Anja Snellman


Vesa Linna


Sonia O. Comes to Life on Stage

Denisa Snyder, a 23-year-old drama student at the University of the Arts Helsinki, is preparing a monologue from Sonia O. Was Here by Anja Snellman. She has been invited to perform the monologue at the main event celebrating Snellman’s 40th year as an author in late 2021.

Her performance was originally part of a student production at the university. Thirteen students were asked to choose excerpts from works of Finnish literature to be performed as monologues.

“Initially, I was interested in performing something very masculine, for some reason. However, I found that the books I considered had misogynistic undertones, which was off-putting.”

SNYDER CAME ACROSS Sonia O. Was Here in a library. She had heard of the book, but had never read it.

“The writing was different from what I had read before. It was poetic and captivating, but also challenging in terms of creating a monologue. Sonia is bold and almost manic at times, but there is something disarming in her honesty and vulnerability,” Snyder says.

Sonia O. Was Here was originally published in 1981. With her debut novel, Anja Snellman emerged on the literary scene overnight, and the book remains the highest-selling first novel in the history of Finnish literature.

The book was regarded as “shocking” and “controversial” at its time of publication. Four decades later, Snyder did not find Snellman’s debut to be so.

“The writing felt fresh, and the unpretentious honesty also pulled me in. I like how the author is not aiming for shock value.”

SNYDER SAYS she has always been interested in examining mother-daughter relationships. When the students were preparing their monologues, the director encouraged them to choose a book that moves them. 

“Sonia and her mother have a very complex relationship. The mother plays the martyr, and they hurt one another deliberately, yet they are trying to love each other,” Snyder explains.

“This incapability of love is saddening and touching. The book skillfully describes how traumas are passed on from one generation to the next.”

For her monologue, Snyder chose excerpts that portray the relationship between Sonia and her mother. She also liked the straightforward way that mental health struggles are discussed in the novel.

“Sonia is tough yet sensitive. Above all, however, she is honest. She also talks about her insecurities and vulnerabilities openly and unashamedly, which is important because women are still labeled as hysterical or unstable rather easily if they don’t conform to expectations.”

THE ASPIRING ACTOR is a third-year student at the University of the Arts Helsinki, or Uniarts Helsinki. She is planning to complete her bachelor’s degree this spring and continue towards a master’s degree in the fall.

She chose her career almost on a whim.

“As a high school senior, I had no idea what I should do with my life after graduation. A friend of mine was in a theater group, and she suggested I should try acting because I was such a dramatic person,” Snyder says with a laugh.

“I fell in love immediately: it was fascinating to become seen as myself on the stage and yet be protected by a role. I studied acting for two years at a community college before being admitted to the Theater Academy of the University of the Arts Helsinki.”

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