Wednesday, 4 July 2007

Guest of the Third Reich, translation of an original review

In the blog Town of Ponte Corvo the writer asked me to write a summary of the book Guest of the Third Reich, written by Olavi Paavolainen in the mid-30s. I have not read the book, so the task would be impossible to do. However, I can translate an article on the subject, which hopefully does the same thing.

This was written for Helsingin Sanomat back when the book was originally published in 1936, by Lauri Viljanen. The newspaper has the review online. I shortened some parts where he starts talking too closely about Paavolainen's masterful use of words (he actually sometimes disregarded content in favour of style at parts) and on one occasion actually stops the review in middle to mention he has visited the place himself. Anyway, onwards;


”The distancing of youngsters, even children, from their parents and transforming them into crowds as well as the poor, even disrespectful status of women by Scandinavian standards are phenomenons to which the author's modern training in psychological observation fixates in warning.” - Lauri Viljanen, Helsingin Sanomat 13.12.1936

Olavi Paavolainen, that restless "seeker of the modern world" has just visited in the bygone Fall "the Third Reich". According the official language he was even "guest of the leader"on several occasions, for example during the Nürnberg Rally. [...] As earlier, he remarks on bowing to "the times and lives" and his travels on the soils of the "Third Reich" has strengthened his conviction that Today's Germany is part of the living present of Europe. As we know his prejudice-free, shyless [...] way of writing, we may be sure that "Guest of the Third Reich" is a book whose writer has something special to say.

[The trip starts from the] "German-Scandinavian writer-home" [...] in Travemünden. [...] In the first part of the book Paavolainen presents lively portraits [...] of this scening surrounding. [...] The name of this part's - named Mare nostrum, "our sea" - weightiest chapter is, however, the one that handles so-called "northern idea" in modern Germany's world-view. I think that Paavolainen has written in very trustworthy and critically apt way this "intentional myth" which has gotten its most famous airing in Alfred Rosenberg's world-view book. [...]

More passionate [...] changes the writer's wording in the strange part "Human god". I dare say that the glimpses into the soul of Hitler's realm are revelatory in a way. The description of the Nürnberg Rally wakes in a cool Scandinavian mind the image of ecstatic ritual, and Paavolainen will not hesitate saying; "national socialism is the first religion given birth by Europe". The new lifefeeling's self-confident, decidedly unchristian tendency did not go unsaid in the previous part's chapter "In Bachen Marienkirche" [...]. To this connects heavily the chapter "Blue temple", a portrait of the religious psyche of political leaders - a shocking painting of new Babylon in the middle of old civilized world.

The writing of Paavolainen is curiously so rich in this part that the reviewer has no chance of deep margin thoughts in this part. But I have become confident that he is closer to truth than our cool thought processes might initially lead us to believe. We shall wager that Hitler's best weapon against the dull grey of Weimar Republic was the mystically grand presentation which so touches the German heart.

On his best Paavolainen is in the last part, "Toward Germanic Sparta", where he analyses the new human type being born in Hitler's Germany. Paavolainen has a sharp, seeing eye towards everyday facts of life, which seems insignificant but end up being important. He emphasises the part that the young generation has had in the founding of "the Third Reich", [mentioning] youths who are very self-assured about the condition of their bodies. One of the few words of admiration without restriction he gives are for so-called "work-service", which has brought together social classes and has even made work into some sort of ceremony. The distancing of youngsters, even children, from their parents and transforming them into crowds as well as the poor, even disrespectful status of women by Scandinavian standards are phenomenons to which the author's modern training in psychological observation fixates in warning.

I will not hesitate to say that "Guest of the Third Reich" is a rather monumental accomplishment from the author [...]. I suppose Hitler's Germany opens to us as an actual physical place, which causes uneasiness and curiosity, only after reading this travelling report.


  1. The review is short and teasing. I guess most Europeans consider Finland a minor factor, and ignore its literature. That's probably the reason so few Finnish works got translated to languages other than Swedish.

  2. If you wish, I can get the book from library (the last printing is from 2003) and translate some selected passages.

  3. You said its a thick book earlier.

    Regarding Olavi Paavolainen: How famous is he in Finland? Do you consider him a classic writer? I know U. Kekkonen was his editor when he worked at the newspaper, so he was probably well known. Would you say Paavolainen is to Finland what Hemingway is to the U.S?

  4. Sorry I didn't notice your message earlier. I should have gotten an email notification but didn't.

    To answer your question; the passage of Nürnberg Rally is in every Finnish history book as an example of what Hitler liked.
    Outside that page (about one A4) he is not mentioned in the Finnish basic education. Maybe in the university. He is known, but hardly Hemingway.
    He made too many wrong political choices, which shows up in his writing.

    The books that are obligatory reading (more or less) in Finnish class are Unknown Soldier by Väinö Linna (about an unit of soldiers during the Continuation War, trying to survive when the whole world goes crazy), Seven Brothers by Aleksis Kivi (about brothers who escape into the forest and live there for years after failing to learn to read; set in the 1850s or so) and Kalevala (the Finnish national epic).

    The national poet, however, would be J.L. Runeberg, who wrote the Tales of Ensign Stål, about a half-wit soldier during the Finland War (1808-1809).

    I'll translate some passages from the book, which now that I have it in front of me seems to be 240 pages long. Purely for fun and as long as the fancy takes me.