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by Bamber Gascoigne

Elvi Sinervo (1912-1986) - wrote also as Aulikki Prinkki - full name Elvi Aulikki Sinervo-Ryömä


Finnish writer, prolific translator, humanist, one of the central figures in the postwar leftist literary movement Kiila with Arvo Turtiainen and Viljo Kajava. Elvi Sinervo published socially and politically orientated prose. Her most outstanding work, Viljami Vaihdokas (Viljami, the Changeling), appeared in 1946. Sinervo's work can be classified into the anti-fascist literature.

Do but judge me, O, ye blind men,
I know the law well.
What I did, life tasked me with it,
To my lot it fell.

(from 'Cell Song', 1944, translated by Cid Erik Tallqvist)

Elvi Sinervo was born in Helsinki, the daughter of Edvard Sinervo, a plate worker, and Alma Erika (Vallenius) Sinervo, who come from a Swedish-speaking family. She was the sixth child of her parents. Sinervo's father was an active member of labor union, who believed in socialism; Alma, a devout member of the church, did not share her husband's political opinions.

Edvard Sinervo encouraged her children to spend time with world literature. In the evening read aloud to his family. Following the outbreak of the Finnish Civil war (1917-18), Edvard joined the Reds, although he was against the achievement of social change by violent means. When the White Guard seized Helsinki and began executions, he was forced to hide. To support his family, he worked at a stone carver's shop, and then moved with his family for some years in Laihia and Vaasa in Ostrobothnian. When Edvard Sinervo died of stroke at the age of 49, Alma Sinervo returned with her children to Helsinki.

An avid reader since childhood, Sinervo began to borrow books from the Kallio library. After graduating from secondary school, where her teacher's included Aaro Hellaakoski, Sinervo studied at the Technical high school (1933-34), and at the University of Helsinki (1934-35). In 1930, Sinervo joined the Social Democratic Youth Organization and participated in its cultural activities, especially theatre. Moreover, she had began to write in the1920s and her first published text appeared in the social democratic magazine Kevätmyrsky (1931). It was followed by series of poems, published in the working-class papers.

In 1933, Sinervo married the politician, journalist and doctor Mauri Ryömä (1911-1958), who served as a member of Parliament (1936-37, 1945-1958) and a member of the Central Committee of the Finnish Communist Party. Her sister Sylvi-Kyllikki Kilpi was a member of the Social Democratic Party. She served as a member of the Parliament between 1934 and 1957. Due to their different polititical views, the sisters did not talk with each other in the 1930s. Later Sylvi-Kyllikki Kilpi joined the Finnish People's Democratic League (SKDL).

Through her political work, Sinervo became friends with such writers, journalists and intellectuals as Viljo Kajava, Arvo Turtiainen, Tapio Tapiovaara, Raoul Palmgren, Maija Savutie, and Jarno Pennanen, with whom she had an affair that lasted about a year. In 1936 leftist writers founded the literary group Kiila, which took its model from the Swedish 'Fem unga' group and from the Marxist group writing for New Masses magazine in the United States. From 1934 to 1938 Sinervo contributed to the literary magazine Kirjallisuuslehti. When her husband was  imprisoned for his political activity in 1940, she took a hiatus from writing fiction, and began translating Friedrich Engels' The Origin of the Family, Private Property, and the State (1884) into Finnish.

With her husband Sinervo visited the Soviet Union in 1936, and witnessed the other face of socialism with long queues of people waiting in front of the shops. As a writer Sinervo made her debut with Runo Söörnäisistä: novelleja (1937), published by Gummerus. Although it was entitled "A Poem about Söörnäinen," it was a collection of short stories about working-class life in Helsinki, without any straightforward political stories. The critics in the leftist papers were mostly positive, but it sold poorly. Two years later came out Sinervo's first novel, Palavankylän seppä. The story centers on Hermanni Rintaluoma and Rintaluoma family, who returns to the country after the Civil War. Hermanni dreams of his own smithy, but is unable to understand the great change in society and the class struggle. He is finally forced to move to town and abandon his dream. The book was translated into Swedish in 1945 under the title Smeden i Palava by.

During World War II Sinervo was imprisoned on political grounds from 1941 to 1944; she was prisoner nr 412/41. The Kilpis took care of her son. Sinervo was worried that he would adopt right-wing political views. Political prisoner were kept strictly apart from common-law convicts, but they had some privileges; they wore their own clothes and were allowed to receive parcels and to write letters. Sinervo's husband had been arrested earlier, when the Winter War broke out between Finland and the Soviet Union. Her experiences Sinervo recalled in Pilvet (1944, The Clouds), a collection of poems, which was published by the Tammi Publishing Company, established in 1943 by Väinö Tanner, leader of the Social Democratic Party. Originally, the poems had circulated from hand to hand at the Hämeenlinna Central Prison. They had been written on toilet paper and then bound together.

