Mats Traat is like a cornerstone of Estonian literature, impossible to imagine without his poetry and prose. He has been really prolific in both genres.
In 2010, with a novel called Õelate lamp (The Lamp of the Wicked) he finished his panoramic roman-fleuve Minge üles mägedele (Go Up the Hills) consisting of 12 parts and a prologue, beginning with the eighteen-forties and ending after World War II. It is an overview the life of a farmer, Hendrik from a farmhouse called Palanumäe, and his marriages. Palanumäe means in the Southern dialect the Burnt Mountain and the name is deeply symbolic. The works of Traat seem to be almost pieces of a mosaic, making up a most panoramic overview of the Southern part of Estonia, close to the Latvian border, previously called Livonia. He has a very special way of perceiving the environment, making the reader see the different layers a landscape has: that of nature, the others from the viewpoint of man - of history, feelings, meanings, etc.
Traat has written in his novels and short stories on cultural historical themes about the indigenous population over the past one and a half centuries, sometimes also on a wider scale: in a collection entitled Kartaago kiirrong (The Carthage Express, 1998) the story Võimu rist (The Cross of Power) deals with the death of Admiral Kolchak for an undivided Russia.
Traat was born in 1936 in Southern Estonia and finished first at technical college, working for a while as a kolkhoz (collective farm) labourer, and then had an opportunity to study in Moscow at the Literature Institute and later on at the Institute of Cinema. He has worked as an editor in the Tallinnfilm film studio and since 1970 has been a professional writer.
Traat made his début in 1962 with a collection of poetry titled Kandilised laulud (Angular Songs) considered to be close to the soil. With regard to his poetry, the term ‘poetry of social comment’ has often been employed, and this reflects the keenness in the nineteen-sixties on science and the technical revolution, plus the exploration of the cosmos, the scepticism of the following decades, and the joys and pains involved in the restoration of the Estonian Republic at the end of the 20th century. Traat has remained himself. The core of his work involves an ethical pathos and a belief in the retreat of evil before good. His poetry contains a personal lyricism as well as sensitive nature portraits and sharp observations of society, but Traat never makes a cult of form or æstheticism for æstheticism's sake. And when the author, who comes from the south of Estonia, gave his cycle of dialect poems the title I Flee Into the Languages of Tartu, this does not mean that he has turned his back on the world, but that he is deriving strength from ancient expressions and values.
Especially significant for Estonian poetry have been his Harala elulood (Histories From Harala), to which Traat has been adding for four decades and whose first poems appeared when Traat first started publishing. It is a collection of epitaphs in the style of Edgar Lee Masters' Spoon River Anthology and where the author uses concision to sketch the lives of a couple of hundred inhabitants of the village of Harala. The author acts as a chronicler, revealing history by way of the biographies, also the hidden tragedy at the departure of human life, a gentle nostalgia and humour and where it is shown that every mortal has a life worth recording for posterity.
Having the most beautiful name for a book, Traat´s novel Karukell, kurvameelsuse rohi (Pasqueflower, Remedy For Sadness, 1982) is a novel about writing a novel, in a mystic form of recalling the lost nation of the Livonians. First a film script, then a novel, Tants aurukatla ümber (Dance around the Steam Boiler, 1971), translated into many languages and made into a film, is considered among the most seminal works in Estonian literature. The writer concentrates on the past and future of Estonian country life, the world he knows best. As a grand writer, he wakes up the past in a fascinating, unforgettable and thoughtful way, and has won numerous significant literary prizes for his prose and poetry, the University of Tartu award for contribution to Estonian national identity in 2010, and the Jaan Kross Literary Award in 2011.


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