Saturday, May 18, 2013

On "The Manila Rope" by Veijo Meri ***

This short humorous war novel reminded me of Hasek's The Good Soldier Švejk, particularly in how its obvious attempts at humor didn't really translate to my own intellect. Meri's world is rather slapstick, which doesn't tend to be the kind of comedy I like.

This isn't to say that I began the novel thinking it would be funny. It start with a soldier named Joose finding a rope in the road. He decides to keep it, but because German overseers will likely think he stole it, he decides that he needs to conceal it during his trip home, his temporal leave. So far, the piece seems to be about Finn poverty and German overbearingness. There are tragic, realistic, sad tones.

Joose conceals the rope by having it wrapped around his torso. As such, he appears a very portly man. The rope, however, is too tight, and once Joose boards his train home, he finds himself passing out frequently; others think he is drunk.

The train itself becomes an avenue for storytelling, and various short humorous tales about the arm are told between soldiers as they proceed across the country, Joose growing sicker all along the way.

The humor is a kind of gallows humor, which is most evident in the incidents of trains visiting a particular station. An officer who fails to board on time runs after the train; failing to catch it, he eventually steals a hand trolley and wheels after the train only to be hit by another train down the tracks. He breaks several limbs and is demoted. Later, Joose's train enters the station, and seemingly without a commanding officer, the station master is unable to order the troops back onto the departing train; as a result, the train simply sits in the station, till an angry officer finally shows up to ask why the train still hasn't left.

This also happens to be the station where Joose's home is, so here he disembarks, walking "drunkenly" home, where his wife mistakes him for being sick--very sick. Then she realizes that the lesions around his midsection aren't lesion but a rope, and she cuts it off down the middle. Lot of good sneaking the rope has done. Joose seems to have gotten some bad gangrenely growths in the meantime, so sick, he sits at home listening to visitors tell yet more funny war stories of a gory nature.

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