Enn Vetemaa seems to be much more important for Estonian prose than is currently generally perceived. He belonged to the powerful literary generation of the nineteen-sixties, and every literature fan can learn something from Vetemaa, for the simple reason that his ever-increasing literary heritage follows one important parameter of good literature: the world cannot be simplified in writing but is made more complex, almost as complex as it really is.

Vetemaa was born in 1936 in Tallinn, graduated from the Tallinn Technical University as a chemical engineer and later studied composition in the musical academy. He worked as a chief editor of literature and art programmes in Estonian Television, a publishing house director, a poetry consultant in the Estonian Writers’ Union, and was a member of this union since 1966. 

Vetemaa made his literary debut as a poet in 1962, and then plunged into drama in 1968. His play Õhtusöök viiele (Dinner for Five), first performed in 1972, and the comedy Püha Susanna ehk Meistrite kool (Saint Susanna or the School of Masters), first performed in 1974, are shining examples of Vetemaa’s uniquely sharp eye and witty lines; texts without which Estonian Theatre History would not be complete. Vetemaa was bold in his exploration and exploitation of genres: his most famous text compilation is without doubt Eesti näkiliste välimääraja (Guide to Estonian Sprites, 1983) which mixes frivolity with popular science. In 2001 Vetemaa wrote a thrilling detective novel about cloning humans titled Neitsist sündinud (Born to a Virgin). A month in Hawaii resulted in a most unusual travel book, Maui on parim! (Maui Is the Best!, 1997).
Vetemaa has written remarkable film scripts, several opera libretti and composed music. Unofficially, he was the master of the Estonian Modernist short novel.

It would be all too easy and only a half-truth to say that Vetemaa’s writing is humorous. A deeper quality in his texts is ambivalence. He mixed realism and modernism, plays with irony and humour. His novel Kalevipoja mälestused (Memoirs of Kalevipoeg, 1971) is a travesty of the Estonian national epic that caused a wide polemic.
He emphasized the contradiction between reality, imagination and human life employing a huge array of techniques in both style and content. The novel The Monument (1965) does something that is quite unusual in the context of Estonian literature: the narrator is a negative character. In this way Vetemaa makes his readers enter the mind of a character for whom they feel no empathy. He remained true to his depiction of the multi-faceted nature of the world and its inhabitants. The narrator in the novel Minu väga magus elu ehk Martsipanimeister (My Very Sweet Life Or A Marzipan Maker, 2002) conceals in himself the idea that reading literature is always the reader’s touchstone of his own tolerance: how do you relate to a character with whom you might be on the same wavelength but with whom you cannot identify?
In 2011 Vetemaa published a monumental novel, Akadeemik Gustav Naani hiilgus ja viletsus (The Glory and Misery of the Academician Gustav Naan) which again plays with reality. It is based on the life story of a Soviet Estonian physicist and philosopher, Gustav Naan, a supporter of the communist system who gained much public support for his opinions on the family, morals and sex. This is a novel about life in Soviet Estonia with all grotesque tragedy seen from the upper step of the social staircase: a documentary and a fantasy at the same time, it covers a rather long period of time.
The works of Enn Vetemaa have been translated into 23 languages.
 
Enn Vetemaa died in Tallinn in 2017.


Copyright © Estonian Literature Centre. Designed by Asko K√ľnnap. Software by Sepeks