Asta Põldmäe is one of Estonia's most captivating prosaists, and in addition is a very productive translator from Spanish and Finnish into her native tongue.
Põldmäe was born in Puurmani, Tartu County in 1944. She graduated as a journalist from the University of Tartu and complemented her studies in Moscow, in the field of Spanish language. She has worked as an editor and a journalist, and since 1986 has been an editor of literary monthly Looming. Põldmäe has been a member of the Estonian Writers' Union since 1978.
Asta Põldmäe made her debut as a writer in 1964: her first collection of short stories, Me (We, 1977), is a contemplation of the world and daily life through the eyes of a child. Her works Mitmekesi maateral (The Lot of Us on Earth's Sliver, 1978) and Sügisjooniku seeme (Appleseed, 1989) were written for children or youth. Põldmäe's children's stories are just as fascinating for adults, and vice-versa. In Põldmäe's earlier works, the child is the keyword, core, starting point, and point of view: sometimes, it is a unique child mature for his or her age. On occasion, it is a child of the post-WWII years; other times, it is the impressions of a child that has been sick for a long time after their recovery, or else a contemporary boy or girl seen through the prism of humor. Sometimes, it is an observer; other times, a judger. An age-old connection lasts with the child, which can nevertheless be broken or startled. On the other hand, the perspectives of such children are inseparable from that of their mother: the subject is the relationship between mother and child, the yearning for a mother's figure.
Põldmäe's short prose can be termed lyrical. Such is the collection titled Linnadealune muld (Soil Beneath the Cities, 1989), in which the world is sensitive, animated, random in disappearing in some way, tense and memorable.
Several interesting historical short stories list among Põldmäe's works of recent years: both Viini plika (Vienna Girl, 1999) and Talvine teekond (Winter Journey, 2003) speak about the life of eminent Estonian poetess Lydia Koidula. The stories have a broad setting: Vienna, Tartu, and St. Petersburg's Kronstadt. They see the Estonian poetry classic from a different, novel perspective than what most are accustomed to, and are simultaneously conservative and modern in depicting Estonia's Age of National Awakening. They are conversations about language and linguistic identity, and in doing so, use that same language in a spectacular way: the question undergoes an especially charged culmination in the multi-national environment of Vienna in the first story. In this way, they are similarly short stories about memory and remembering, about cultural memory.
Põldmäe's book Kirjad pääsukestele (Letters to Swallows, 2009) is even difficult to place anywhere in terms of genre. The author herself has subtitled it as "epistolary elegy". As if poetry written in prose, it is a symbiosis of a diary, letters, and slivers of text, which is absolutely entrancing: altogether 28 letters to swallows, whether from summery Estonia or Germany, or from the cold of winter; letters longing for them. The book has been compared to Rainer Mari Rilke's Duino Elegies in terms of existential melancholy and a hopeless attempt at eternalizing the experience of beauty.
Põldmäe has translated into Estonian the works of Martti Haavio, Veikko Huovinen, Leena Krohn, Juan Ramón Jimenez, Pio Baroja, Azorin, Ernesto Sabato, Ramón Gómez de la Serna, Octavio Paz, and others.