The title piece tells how she ended up in confinement: "I lived, loved / and as I turned thirty / I was dressed in prison clothes."  Noteworthy, in stead of being bitter or overtly political, Sinervo  turned during this period into her inner word. Through the window, she could only see the sky and the clouds, symbols of longing.  Sinervo's poem of her cellmate Natatia was set to music by Kaj Chydenius in the 1970s; it became a very popular agit-prop song: "Maa vieras on ja vieras kansa sen / Natalia, sua tunne en  / Jaan osas vain, ja sellin kivisen." Her first work for the stage, Onnenmaan kuninkaantytär ja ihmislapset, a children's  play, Sinervo wrote during her prison sentence. 

Sinervo's second novel, Viljami Vaihdokas, was about a boy who is born to a well-to-do family, but is given to wrong parents in the maternity hospital and grows up in poor surroundings. In his childhood, he molds a bird from clay and then brings it to life, like Jesus did. Instinctively, Viljami believes in higher ideals. After moving to Helsinki, he joins a leftist activist group. When the war breaks out, he is imprisoned and beaten during interrogations. At the end he dies, or steps into another realm, where he becomes one with the people he belongs to. This Bildungsroman in the tradition of London, Gorky, and Martinson gained an international success and was translated among others into Swedish, Russian, Estonian and China. The novel combined social realism with fairy tales and fantasy. Toveri, älä petä (1947, Comrade, Don't Betray Us) was a story of a woman, who is involved in political activities without a firm ideological base. By a mistake, she betrays one of her comrades.

After the war Sinervo travelled in the socialist countries, made speeches and participated in the leftist ideological and cultural activities as a member of the Finnish Communist Party and representantive of Kiila. Most of the selected writers and intellectuals she met on her travels in the Socialist World supported the official policy – at least when they were put together at the same table. It was not until the late 1950s, when she distanced herself from the Finnish Communist Party. Her play, Desantti (1945), was published by Kansankulttuuri, which was established by the Finland-Soviet Union Society and organizations close to the Finnish People's Democratic League. From the 1950s Sinervo translated into Finnish works from such writers as Kleist, Kazantzakis, Brecht, Lidman, Kafka  and Andric, to whom she felt ideologically bound. Some of her poems were published in a French anthology, Poètes finnois (1951).

In the 1960s, Sinervo did not continue active period as a writer, although her books were reprinted and new collections of poems appeared. "Why would I spread my own pessimism," she later explained. "This is the reason why I cannot write." From German Sinervo translated especially Brecht's plays; she also met him twice. Brecht's Im Dickicht der Städte Sinervo considered incomprehensible. Anna Seghers influeced Sinervo deeply. They met first time at the Warsaw Peace Conference in 1950. Sinervo translated into Finnish Seghers's Der Aufstand der Fischer von St. Barbara, Das siebte Kreutz, and with Ilkka Ryömä Die Toten bleiben jung. Sinervo's publisher, Tammi, celebrated her 50th birthday in 1962 by publishing a collection of her old poems, Runoni.

Maailma on vasta nuori (1952, The World Is Yet Young), her fourth and final play, was found again in the late 1960s and performed in several theatres in the 1970s. The work took its title from Nordahl Grieg's novel Ung må verden endnu være (1938). Her last years Sinervo spent with her daughter Liisa Ryömä and Ryömä's life-companion, the writer Daniel Katz, in Pernaja and then in Liljendahl. In 1979 the politician and poet Claes Anderson dedicated a suite in his collection Trädens sånger to Elvi Sinervo. She died of lung cancer on August 28, 1986.

Ole laupias yö, älä avaa
unen pimeää käytävää, jota pitkin
minun kellojen kaikuessa on kiiruhdettava
vankilaani takaisin.
from Neidonkaivo, 1956)
For further reading: Toistemme viholliset?: kirjallisuus kohtaa sisällissodan, toimittaneet Kukku Melkas & Olli Löytty (2018); Yhä katselen pilviä: Elvi Sinervon elämä by Jaana Torninoja-Latola (2017); Suomennoskirjallisuuden historia 2, ed. by H.K. Riikonen et al. (2007); 'Elvi Sinervon Viljami Vaihdokas - lapsellinen kirja aikuisille' by Maria Laakso, in Kirjallisia elämyksiä, toim. Yrjö Hosialuoma et al. (2007); Kiila 1936-2006 by Matti Rinne (2006); A History of Finland's Literature, ed. by George C. Schoolfield (1998); Elvi Sinervo - vuorellenousija by Kalevi Kalemaa (1989); Voices from Finland, ed. by Elli Tompuri (1949) - Note: Sinervo's younger sister Aira Sinervo (Aira Brink, 1914-1968) published juvenile books and the novel Koskessa kolisten (1969). Sinervo's elder sister Sylvi-Kyllikki Kilpi (1899-1987), a politician, member of Parliament, wrote the autobiographical books Sörnäisten tyttö (1963), Sörnäisten tytön valellusvuodet (1965), Sörnäisten tyttö politiikan pyörteissä (1966) and a history of the Finnish working class women, Suomen työläisnaisliikkeen historia (1953).

