Sally Salminen was born in Vårdö, on the Åland Islands of Finland, the seventh of 11 children. It was a hardscrabble life for the family after her father drowned when the children were young. She wanted to be a writer from an early age. As a teenager, she worked in the village grocery store and then went to Stockholm, Sweden, to take a job as a domestic servant. During her time in Stockholm, she took correspondence courses and read books in her spare time. In 1930, she and her sister Aili went to New York City to work, and it was here she began writing her first and most famous novel, Katrina. The Nordic publishing firm Holger Schildts Förlag announced a writing contest in 1936, for which Sally submitted her manuscript. Katrina won, and was published the same year. The book became an international success, rocketing her to fame, and was eventually translated into more than 20 languages. In 1940, she married Johannes Dürhkopf, a Danish painter, and moved with him to Denmark. During her career, she produced more than 17 books of fiction and nonfiction, although none of them achieved the success of her debut novel. She published four volumes of autobiography between 1966 and 1974. Several of her siblings and their children also became writers.