Teet Kallas is probably the writer every Estonian knows very well, as he has since 1996 been the scriptwriter of the country´s most well known TV drama serial Õnne 13 (13 Fortune Street) with a weekly audience of 250, 000 people. But as a writer, and a very captivating one, Kallas belongs to the mighty literary generation of the nineteen-sixties, of new and experimental modernist traits and forms.

Born in 1943, Kallas began writing in secondary school and made his debut in a magazine in 1958 and with a book, Nii palju päikest (So Much Sunshine) in 1964. He began mostly with short stories for youth (a lot of them gathered together in the collection Väikesed hobused särava vikerkaare all (Little Horses under the Glistening Rainbow, 1980), which became very popular – the title story was written while serving in the army in Palanga, Lithuania, keeping guard in an anti-aircraft defence observation tower. Then, at last, came his first novel - a novel-revue, Heliseb-kõliseb (Jingle, 1972), a mystical, road-movie like book, a cult novel and according to some critics one of the best books ever written in this language, to be his breakthrough into `major literature´. It was written in prison and mental hospital, as the KGB arrested Kallas, accused in anti-Soviet propaganda, in 1969. It describes a scientist´s ride around the Soviet youth summer camps and has perhaps because of its writing conditions the exceptional feeling of freedom, or yearning, in it. The camps were organized as a substitute for the prohibited church confirmation. The novel has been compared to Jack Kerouac and in some way resembles Mikhail Bulgakov with its fantasy, and reality melting into a fairy-tale.

As a very prolific author, Kallas has written, besides novels and short stories, feuilletons, parodies, humorous sketches, radio plays, newspaper columns and articles on current public and political affairs, scenarios, and last but not least, song lyrics and poetry. His only play is titled Neli vestlust armastusest (Four Conversations About Love, 1972).

He manages to surprise, and never loses his partly mystical interest, and he is not afraid of the unusual. For example, in the mythical Corrida (1979), written on altogether pragmatic grounds for a novel contest (it won second prize and has been translated into several languages), a literary critic spends his summer on a lonely islet with his young, Hemingway-reading wife, a windmill and lighthouse, ninety one young bulls and one very old, evil bull called Satan, several guests and ghosts of dead sealers. It has also been made into a movie.

Kallas has often written about life in modern cities, the loneliness and psychological stress, families falling apart, deadlocks, alcoholism, careerism, for example in the dystopian warning novel Janu (Thirst, 1983), in his own opinion his best book, and he has been as satirical as possible about the stagnation period of the nineteen-eighties. He has been attracted into the grotesque and absurd. As a writer, Kallas has named Nikolay Gogol, Vasily Aksyonov, Yuri Kazakov, and Anatoly Gladilin to take as models. He has actually translated Aksyonov among the others (Alexander Grin, Stephen King etc.), and Aksyonov, in his turn, has claimed to have been influenced by Kallas.

Teet Kallas has worked in newspapers, as an editor on the literary magazine Looming and in TV, in the President´s chancellery, and also as a politician, and has been a professional writer. He thinks of the writer´s career as a mission, especially in the case of small nations, and wants to write next about the end of the nineteen-sixties and the beginning of the next decade in Estonia.

Text by Elle-Mari Talivee

Copyright © Estonian Literature Centre. Designed by Asko Künnap. Software by Sepeks