Selected works:

  • Runo Söörnäisistä: novelleja, 1937
  • Palavankylän seppä, 1939
    - Smeden i Palava by (övers. av Ragna Ljungdell-Erlandsson, 1945)
  • Pilvet, 1944
  • translator: Anna Bondestam, Urhea nuoruus, 1944
  • Onnenmaan kuninkaantytär ja ihmislapset, 1944 (play, as Aulikki Pinkki)
  • Desantti, 1945 (play)
    - Der Fallschirmjäger: Einakter (Bühnenbilder und Figurinen von Tapio Tapiovaara, aus dem Finnischen ins Deutsche übertragen von Friedrich Ege, 1954) 
  • translator: Wanda Wasilevskaja, Sateenkaari, 1945
  • Pikku Aljosha, 1946 (based on Maxim Gorky's childhood memoirs)
  • translator: Trond Hedström, Yksinäinen peikko, 1946
  • translator: Martin Andersen Nexö, Muistot, 1946 (with Leila Adler)
  • Viljami Vaihdokas, 1946
    - Viljam Bortbyting (övers. av Anna Bondestam, 1947)
    - Der Wechselbalg: Roman (aus dem Finnischen übersetzt von Friedrich Ege, 1957)
    - Az elcserélt gyermek: egy olyan ifjúról szóló történet, aki Dankóhoz kívánt hasonlítani (ford. Erdödi József, 1962)
  • Toveri, älä petä, 1947
    - Soudruhu, nezklam! (z finske predlohy ... prelozil Alois Šikl, 1952)
    - Wytrwaj, towarzyszu! (tlumaczyla z przekladu czeskiego Krystyna Zebrowska; porównala z oryginalem finskim: Aleksandra Lanska, 1952)
    - Tovaricš, ne predavaj!: povest’ (perevod s finskogo T. Summanena, 1956)
    - Kamerat, svik ikke! (oversettelse: Hundre blomster, 1978)
    - Svigt ikke, kammerat (på dansk og med forord af Peter Dürrfeld, 1982)
    - Kamrat svik inte  (övers. av Eva Wichman, 1987)
  • Vuorelle nousu, 1948
  • Toukokuun viimeisenä iltana, 1948 (radio play)
  • editor (with Viktor Tiainen and Arvo Turtiainen): Nuori Kiila, 1948
  • translator: Friedrich Feld: Kukkiva kirsikkapuunoksa, 1948 (radio play)
  • translator: Vercours / Fr. Ege: Kuin meren hiljaisuus, 1950 (radio play)
  • Oi lintu mustasiipi, 1950
  • translator: Annemarie Bostroem, Kahle kirpoaa, 1951 (radio play)
  • translator: Alex Brinchmann, Pitkät vuodet, 1951 (radio play)
  • translator: Heinrich von Kleist: Mikael Kohlhaas, 1951
  • translator: Solveig von Schoultz, Hyvät ihmiset ovat harvinaisia, 1951 (radio play)
  • translator: Tarjei Vesaas, Lauantai-ilta, 1951 (radio play)
  • Maailma on vasta nuori, 1952 (play)
  • translator: Friedrich Feld, Riikinkukon sulka, 1952 (radio play)
  • translator: Fredrich Feld: Maa kumisee, 1953 (radio play)
  • translator: Walentin Chorell: Ikkuna, 1953-54 (radio drama)
  • translator: Howard Fast, Saccon ja Vancettin kärsimyshistoria, 1954
  • translator: Anna Seghers: St. Barbaran kalastjien kapina, 1954
  • translator: Bertolt Brecht: Kaupunkimme hyvä ihminen, 1954-55 (play)
  • translator: Niko Kazantzakis: Vapaus tai kuolema, 1955
  • translator: Aili Nordgren, Pimeyskin liikkuu, 1955
  • Neidonkaivo, 1956 (poems) 
  • Rukkanen, 1957 (as Aulikki Pinkki, illustrated by E. Ratšev)
  • translator: Niko Kazantzakis, Viimeinen kiusaus, 1957
  • translator: Zaharia Stancu, Älä unohda, Darie, 1957
  • translator: John Reed, Kymmenen päivää jotka järisyttivät maailmaa (with Osmo Helin)
  • translator: Anna Bondestam, Tie kaupunkiin, 1958
  • translator: Anton Makarenko, Liput torneissa 1-3, 1958
  • translator: Jaroslav Hašek, Huumorin koulu, 1959
