With Jaan Undusk one can only wonder at the inverse proportionality of the size of his work and its importance. There are a number of good writers in Estonia who have published as many as twenty or thirty books, but there is no-one on a par with Jaan Undusk. His first novel was enough to make literary history.

The fact is that not only is Jaan Undusk one of the literary milestones of the past decade but he is also an eminent interpreter of Estonian literature, a creator of meta-literature. He has analysed exile literature, Baltic German literature, the language of Stalinism, and so forth. In an article in 1988 he formulated the main task of Estonian literature as “the creation and recreation of the Estonian national and cultural identity.” This is how Jaan Undusk has become one of the most important writers and literary theorists of the nineteen-nineties.

1990 is considered a watershed in Estonian literature. One of three causes of this watershed is Jaan Undusk’s sensual novel Kuum. Lugu noorest armastust (Hot: A Story of Young Love). The importance of the novel lies in the fact that it does not (just) describe the world but it concentrates on describing itself. Hot is a remarkably self-conscious attempt to write in an intertextual manner and on as broad a basis as possible. Hot is a book where words, which are generally used as a means of describing the world, become something like characters in the book – in so far as this is possible. The literary theorist Epp Annus says, “In Undusk’s Hot the joy of words, every sentence, the perfectly polished quality of expression and the pleasure of its very existence causes the reader to pause rather than move on.”

Born in 1958 in the middle of the Otepää Hills in South Estonia, Undusk has mentioned those beautiful landscapes as having shaped his world of thought. Undusk graduated from the University of Tartu, having studied Estonian language and literature, and is since 1986 Doctor of Philosophy (his dissertation was about Friedebert Tuglas). After defending the dissertation, Undusk wrote about Tuglas a brilliant novel that comprised the thoughts that had to stay out of the thesis and was awarded the Friedebert Tuglas short story award. He is the director of the Under and Tuglas Literature Centre of the Estonian Academy of Sciences. As an interpreter of literature, Jaan Undusk created a landmark with the publication of his collection of essays Maagiline müstiline keel (Magical and Mystical Language) in 1998. Thus two books – a novel and a collection of essays – mark Undusk’s brilliant trajectory over the last decade of the twentieth century. In 2007 Jaan Undusk was elected a member of the Estonian Academy of Sciences.

A valued author of short stories, Undusk is as well an author of three excellent plays, all staged with great popularity. In 1999 the journal Vikerkaar published his play Goodbye, Vienna which received a lively response, culminating in a stage performance in 2002. Quevedo (2003) won the first prize in a play-writing competition, concentrating on 17th century Spain, its literature and politics. While the first play is a love story in Vienna, the second takes place in Madrid, But Boulgakoff deals with the writer Mikhail Afanasyevich Bulgakov in Moscow: the famous Russian writer was allowed by Stalin to write honestly, but nothing was published or staged. Marked with irony and lightness at the same time, the texts of Undusk are all very tense, and the complicated relationship of power and free way of thinking has been one of the undertones of his plays.
Undusk has translated F. Nietzsche, Th. Bernhard, E. Lévinas, J. M. R. Lenz and other German and Baltic-German authors into Estonian.


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