Major Leo Kunnas’s novel about the triumph of the will

by Piret Tali



Major Leo Kunnas’s novel about the triumph of the will

His novel Sõdurjumala teener (Servant of the Soldier God) earned Major Leo Kunnas (34) the second place award at the novel competition of 2000.
The interview with the author, conducted by Piret Tali in the daily Eesti Päevaleht, is published here in an abbreviated form.

How did you become a writer?
I never planned to start writing, although I wrote something, for my own pleasure, when I was 13-14. It was only while sitting in our Patarei Prison that it occurred to me that life there should be recorded, regardless of whether it was published. Publication would have been impossible at that time anyway.

This prison is the topic of your first novel. How autobiographical are your books? What did you serve your sentence for?
My books naturally contain autobiographical elements, but they are not directly taken from my life. The main character of the Servant, for example, has been compiled from three real-life persons.
I think it’s impossible and pointless to write about something that you are not familiar with.
Yes, I have been sentenced in court twice. In my younger days I was arrested while trying to illegally cross the state border, then I attempted to escape from detention, and I was also punished for illegal possession of firearms.

What would have become of you, had you not met the former captain of the special troops who is the prototype of the captain in your novel? Would your life have been similar to others’ in the same detention centres? Is it possible to emerge from prison a stronger man?
Had I not met that captain, my life would indeed have been different. As for the last question, I don’t think that man can become a better human being in either war or prison.

How would you characterise the genre of Servant – is it a thriller, psychological novel or something else?
I just hope that the book will produce some emotions in readers and make them think. My intention was to have various layers available to different readers. The story should naturally be thrilling – an author cannot, after all, set out to bore his readers.
In a sense, it is a psychological novel, the development of the main character, how he tries to act and think differently from the people around him. At the same time it can be taken as a story of being a soldier.
The novel has more violence, killing and rough language than the average action-film?
The language in the book is like it is in real life. I did not mean to shock the reader with rude words, but neither did I wish to make reality any better. There was certainly no intention whatsoever of propagating violence. The biggest military victories are, in fact, achieved without war, i.e. without violence.
The present book contains two novels  - besides Servant, also an earlier one titled Kustumatu maailma valgus (The World of Undying Light), which won the Looming annual award ten years ago. Why?
Because the earlier novel had never been published as a book, only in installments in the magazine. Besides, the main character of one novel is a minor character in the other, and vice-versa, so it seemed a good idea to publish them together.
In both your novels, man’s will prevails over circumstances. In a sense, this cannot be called typical literature in Estonia; it is far more powerful, for example, than anything Kaur Kender has written.  Do you think people can achieve anything with enough will-power?
 I don’t think people can achieve everything by just exerting their will.
When you were 13 you decided not to touch another drop of alcohol. There was an island named Kunnas at the training camp of the Defence Forces, the only place in the unit where smoking was allowed, which could be reached only by walking along a slippery log. Most didn’t make it.  Why should these things be excluded from life?
These things destroy people’s will. Everything that destroys your will cannot be acceptable to a professional soldier.
You seem to lead your life as a soldier, each day ready for a new battle order?
I do not lead my life as a soldier at all. My life contains so much more. For example, I sometimes write books.