  • translator: Alfredo Varela, Tumma virta, 1959
  • Rautainen virta, 1960 (selection of Finnish poetry)
  • translator: Ivo Andric, Drina-joen silta, 1960 (with Aira Sinervo)
  • translator: Prudencio de Pereda, Fiesta, 1960
  • translator: Lu Syn, Uudenvuoden uhri ja muita kertomuksia, 1960
  • translator: Arthur Miller, Poltinmerkki, 1960
  • translator: Per Wästberg, Perillinen, 1960
  • translator: Sean O'Casey, Minä kolkutan, 1961
  • translator: Anna Seghers, Seitsemäs risti, 1961
  • translator: Ivo Andric, Konsulit, 1962
  • translator: Anna Seghers, Kuolleet pysyvät nuorina 1-2, 1962 (with Ilkka Ryömä)
  • translator: Heinrich Kleist, Mikael Kolhaas ja muita kertomuksia, 1962
  • translator: Missä on teddikarhu?, 1962 (based on a Czech film)
  • translator: Satu tuhmasta Kreetasta ja viisaasta Missusta, 1962 (based on the Czech film Lenora)
  • Runoni, 1962
  • translator: Olsen Bruun, Huomenna matka jatkuu, 1963 (radio play)
  • translator: Ivar Lo-Johansson, Onni, 1963 (with Ilkka Ryömä)
  • translator: Slawomir Mrozek, Karol, 1963 (radio play)
  • translator: Victor Rozov, Kurjet lentävä, 1963 (radio play)
  • translator: Vladislav Vancura, Nalle-Kalle ja hänen karhunsa Kallen-Nalle, 1963 (illustrated by Zdenek Miller)
  • translator: Peter Egge, Sivertin mielenmuutokset, 1964 (radio play)
  • translator: Charles Haldeman, Auringon kiertolainen, 1964
  • translator: Björn-Erik Höijer, Vuoren tuolla puolen, 1964 (radio play)
  • translator: J.Z. Novak / Josef Kábrt, Jänö joka tahtoi luistella jäällä, 1964
  • translator: Slawomir Mrozek, Noiduttu yö, 1964 (radio play)
  • translator: Henning Nielsen, Sulhanen, 1964 (radio play)
  • translator: Tormod Skagestad, Lensi lintu sininen... 1964 (radio play)
  • translator: Bertolt Brecht, Puntilan isäntä ja hänen renkinsä Matti, 1964-65 (play)
  • translator: Peter Albrechtsen, Ystävätär, 1965 (radio play)
  • translator: Hjalmar Bergman, Tanssia, 1965 (radio play)
  • translator: Willis Hall, Pilkahdus merta, 1965 (TV play)
  • translator: Franz Kafka, Amerikka, 1965
  • translator: Ludwig Renn, Trini, 1965 (ilustrated by Kurt Zimmermann)
  • translator: Jan Rys, Kuka on "se niin"?, 1965 (radio play)
  • translator: Ebba Torstenson, Olohuone, 1965 (radio play)
  • translator: Martin Walser, Pikakäynti, 1965 (TV drama)
  • translator: Marianne Alopaeus, Pimeyden ydin, 1966
  • translator: Johannes Bobrowski, Levinin mylly, 1966
  • translator: Bertolt Brecht / George Farquhar, Torvet ja rummut, 1966 (play)
  • translator: Olof Kexel, Kapteeni Puff eli Suupaltti, 1966 (radio play)
  • Puhveli, 1966 (TV play)
  • translator: Aristofanes / Peter Hacks, Rauha, 1966-67 (play)
  • translator: Bertolt Brecht, Arturo Uin valtaannousu, 1966-67 (play)
  • translator: Anna Bondestam, Kuilu, 1967
  • translator: Bertolt Brecht, Setšuanin hyvä ihminen, 1966
  • translator: Feng Meng-Lung, Kaunis jalkavaimo, 1967
  • translator: Aleksandr Pushkin, Kivinen vieras, 1967 (TV drama)
  • translator: Björn Runeborg, Mies, joka tuli kaupunkiin, 1967 (radio play)
  • translator: Peter Weiss, Laulu linnunpelättimestä, 1967-68 (play)
  • translator: Marianne Alopaeus, Jäähyväiset elokuussa, 1968
  • translator: Jens Björneboe, Lintujen ystävät, 1968 (radio play)
