Wimberg, alias Jaak Urmet, started his literary career as a member of a group of young Tallinn writers that quite soon ceased to exist. He then approached a literary group in Tartu and has been a member to this day. He has issued his work, both fiction and criticism, in various publications, including a collection of punk poetry.Two years ago Wimberg published a collection of poetry, A Book of Laand, and in 2002 the mosaic novel Lipamäe. Of the latter he has said: “When grown-ups write about children, they usually do it ponderously. My writing on the other hand is jolly, child-friendly, somewhat naïve and optimistic. So that the readers of the novel will feel good. So that they know: people are doing really well in this novel!”
Sven Vabar: You've been very busy recently. Graduated from the university last spring and published a novel at the same time and, besides, you keep editing the cultural section of one of our major dailies.
Wimberg: Plus I translated a children's programme for Estonian TV, and am still doing this – a most rewarding work as it involves translating poems too.
SV: You are actually certified as a teacher of Estonian language and literature.
W: Indeed – a loud voice, young male teacher, the schools need someone like that. The salary, however, is not enough for a young man to survive on. Besides, I much prefer a journalism, despite the workload and all the running around this involves.
SV: How do you manage to write if you're so busy? Many writers have stressed that it is not possible to have a life and write, especially to write a novel.
W: Lipamäe actually took me three years to write. Can't say that I abandoned life during that time. I must admit that at present I'm slightly worried – with all this bustling around you can't really write anything lengthier than a poem. But there's no real hurry. Some manage to produce a novel a year, even more. To me this sounds like doing handicrafts. The quality certainly suffers. I myself am very particular about my texts, each sentence must be ... well, a real sentence. It must be necessary. Some writers just keep writing, a multitude of words that don't mean much. The same goes for criticism.
SV: You said before that Lipamäe was not a novel but a collection of short stories.
W: I am very restless, unable to tackle a narrow area: character A and character B, developing the plot, conflict, culmination, decline, then a sharp end or a generalisation... I confess that perhaps I'm just trying to hide my inability to write a conventional novel. However, we don't have to call this a novel. I enjoyed writing it, and, despite a few typing errors, I think it's a pretty decent thing. I am satisfied with this book.
SV: To what extent is the novel autobiographical?
W: The village actually exists, the houses are almost all there as well, and many characters are drawn from real life. Naturally I have mixed reality with fantasy. “Fantareality.” Of course there couldn't have been a real village smith who was also the devil, although there indeed was a prototype. Another autobiographical piece here – my grandmother lived under the delusion that my grandfather knew witchcraft and associated with the devil. My granny was not crazy, nor was she a stupid village woman; she had an extensive library and was an intelligent person to talk to. But she never ceased to believe in grandfather's dealing with the devil and kept her delusions. It is a fascinating topic – how the word becomes flesh and the written word turns out to be truth; you describe something as a pure delusion and later find that it was true, or almost. In the novel the villagers cast a spell on the Ämbra pastor so that each time he uttered the word God he started to stammer. Later it turned out that a few years ago the Ämbra (Järve-Peetri) church pastor had been awfully tongue-tied and was eventually replaced. I was quite surprised.
SV: I can't help asking – is it possible to detect a negative attitude to Christianity in your book?
W: Well, let's say it's more like irritation. I have a relative who is very aggressive with her faith, won't leave you alone. There is nothing wrong with Christianity, but it just shouldn't be aggressive. Children for instance should not be pushed into it before they can think for themselves. The devil in my novel was a positive character, so I needed a negative one as well. Hence the pastor. On the whole I think that the church should be kept separate from the state; it should be something like yoga or gym – to be enjoyed by those who really want it.
SV: It occasionally seems as if you write for children.
W: I love fairy tales, children's literature. The period and surroundings described in Lipamäe, rather than my own experience in that environment, brought forth a fairy tale atmosphere that can be found in my book. I kept thinking of that area, and various events and characters took shape. I built a small world model and provided the connection with the history of Estonian culture and literature. I've been quietly planning a sequel to the novel. I have researched the history of the village, travelled around those parts and seen, for example, the Esma manor house. A most fascinating building that immediately gave rise to various ideas. Another plan is to move on to the universe from where Lipamäe left off. We'll see. I'd like to introduce some urban life too, so another mosaic. Sequels tend to be weaker than the originals, but still...
SV: Do you plan to publish a collection of poetry or something along that line?
W: Jürgen Rooste, Karl Martin Sinijärv and I had an idea to publish a collection of winter poems.
SV: Funny that you are often associated with socialist realism. That, too, is bright, unreal...
W: And militant as well. On the whole I think it's a rather vague notion. Still, I wouldn't call myself a socialist realist. This trend belongs in the past, although it is perfectly possible to start using elements of social realism and employ that kind of realism in a post-modern way.
My aim as a writer is to produce literature worth reading – I don't think literature can be evaluated on the basis of whether it is national enough. The colours of the flag should have nothing to do with the quality of literature, or culture in general.
SV: Looking back at the 1990s we can say that perhaps this was a terrible and authoritarian time, and the attitude towards many phenomena was incredibly simplified.
W: My gut feeling tells me that things are getting pretty normal. The initial complete negation of everything non-black-and-white is over. Life goes on... New ideals emerge... Intellectual life becomes increasingly diverse, which is wonderful.
SV: This diversity was greatly encouraged by a fairly large number of young writers, yourself included, who began writing in the late 1990s.
W: Yes, indeed, people started writing for the pleasure of writing, not for political reasons.
SV: Some complain that literature in Estonia is not fashionable. What's your opinion?
W: Not so! A few years ago someone painted a grim picture of culture in gerneral having become peripheral and literature in particular even more peripheral. This situation lasted only for a brief period of time. Reading is in once again and people buy books. I really think that Estonian literature has quite a central place in society. As much as such a thing can be 'central' in a democratic, western and capitalist society.
A longer version of the interview was originally published in 'Looming' no 8, 2002.