he starts to mutter to himself.
  • Male Gaze: Whenever a female appears on scene... and when they're absent, the men still gaze them in their imagination.
  • A Man Is Always Eager: Assumed as truth by many of the characters, especially those of more lower social and educational status. However, not all of the male characters are constantly horny or pervy, it's more of a widespread attitude about gender roles.
  • Mating Dance: Subverted. Vera herself doesn't she her dance as flirty, she simply enjoys dancing for the sake of it, but the men watching it interpret it as sexual. Hietanen too is aroused by her movements, and thinks back to the wonder of her dancing long after they have parted for good.
  • Meet Cute: How Hietanen meets Vera. The day after Petrozavodsk is occupied by the Finns, Hietanen is investigating the houses with rifle in hand, when all of the sudden he walks upon Vera, who is looking at his pointed rifle with her beautiful eyes. Vera brings this memory up later on, to Hietanen's embarrassment.
  • Men Are Tough: The underlying assumption all the male characters are trying to live up to, with varying success.
  • Military Maverick: Corporal Rokka could well be the Trope Maker. Also Private Viirilä.
    • Reality Ensues when Rokka is saved from being sentenced to prison for disobedience only because the battalion leader decides to forgive him one last time, and when Viirilä is shot on spot for refusing to obey orders to Stand Your Ground.
  • Military Moonshiner: Sergeant Hietanen's half-platoon.
  • Mission Creep: There's confusion and disagreement about what is the purpose of the war. As long as they're fighting to retake the land Finland unfairly lost to Soviet Union's aggression in the Winter War, the soldiers are excited and motivated. But when the attack continues on to Russian land, the men don't understand what they're still fighting and dying for. This problem turns acute at the end of the war when the soldiers can't muster motivation to fight anymore, and the Finnish fronts collapse at the face of the massive Soviet attack. Only when the front reaches Finnish soil again the soldiers too start to fight back seriously.
  • Mood Whiplash: Comic and horrific, beautiful and banal, enthusiastic and depressing frequently take over each other to create strong emotional contrasts.
  • Mohs Scale of Violence Hardness: Full 10, both novel and all three films. By God, this is a war novel.
  • 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.
  • Motor Mouth: Sergeant Hietanen, whose flood of funny, quick, rhythmical Turku dialect spices up the dialogue and keeps others in good mood.
  • My Country, Right or Wrong: Most characters have at least a seed of love for their home country living within themselves, no matter how much they might mock the patriotic drivel thrown at them, and so they do what is asked of them, and the looming defeat genuinely hurts them.
  • My Girl Back Home: Rokka has his wife Lyyti and Kariluoto his fiance Sirkka. Kariluoto is completely heels-over-head in love with Sirkka and will go on and on and on about her to anyone who bothers to listen.
  • Naïve Newcomer: Private Hauhia. Soviet sniper kills him.
  • The Neidermeyer: A whole bunch, along with some subversions.
    • Staff Sergeant Sinkkonen is a loudmouthed martinet, and a barrack-room Ranger of the first degree.
    • Captain Lammio 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.
    • Corporal Lehto is also brave and competent, but he is anti-social, vaguely psychotic and bullies everyone he thinks he can get away with bullying mercilessly. His men follow him because he frightens them more than the Russians do.
  • Nerves of Steel: Rokka, Koskela and Lammio. Makes for all the greater effect if they too start to get nervous.
  • Nervous Wreck: Private Sihvonen is nervous before, during and after action. At times it gets on other people's nerves (pun intended), as they're scared as well and others being jittery doesn't help them. Riitaoja is beyond this, he simply collapses mentally every time they're in battle situation.
  • Never Say "Die": In-universe, the soldiers dislike talking about death and try to avoid it as a topic. Instead they banter about funny and exciting things, such as women.
  • New Meat: The company gets them regularly. They grow up into decent soldiers pretty quickly, or failing that, get killed just as quickly.
  • Nicknaming the Enemy: Not only do the Finns call Russians as Russkies, Bush Russkies, Vanyas and the Neighbor, they get to find out how how Russians call them: Tshunas. Cue a scene where the Finns and their Russian prisoners stand in all friendship and laugh together at their nicknames. Vanhala even starts to call his friends with the Russian nickname for them.