  • translator: Bertolt Brecht, Pakolaiskeskusteluja, 1968 (radio play)
  • translator: Ivan Cankar / Mitja Mejak, Tarina Orpo-Simonista, 1968 (radio play)
  • translator: Dorothy Lane / Bertolt Brecht, Happy end, 1968-69 (play)
  • translator: Joao Gabral de Melo Neto, Elää ja kuolla kuin Severinot, 1969 (radio play)
  • translator: Ralf Nordgren, Mukana, 1969
  • translator: Jens Björneboe, Karhunkoppi, 1970 (radio play)
  • translator: Maja Ekelöf, Siivoojan raportti, 1970
  • translator: Sara Lidman, Kaivos, 1970
  • translator: John Reed, Kymmenen päivää, jotka järivyttivät maailmaa, 1970 (radio play, with Anneli Ollikainen, Pekka Milanoff and Väinö Vainio)
  • translator: Henrik Tikkanen, Minun saaristoni, 1970
  • translator: Wilfried Blecher / Wilfried Schröder, Hokkuspokkus filiokkus, 1971
  • translator: Ralf Nordgren, Perhoskorva, 1971
  • translator: Bertolt Brecht, Teurastamojen pyhä Johanna, 1972 (play)
  • translator: Per Olov Enquist, Ihmeparantajan viides talvi, 1972
  • translator: Ernst Ottwalt, Kalifornian balladi, 1972 (radio play)
  • translator: Preben Thomsen, Rutto, 1972 (radio play)
  • translator: Marianne Alopaeus, Rajankäyntiä, 1972 (with Marianne Alopaeus)
  • translator: Bertolt Brecht, Kaupunkien viidakossa, 1972-73 (play)
  • translator: Anna Bondestam / E.E. Bergholm, Kuilu, 1974 (radio play)
  • translator: Dagfinn Grønoset, Erämaatalon Anna, 1974
  • translator: Karl Otto Mühl, Vanhan miehen kesä, 1974 (play)
  • translator: Aleksanr Pushkin, Kivinen vieras, 1974 (radio play)
  • translator: Bertolt Brecht, Äiti Peloton ja hänen lapsensa, 1975
  • translator: Kerstin Ekman, Noidankehät, 1975
  • translator: Maksim Gorki, Kesävieraita, 1975 (play)
  • translator: Henrik Tikkanen, Kulosaarentie 8, 1976
  • translator: Henrik Tikkanen, Majavatie 11, 1976
  • translator: Bertolt Brecht, Pakolaiskeskusteluja, 1976 (with Turo Unho)
  • translator: Bertolt Brecht, Rummut yössä, 1976-77 (play)
  • translator: Bertolt Brecht, Turandot, 1977 (play)
  • translator: Bertolt Brecht, Altantin lento ja Baadenin opetusnäytelmä yhteisymmärryksestä, 1977 (radio play, with Ilkka Kylävaara)
  • translator: Kerstin Ekman, Elämänlähde, 1977 (with Liisa Ryömä)
  • translator: Henrik Tikkanen Mariankatu 26, 1977
  • Runot 1931-56, 1977
  • Novellit, 1978 (illustrated by Taru Koskinen)
  • Vuorelle nousu, 1978 (edited by Ilmi Parkkari)
  • Diktarmoran och andra dikter, 1978 (övers. av Claes Anderson, ill. av Ulla Wennberg)
  • translator: Dorothy Lane / Bertolt Brecht, Happy End: kolminäytöksinen komedia, 1979 (play)
  • translator: Henrik Tikkanen, Viimeinen sankari, 1979
  • Barnet ser och andra noveller, 1980 (översättning av Tatiana Sundgren)
  • Maailma on vasta nuori, 1980 (edited by Maija Savutie, contains plays Desantti, Toukokuun viimeisenä iltana, Maailma on vasta nuori, Onnenmaan kuninkaantytär ja ihmislapset)
  • translator: Walentin Chorell, Vuoropuhelu ikkunan ääressä, 1982 (radio play)
  • translator: Marianne Alopaeus, Ruotsin pauloissa, 1984
  • translator: Claes Andersson, Ihminen, sielunsa kaltainen, 1984
  • Pilvet: runot 1941-56, 1984
  • Runot 1931-56: kirjailijan vastuusta, 2012

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