Eyvind Johnson (YEWN-sawn) was born Olof Edvin Werner Jonsson on July 29, 1900, at Svartbjörnsbyn, near Boden, in Sweden’s northernmost province, Norbotten. His parents were Olof and Cevia Jonsson, his father having come north as a rallare, a laborer who built railroads. Johnson’s boyhood was grim. At four years of age, he was given over to foster parents, Anders Johan and Amanda Rost, when his father’s mental illness reduced the family to poverty. He attended the village school in Boden until age thirteen and had no formal education thereafter. Until he was nineteen, he lived a life of hard labor, sorting timber and laying drainpipes near the Arctic Circle.
By 1919, Johnson had become a Young Socialist, was living in Stockholm, and was contributing revolutionary articles and poems to the periodical Brand under the name Eyvind Ung (Eyvind Young). At twenty, he ventured south into war-ravaged Western Europe and spent the next decade in Berlin and Paris. He was long impatient with his native country’s insular attitude toward the misery beyond its borders. In 1927, he married Aase Christoffersen; the marriage ended with her death in 1938. Two years later, he married Cilla Frankenhaeuser.
For much of his life, Johnson led a peripatetic existence. During the 1930’s, he wrote a tetralogy—eventually collected under the title Romanen om Olof (the novel about Olof)—exploring the formative years of a highly autobiographical hero. His early novels mainly concern the frustration of human...
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