  • No One Gets Left Behind: Mostly played straight. When the others find out that Lehto was left behind by Rahikainen, Vanhala and Sihvonen, it causes a bitter argument.
  • Not So Different: The Soviets. Double as Punch Clock Villains.
  • Obfuscating Stupidity: The true and tested method of throwing shade on war propaganda and rebelling against the officers. Honkajoki excels in this.
  • Obligatory War Crime Scene: Corporal Lehto shoots a Soviet prisoner of war.
  • Officer and a Gentleman: 2nd Lieutenant Kariluoto grows into one. His death as Captain, commanding the company in a counterattack, is one of the saddest scenes of the book.
  • One-Man Army: Corporal Rokka.
  • Patriotic Fervor: The era is seething with the (racist, militaristic) patriotism of the 1930s. During the initial attack phase the whole country is high on endorphin.
  • Permission to Speak Freely: Koskela's men have a permanent permission to say whatever they want, as Koskela knows that this helps them to deal with their stress. It's better not to try it with other officers, though.
  • Perpetual Motion Machine: Honkajoki claims he's working on one.
  • Pint-Sized Powerhouse: Private, later Lance Corporal and even later Corporal Määttä. He is noted for his small stature.
  • Plucky Comic Relief: Private, later Lance Corporal and even later Corporal Vanhala. He is one of the most well-loved characters. Notable, the other members of the platoon recognize how they need Vanhala's comedic relief in their lives.
  • Plunder: Usually for ammunition and supplies. Rahikainen in particular puts himself into greater danger to aquire these extra supplies than he ever would in battle.
  • Primal Fear: The pure naturalism of all the misery and physical danger the men are in crawls out of the pages. The characters are exhausted and sleep deprived but still can't find shelter and have to stay alert and make life-or-death decisions. They're hungry for days with no knowing where and when they will find food. they're lost or in the danger of being lost far from home, in deep wilderness or in countryside of enemy territory. They cross rivers that could drown them and marshes that could swallow them. They try to find their own and avoid the enemy in dark nightly forests where nothing can be seen. They're exposed to freezing cold, to explosions and to gun fire. They're sent out far from their own and all they can do is hope that the higher ups know what they're doing and that they won't lose their communication to the operation control. Their bodies are shot through holes, torn apart, cut with shrapnels, burned and crushed...
  • Propaganda Machine: The war time propaganda is poured on the men. However, it fails to have any effect on any of but the absolutely most naive characters. Instead, the soldiers mock and parody the propaganda and its empty phrases.
    • Vanhala also takes great pleasure in the Soviet propaganda. During the trench warfare, whenever he's on the watch duty, he shouts back hilarious counters to the Soviet propaganda blasted at them from the loudspeakers.
  • Punch-Clock Villain: Finnish and Russian soldiers are this to each other. There's no real hatred, they're all just doing what they're told to do.
  • The Quiet One: Lieutenant Koskela, who is nicknamed Ville Vaitelias ("Silent Billy"). Also Määttä.
  • Ragtag Bunch of Misfits: The narrator takes great pleasure in the fact that the Conscription army resembles this rather than the Elite Army it's told to be in propaganda.
  • Rape, Pillage, and Burn: Completely averted by both Finns and Soviets, both in book and in Real Life.
  • Returning War Vet: Corporal Rokka, Private Susi and Lieutenant Koskela were all veterans of Winter War from a few years earlier.
  • Rank Up: Almost all officers get promoted at least once. Lammio finishes the war as Major. Many of the enlisted men are also promoted on the field.
  • Real Men Hate Affection: Sergeant Hietanen falls in love with a Russian woman he meets in an occupied city. When he realizes the others are making fun of the seriousness and tenderness of his feelings, he, irritated, tries to downplay it himself and pretend it's nothing serious for him.
