Literature awards 1998

by Piret Viires



LITERATURE AWARDS 1998

Various literature awards are given in Estonia each year, the most important of which is the national cultural award. In 1998 this prestigious award (100 000 Estonian kroons) was bestowed upon Jaan Kross for his novel Treading Air (Paigallend). The book has gained a remarkable reputation, further proven by the fact that it also received the 1998 annual award of the Cultural Endowment of Estonia. Treading Air is without question one of Jaan Kross’s most significant and powerful novels.

After many years of total inactivity, the Betti Alver debut award was revived in 1998. The aim of this award is to encourage young writers and help them to attract the attention of a wider public. The award went to Kristi Oidekivi’s collection of poetry To the Snails (Tigudele).

The 1998 novel competition was surprisingly successful; the first ten manuscripts were all remarkably interesting, the first three quite outstanding. Henn Mikelsaar’s Across the Circle (Ristiratast) was proclaimed worthy of the first award. This is a highly professional novel of symbols with a strong system of images which depicts the clash between a traditional way of life and aggressive modern civilisation. The second award went to Lembit Uustulnd’s Rocking-horse from Antverp (Kiikhobune Antverpenist) - a national-romantic spy novel written with exhuberant fantasy. The main theme of the story unravels in Africa during the stagnation years. Uustulnd’s book will be published in spring 1999. The third award was given to a young author, a 21 years old student, who hides behind the pseudonym Hiram. Her debut book titled A Bitter Taste (Mõru maik) has already caused a lot of controversy and attracted media attention. With its poetics, and primarily with its atmosphere (the world of rock, drugs, gay and lesbi relations) the book is quite singular in Estonian literature. The action takes place in an anonymous Western city; there are no hints whatsoever to any local details nor anything Estonian. When Emil Tode’s Border State (Piiririik), published in 1993, constituted a step towards literary cosmopolitanism, describing the opposition between east and west, then A Bitter Taste is a cosmopolitan novel par excellence. This is a novel of a new literary generation who does not care a bit whether the action takes place in Estonia or ‘somewhere in Europe’ - the problems are the same everywhere. It is a peculiar mixture of trendy trivial literature and psychological novel. This is a story of a gentle actress climbing up the career ladder, and her physical and mental breakdown. The novel, planned to be published in autumn 1999, is likely to attract both positive and negative reactions.        

Other major literature awards are the annual awards of the Literature Foundation of the Cultural Endowment of Estonia. The 1998 awards were given as follows:
The Prose award was shared between two authors: Olev Remsu and his novel The Haapsalu Tragedy (Haapsalu tragöödia) and Kaur Kender with his debut novel Independence Day (Iseseisvuspäev). The story of Remsu’s book is depicted in ethnographical and historical detail; everything takes place between 1939 and 1944 on the Estonian-Swedish island of Kohatu. The main character and the diarist is Erik Normann, pastor and later chairman of the village council. Kaur Kender’s novel tells about the confused times just before Estonia became independent (1988 - 1991), and about the lives and shady dealings of certain businessmen. The novel is violent, brutal and very outspoken. What is most innovative about it is primarily the subject under discussion; the author has managed to get into the spirit of  ‘human monsters’ and offers a realistic picture of their lives.
The Poetry award went to Kalev Kesküla’s Songs of the Republic (Vabariigi laulud) which assembles patriotic poetry written in ironic key. But the author’s sincere love and concern for the Republic of Estonia shines through the irony. By personifying the republic, Kesküla offers an overview of its character and emotional life while describing its true face and habits.
The Children’s literature award was given to Ilmar Trull for his book Merry poems (Lõbusad luuletused) which contains humorous, wonderfully rhythmed verses.
Jaan Undusk received the Essay and literary criticism award for his book Magical mystical language (Maagiline müstiline keel) which might be called a founding work of original Estonian literary philosophy. Jaan Undusk is no doubt an erudite, a class of his own, whose work would rather better suit the European scientific dispute. Undusk received the Cultural Endowment of Estonia in 1996.
Drama award was given to Madis Kõiv’s play Scenes from the Hundred-Year War (Stseene saja-aastasest sõjast). This is a visually intensive, completely non-theatrical existentialist play which unites the history of the Estonians and the torments of an individual. Also for Madis Kõiv, this was not his first award.   
Translation award - translation from a foreign language into Estonian - went to Kristiina Ross who translated Blaise Pascal’s Thoughts. Kristiina Ross was previously recognised in 1996. Guntars Godiņš compiled a collection of five Estonian poets and translated their poetry into Latvian. For this work, he received the other Translation award - from Estonian into a foreign language.

Piret Viires