Already multiple generations of Estonian readers are familiar with Leelo Tungal foremost through her spirited children's poems, which climax in creative ways and are speckled with plays on words. Yet, in addition to her fifty children's books, Tungal has published 12 poetry collections for adults, as well as one collection of short stories and a young-adult novel. Her novels Seltsimees laps ja suured inimesed (Comrade Kid and the Grown-Ups, 2008) and Samet ja saepuru (Velvet and Sawdust, 2009), which are based on memories from her childhood, have likewise received lively feedback.

Tungal, who received an education in Estonian philology, made her debut at the age of 18 in the so-called "cassette generation" – during the "golden sixties" – with the poetry collection titled Kummaliselt kiivitajad kurtsid (The Lapwings Oddly Complained, 1966). Tungal's early works are characterized by a bright sense of nature rich in nuances; Elo Lindsalu highlights the joyful eroticism of Tungal's poems, which she says stick out for their catchy optimism that contrasts with the predominately gloomy spirits of Estonian women's poetry. Lindsalu likewise states that, driven by general simplification of the poetic technique, "Leelo Tungal's fastidiousness of form incites genuine admiration. Two crowns of sonnets in classic Shakespearian sonnet form – Avamine (Opening) and Muusika aed (The Music Garden) are especially effective and rare (Eesti Päevaleht, 20.09.2002).

Angsts and hopes, as well as a sensitive and immediate sharing in social changes all arise in Tungal's poems published in the late 80s. In the early 90s, hesitations and sometimes dark moods are expressed in her poetry collections, which bear the characteristic titles Ainus kangelastegu on naeratus (The Only Heroic Act is a Smile, 1991) and Ei nime, ei hinda (No Name, No Price, 1993). In the 2000s, Tungal has moved towards a more distanced perspective and an analytic tone; both of her selections published in the 2000s – Käsi on valge ja süsi on must (The Hand is White and Coal is Black, 2002) and Täisminevik (Full Past, 2007) also include new material.

The prose work Seltsimees Laps ja suured inimesed. Veel üks jutustus õnnelikust lapsepõlvest (Comrade Kid and the Grown-Ups. One More Story of a Happy Childhood, 2008), which was nominated for a Cultural Endowment of Estonia Prize for Essayistics and brought the author a Harju County Pearl Award for Culture, speaks of the writer's early childhood during the first half of the 1950s, during which her schoolteacher mother was arrested and sent to work in a forced-labor camp in Siberia as a political prisoner for 25+5 years. Sorrowful humor against the backdrop of traumatic events, as well as a child's point of view that is presented amusingly and with great immersion are brought out in the book. The same characterizes the book's sequel, titled Samet ja saepuru (Velvet and Sawdust, 2009).

As a diverse author, Tungal has also written an esteemed ABCs book and composed readers; has created several opera libretti as well as lyrics for cantatas and songs; and has likewise translated children's poetry for adults and children alike (primarily from Russian and Finnish, but also Bulgarian and Polish). Selections of poetry by, for example, Bella Akhmadulina, Maya Borissova (translated together with Arvi Siig), and Marina Chvetayeva have been published as separate books.

Text by Maarja Kangro


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