  • Reality Ensues: On many levels, to the point that this trope could be seen as the heart of the novel. The reality that ensues is that when a small nation gets high on patriotic fervor and tries to take on a much larger neighbor, hoping to build "Greater Finland," Spoiler: it doesn't end well. All the nationalistic, idealistic dreams of the intellectual elite of the day are mercilessly shot down as unrealistic and in fact immoral. All pathetic, romantic beliefs of the heroism of war and warriors are torn to pieces. Hollow pro-war propaganda meets the dirty reality and doesn't survive the encounter.
  • Reality Is Unrealistic: Rokka's ambush on Soviet platoon is based on actual events, author toned the number of dead Soviets down. Rokka shoots 50 dead, his Real Life counterpart shot 83.
  • Really Gets Around: Rahikainen. His companions aren't jealous at all, only delighted and amused by the descriptions of his adventures.
  • Reasonable Authority Figure: Captain Kaarna who, unfortunately, gets killed early in the war and is replaced by Lieutenant Lammio, who is a cocky martinet. Also Lieutenant Koskela. 2nd Lieutenant Jalovaara becomes one.
  • Redshirt Army: The losses of the machine gun company are heavy.
  • River of Insanity: The story has elements of this.
  • Run or Die: The characters increasingly have to face this choice, and ultimately get used to running with no shame. They only abandon any thought of running when they return back to Finnish soil.

    Tropes S to Z 

  • Sacrificial Lamb: Private Kaukonen. During the first real battle, the narrator follows Kaukonen's actions and thoughts... only to have him abruptly shot. His dead body is the first time the other characters get to experience the sight of their own dead, and makes strong impression on them. Later on he and his death is mentioned only twice, years later by the narrator.
  • Sacrificial Lion: Lehto and Riitaoja are important characters in the first act, and the first central characters to die, only one-thirds to the story. Lahtinen is likewise central character, but dies halfway in the second act.
  • Satire: Honkajoki is a walking, talking personification of satire. His shtick is to take the war propaganda comically seriously, as if he believed it fully, and repeat it with the most absurd sentences ever heard in the Finnish language. The cake is his bizarre version of reading a vesper.
  • Scenery Porn: The forested wilderness and the countryside of Karelia are beautiful and Linna knows just how to describe them. The beauty and peace of nature forms a constant background to the violence, death, suffering and immorality taking place within its woods and fields.
  • Scoundrel Code: As the men grow more and more demoralized, they become increasingly accepting of things like thieving even from your own dead. But one last rule stands till the end: food must be shared. They all know hunger so well they don't have the heart to deny their own small supplies from those who ask to get to share them.
  • Screw the Rules, I'm Doing What's Right!: Lieutenant Koskela habitually ignores rules and even moral to ease the life of his men, who are suffering of genuine hunger and exhaustion. Ultimately, when he ends up filling in as the battalion leader, he disobeys the Division leader's command for the battalion to keep on attacking in a hopeless situation and instead organizes a retreat through the marshes to save the battalion from being closed in and destroyed in a cauldron. He is mercilessly verbally torn down for it in front of his men by the said division leader once he and the battalion get back to friendly territory.
  • Screw the War, We're Partying!: Capture of Petrozavodsk and plunder of the liquor factory, ase well as Field Marshal Mannerheim's birthday.
  • The Scrounger: Private Rahikainen. He never participates in the fighting in any meaningful way, but is essential to keeping the rest of the platoon at least moderately fed.
  • Senseless Sacrifice: The whole war and the (lack of) justification behind it.
  • Sergeant Rock: Sergeant Hietanen. Also Corporal Rokka to newbie 2nd Lieutenant Kariluoto.
  • Shell-Shocked Veteran: Happens to one of the newer privates on the last pages of the book. During a rain of fire he goes mad and tries to climb out of the trench. Määttä has to wrestle with the lunatic to save his life. As he is taken away blabbering nonsense, the artillery fire ends and the armistice between Finland and Soviet Union starts.
  • Shipper on Deck: Vanhala ships Hietanen / Vera.
  • Shoot the Shaggy Dog: Everything the characters went through during their three years of war was completely pointless in the end.
