Anja Snellman

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Markku Ulander/Lehtikuva

40 YEARS AS AN AUTHOR

Looking Back and Ahead

Anja Snellman celebrated her 40th anniversary as an author in 2021. She has written twenty-six novels, three collections of poetry, and several works of nonfiction.

In her native Finland, she is the most widely read author of her generation, and her first book, Sonia O. Was Here, remains the all-time best-selling debut novel. However, forty years ago she nearly gave up on her lifelong dream of becoming a writer.

“It took me seven years to complete the manuscript,” Snellman says. “At some point, after my manuscript had been rejected or ignored by several publishers, it began to seem that the book would never be published.”

At the time, she was studying applied psychology, literature, and English philology at the University of Helsinki. She decided that she would become a psychologist and help others through their disappointments.

THEN ONE OF the publishers called back and asked Snellman to visit. He was very encouraging: he praised her language and its poetic originality, and asked her to write one more version of the manuscript.

However, Snellman had already lost faith in a career as writer.

“Back at home, I pushed my manuscript folder onto the bottom shelf of the wardrobe and decided to forget about it,” she explains.

A year later, the publisher called again and asked Snellman what was taking her so long with the manuscript.

“My first novel eventually appeared in the fall of 1981 and provoked an unexpected and unprecedented flood of debate and sales. New editions were printed on almost a daily basis,” Snellman recalls.

HER DREAM of becoming a writer can be traced back to under the kitchen table in her childhood home.

“My father was an alcoholic. His family had had to flee from Karelia, the territory ceded by Finland to the Soviet Union, during the war. Displaced, he never really fit in,” Snellman says.

Her parents would often clash during his drunken episodes. Both were verbally talented and good at poking each other’s sore spots, and her father was also physically violent.

“I took refuge under the kitchen table, where I wrote stories and poems, and dreamed of becoming a writer and living in a warm place with lots of light.”

Both dreams came truethe latter in the 1990s, when Snellman and her then husband rented a house on the Greek island of Crete. Continents: A Love Story is partly based on that time of her life.

UNEXPECTEDLY, her alternative career plan has also come true. In 2011, Snellman saw an advertisement at the University of Helsinki about a four-year program in solution-focused psychotherapy. Her intuition was to apply—and not tell a soul about her decision.

During the training, she made a life-changing realization.

“Out of interest, I attended a lecture about being a highly sensitive person. During that lecture, many pieces of my life suddenly began to make sense and fell into place,” Snellman explains.

“I was working on a manuscript at the time, but I had to take a break because I felt an urge to write a book about being a highly sensitive person. A lifetime of experiences, feelings, and memories poured out of me.”

That book, My Life as a Deer, will come out in English in 2024.

SNELLMAN IS KNOWN for her beautiful use of language and her ability to combine documentary and fictional elements, history and imaginary events, and personal and universal aspects.

She is also known for her sensitivity to emerging trends, unspoken truths, and undercurrents that are about to surface in society.

“I feel that I have often written about social issues and themes that people have sensed strongly around them but perhaps have not yet been able to pinpoint or put into words,” Snellman says.

FAMILY HISTORY is one of the overarching themes in her impressive body of work.

She has written about her father, her mother and the secret she almost took to her grave (Skin, spring 2022), and her sister, whose life was overshadowed by disability at a time when disability was not to be talked about (Capital: A Requiem, 2023).

Looking ahead, Snellman says that the time has come to close the book on her family history. New worlds await.

New Terrain Press 2021. All rights reserved.

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