Väinö Linna

Author of a nation

Väinö Linna (1920–1992) was raised in modest circumstances. He was born in Urjala, Finland, into a family of tenant farmers, the seventh of ten children. Linna was not a particularly enthusiastic pupil, but from his earliest days he was a passionate reader. After World War II, Linna devoured literature, psychology, and philosophy. And alongside his reading, he started writing, as his dream was to write a novel. His debut work, Päämäärä (Aim), was completed in 1946. Linna’s second novel, Musta rakkaus (Black Love), appeared in 1948. He subsequently began working towards a plan he had been incubating for years: a book about the war.

Conscripted during the Second World War, Linna had served as a machine-gunner on the eastern front from 1941-44, an experience that would form the basis for his breakthrough novel, The Unknown Soldier. The novel appeared in 1954, and caused a sensation by shattering the myth of the noble, obedient Finnish soldier. The Unknown Soldier became immediately a huge sales success and it has become a monumental cornerstone of Finnish identity and national history.

The three works in the Under the North Star trilogy were released in 1959, 1960 and 1962. In 1963, Linna became the first Finn to win the Nordic Council Literature Prize. Both the Unknown Solider and the Under the North Star trilogy have been dramatised and filmed several times; they have also been translated into more than 25 languages.

At the memorial service for Väinö Linna, Professor Heikki Ylikangas explained why Linna had the undivided respect of his compatriots: Linna’s dedication to the truth was the underlying force that carried his message, and the importance of his message made him a great author.

In 2000, WSOY published Sotaromaani (A War Novel), which is the unabridged version of The Unknown Soldier. That work now appears in the same form as Linna originally delivered it to the publishing house in the autumn of 1954. Read an excerpt from A War Novel here: http://www.booksfromfinland.fi/2000/12/morale-crisis/#more-26605



Academician of Science 1980
Honorary Doctorate, Tampere School of Social Sciences 1965
Received a Jussi Award as screenwriter for the cinematic version of Under the North Star for ”bringing a significant national theme to film.”
Nordic Council Literature Prize 1963