  • Shot at Dawn: Two privates of the same battalion, for disobedience and defying their orders. It's intended to rise the moral among the troops, but has the polar opposite effect. The men consider it murder and loose all their respect and trust for the high command.
  • Shrouded in Myth: Lieutenant Koskela, and in general all the reserve officers who served in the Winter War. Rokka becomes a living legend among the rest of the battalion, too.
  • Silly Rabbit, Idealism Is for Kids!: Anyone harboring idealism will have to learn the better of it through the blood from their nose.
  • Silly Reason for War: The rank and file generally consider the dream of Greater Finland not worth of their lives. However, they did agree that trying to get back the areas lost in the Winter War was a legitimate reason for war and something they were willing to fight for. Later on the war turns into fight for survival of Finland, which they all find important.
  • Sitting Duck: New Meat Private Hauhia to a Soviet sniper.
  • Sliding Scaleof Idealism Versus Cynicism: The story is basically the high styled, nationalistic patriotic ideology of the 1930s meeting the reality of war and dying a slow, whimpering death in the process. However, the story does have human heart - at its core is empathy and pity for human beings, with all their flaws and follies. Author mocks all idealism that is distanced from and alien to everyday common life, but approves of the malleable practical morality that rises from genuine humanity.
  • Sliding Scaleof Antagonist Vileness: The Soviets are seen as Punch-Clock Villains or Slave Mooks (they were conscripts), and the only really hated enemy was Stalin.
  • Slut-Shaming: The men assume that the Lottas are all "field whores" of the officers and constantly use the name whore of them, decidedly in a negative sense. When the Lotta character Raili Kotilainen does indeed get involved in multiple sexual relationships with the officers, she is almost universally condemned for being a fallen woman. Her final humiliation is to be refused help by Korpela who calls her manure that he's not willing to drive around in his cart on a Sunday. Men themselves are never expected to have any limits to their sexual relations, in the opposite the men talk about sex all the time and fantasize about loose relations with women, and if someone is or is assumed to be sexually inexperienced, it's a source of Virgin-Shaming.
  • Sociopathic Soldier: Corporal Lehto, due to his Start of Darkness involving an abusive alcoholic father, becoming The Runaway and living as a Street Urchin. He's determined to Never Be Hurt Again and thus avoids all humans and humanity, as well as hope that his life could ever change.
  • Something Completely Different: We'll now interrupt your action filled war story with an episode of our boys lazying around in an occupied city and romancing the local women. The characters would have preferred never to return back to the old formula!
  • Sour Supporter: Corporal Lahtinen is a communist and not happy at all about this war against the Soviet Union, or his participation in it. He frequently gives political lectures to the other squad members, none of whom take it seriously. And yet, at the same time Lahtinen not only obeys but takes his job seriously and does more than is asked.
  • 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 Stoic: Koskela, Määttä, Lehto.
  • Suicide Mission: The nightly outflanking maneuvre which goes notoriously wrong.
  • Tank Goodness: We only encounter Soviet tanks, and they're a source of terror among the Finns.
  • Tastes Like Friendship: Finding, sharing and eating food is one of the greatest interests of the characters, and an essential part of their social life. They also share their food with Russian prisoners.
  • That's an Order!: Captain Lammio, many times. He personifies the authoritarian "Prussian" style of leadership taught to the officers at the time. Men do not react to it kindly, and spend much of their time mocking it, at times even questioning the orders given. However, at the end, with only a very few exceptions they do obey.
  • Those Wacky Nazis: This time around they're your allies in an attempt to take on Russia. The main characters keep on following Nazi Germany's war success and rooting for their victory, as anything else will inevitably mean Finland's defeat.
  • Together in Death: Lehto and Riitaoja. After spending their story arc being in constant conflict, they die at the same time and place. Others lay their bodies next to each other and cover them with their great coats, and then carry on, leaving them to lay peacefully side by side in the autumnal forest.
  • Trapped Behind Enemy Lines: The character's worst fear. They're in danger of falling to it twice in the novel, and literally fight for their lives, with no further motivation needed.
  • Trigger Happy: Private Asumaniemi. Where are those Russkies so I can kill them?. Also One is missing, said the Devil when he counted the fire ants.
