Friday, July 19, 2019

CRC BLOG on DEEP RIVER by Karl Marlantes: A Characterization on Aino Koski

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CRC BLOG on DEEP RIVER by Karl Marlantes:
“And the Greatest Sisu, Love”
“You can’t love an ideal.  You can only love people.”
Kyllikki speaking to her sister-in-law Aino.

       The 717-page literary novel DEEP RIVER by Karl Marlantes explores the lives of Finland immigrants in Kokkola, Finland and America’s Pacific Northwest between 1893 to 1969. The main focus is on the Koski Siblings:  brothers Ilmari and Matti and their sister Aino.  
     Ilmari is the first to migrate to Washington State in 1897 when he takes advantage of the Timber and Stone Act, and settles next to the fictional Deep River (below, red dot), which is modeled after the Naselle River.  Matti joins his brother in the summer of 1904 and his older sister joins her brothers in 1905.
The greatest triumphant character of all is the spirit Sisu, which is the main core of Finland’s culture and values.  
     Wikipedia defines Sisu as being a grim, gritty, white-knuckle form of courage that is presented typically in situations where success is against the odds. It expresses itself in taking action against the odds and displaying courage and resoluteness in the face of adversity, in other words, deciding on a course of action and then sticking to that decision, even despite repeated failures.  It is a term for going beyond one’s mental or physical capacity.”
     Sisu oftentimes finds itself neglected and embraced by its characters in Deep River; but the one character who doesn’t grasp Sisu deeply enough is Aino.  Aino has plenty of courage, determination, hard work, sacrifice, hope, and even faith in her fellow human beings who are socialists, but the one thing she seems to lack is love and the capacity to feel that love.

       Aino’s first love is her radical teacher Jarvinen, who, in September of 1901, gives the 13-year-old a copies of The Communist Manifesto by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels; and Reform or Revolution by Rosa Luxemburg, which she reads with relish. Soon, Aino identifies herself, to the horror of her Christian parents, as a socialist who wants to become the next Rosa Luxemburg.  Aino blames every negative thing that happens on capitalism, which includes organized religion and marriage. 

     That doesn’t prevent her from falling in love with fellow socialist Oskar Penttila/Voitto and becoming a member of Voitto’s own violent revolutionary party, the Finnish Active Resistance Party.  She is later arrested for treason and sedition and sent to prison for sixteen days.  During those sixteen days she is tortured, beaten, and brutally raped by a line of men with a stool.  But something else happens during those sixteen days – something she can’t tell anyone about; something she can never forgive herself for.   When she gets off the train her mother Maijaliisa is waiting to greet her.
Maijaliisa winced when she pulled Aino’s head against her chest; her headscarf was covered with wet spots.  Maijaliisa pulled it back, exposing bald patches, oozing fluid where skin had been torn away with hair.  The Okhrana’s notorious “goose-plucking.”
Page 60.

Almost immediately, at her mother’s urging, Aino joins her brothers in Washington State near the Columbia River. Her brothers are shocked:  they no longer recognize their sister Aino, but a stranger, who earns her keep by working for the lumber company’s kitchen and midwifery, which she learned from her own mother while in Finland.
     This stranger refuses to surrender to any emotion, thought, idea, or feeling unless it is for the socialist idea, which she campaigns, writes, gives speeches, passes red cards out, and travels abroad for.  She gains fame in newspapers by being on the front lines of the socialist movement particularly the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW). 
     Soon she is a success and could be compared to the famous Elizabeth Gurley Flynn. She is also the hated enemy of the labor bosses, business owners, and capitalists who all call her a “Red Wobbly” and “Red Whore.”  She finds herself persecuted, arrested, beaten, and imprisoned by those who do not support fair wages, fair hours, and fair conditions for enslaved workers.
     At first this reader feels compassion for Aino, but then views her no longer a victim of her trauma but a victim of her own prison she builds – a prison that does not allow her to experience what it means to be a complete mature human being – one who is able to make herself vulnerable in order to love and to be loved.

There are numerous times throughout DEEP RIVER where family members try to talk Love Sisu into her but nothing seems to make her embrace love.  It’s as if she is brainwashed and only has the capacity to feel whatever is required for her to feel in order to make the socialist movement go forward –nothing less and nothing more.
     And she does this at the expense of denying the existence of any God; denying time spent with her family which includes missing her brother’s marriage; sacrificing her two marriages; sacrificing the life of her unborn child; sacrificing her own daughter Eleanor; and practicing the art of deliberate recklessness when it comes to her own being, where she is beaten, arrested, and imprisoned numerous times.  And all of this is for the idea of socialism with her being fully encased in the Sisu of hate, anger, and fear. 
       But where is the Sisu of love?  Or as Paul says in 1 Corinthians 13:13: And now abide faith, hope, love, these three; but the greatest of these is love.  This part of the Sisu seems to have escaped Aino or is something that Aino refuses to allow to secrete her heart. 
     Her family never gives up and the one family member who is persistent in trying to get Aino to embrace love is Aino’s sister-in-law Kyllikki Saari, Matti’s wife.  Kyllikki has been patient with Aino, supporting her throughout the years; but when Aino tells her that she is going to another IWW event, Kyllikki responds in anger first by slamming her fist on the table and telling Aino she is making a big mistake. 

       “You need a kick in the rear.”  Kyllikki leaned across the table.  “You have a child and you almost lost her.  And you want to leave her again?”
       Aino bristled.  “I’ll send for her as soon as I’m settled.”
       “Aino, you might find this hard to swallow, but sending for her isn’t the issue.  Putting her second is the issue.”
Page 532

     Aino ignores Kyllikki’s advice and travels to Portland, Oregon, where she convinces the workers from the sawmills near the Willamette River to attend the upcoming Armistice Parade, which turns out to be a disaster.  
She then travels to Chicago where she works at a bakery and continues her work with the IWW, helping the Cleveland Shirt and Dress workers strike.  On May of 1923 the crowds are more intense than normal and she finds herself being hit with rocks and then arrested by the Chicago Police and placed in the Cook County jail where she finally takes Kyllikki’s words seriously.

       She promised that if she ever got out of this alive, she would put Eleanor and her family first. 
Page 576

       Aino returns to Deep River and begins a relationship with her true love – a fellow immigrant from Sweden and the same baby boy whom her mother delivered, saving the baby and the life of his mother.  
     The two lie on Aino’s bed, fully clothed, side-by-side and confess their love for one another.   It is here that Aino shares with him what happened those sixteen horrendous days when she was in Finland arrested, imprisoned, beaten, tortured, and raped.  She also reveals to him her secret of what else happened during those sixteen days - a secret she not dare utter until now.  Then her true love reveals his own secret – a secret so devastating that it just might have killed whatever love Aino finally allowed herself to feel  – for anyone.  Aino kicks him out of her room and the two do not see each other for months. 
This time Kyllikki visits Aino’s home and stands by her side.  Will she be able to convince Aino, once again, that love is the greatest Sisu there is?

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