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||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,
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,
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.
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,
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
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).