  • To Absent Friends: Marshall Mannerheim's birthday party. The Military Moonshiner squad have prepared kilju and everyone gets dangerously drunk.
  • To Be Lawful or Good: Frequent dilemma, especially for the officers.
  • Token Evil Teammate: Lehto, initially. However, it's implied they all soon drop down to his level. "Death ceased to be a moral issue".
  • True Companions: Camaraderie helps The Squad pull through the hell they're sent to inhabit.
  • Turned Against Their Masters: Invoked only to be constantly turned down. The soldiers complain against every command, question the war and curse the higher ups. But as the narrator remarks, while to the outsider it might seem that the army is on the verge of The Mutiny, they still keep obeying loyally, save for isolated cases of disobedience.
  • Tyrant Takes the Helm: Lieutenant Lammio is nominated as the company leader after death of Captain Kaarna.
  • Unusual Weapon Mounting: The machine guns on the bows of the assault launches.
  • Values Dissonance: In-universe. The army is made up of people from all social classes and political and ideological backgrounds. Typically the rank and file come from the lower working classes, while the officers oftentimes come from middle or higher class. The values of the leadership, and indeed the values behind the motives for the war, often don't resonate with the men sent out to turn them into reality.
  • War Is Glorious: Due to the ideology of the day, some characters at least initially believe this, only to be dropped from such fantasies by the grim reality. 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.
  • Wartime Wedding: Captain Kariluoto finally marries his beloved Sirkka. He's so occupied this that the news of constant losses fly over his blissfully happy head, until the moment he returns back to the front and it all hits him in the face.
  • Was It Really Worth It?: In the beginning, the narrator wonders if the people who ask "were our sacrifices in the Winter War too heavy" really sacrificed that much themselves, for them to be asking such things. At the end of the novel, Finland gains nothing from the war, and the only success it has is managing to avoid the worst, aka being occupied and annexed by the Soviet Union.
  • We ARE Struggling Together: The army is stressed by constant internal distrust and disrespect between the rank and file and the officers. This is caused by deeper social and political divides within the contemporary Finnish society. However, at the end of the day, almost everyone does what is asked of them.
  • We Hardly Knew Ye: Private Salonen, who has a short appearance at the very beginning, but is mentioned next time only when he dies. His death makes bigger impression on the other characters, who are shocked by it.
  • Weapon of Choice: For Corporal Rokka, the Suomi SMG. For Private Honkajoki, a longbow.
  • What Is Evil?: The morality behind war is once discussed by the main characters, early into the war, when Lehto shoots an unarmed and helpless prisoner. Hietanen argues that there should be some rules of honor , while Lahtinen claims that war is in itself so lunatic there's no point in trying to make it even more lunatic with some pretentious gentleman rules. They come to no conclusion and afterwards stop caring about such questions.
  • Wide-Eyed Idealist: Kariluoto, initially. He mostly grows out of it, but not entirely.
  • Win-Win Ending: The narrator gently mocks the idea that Finland somehow "won" in the Winter War.
  • Wingman: Private Susi to Corporal Rokka. They were neighbours in the civilian life. Also Sergeant Hietanen to Lieutenant Koskela.
  • Winter Warfare: The war lasts for three years. Two important battle scenes happen in wintertime, in deep snow and cold weather.
  • Working-Class Hero: Majority of the cast, but not all. The Finnish society of the day was still very divided, and the social background of the characters is echoed in everything from their manner of speech to their worldview and attitudes.
  • World Half Full: Despite everything, the reason why the author is angry and the novel is full of bitterness, is because human life is worthy and beautiful, and its cessation is a tragedy.
  • Would Not Shoot a Civilian: Played straight.
  • Wrong Genre Savvy: Kariluoto really isn't in the kind of war story he thinks he's in.
    • Lammio's strict martinet style leadership really isn't the kind what would make him respected.
  • You Are in Command Now: Lieutenant Koskela, who has to take charge of the battalion 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.
  • You Can't Go Home Again: Rokka, Susi and others, whose homes were in lands conquered and annexed by the Soviet Union.
  • 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?"


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