Ilmar Jaks was an author characterized as poetic, ironic, paradoxical, unexpected – and without a doubt one of the Estonian authors whose Second World War was most adventurous.

Jaks was born in 1923 in Western Estonia as a son of a teacher, and had before the war worked as a journalist. During that war he fought for the liberation of both Estonia and Finland, escaped from captivity, and was conscripted after the war into the Red Army. In 1945 he managed to swim across to a Finnish ship in Leningrad harbour and flee to Sweden. He studied law at Uppsala University, worked as a Swedish civil servant as well as running his own law firm. Since then, he lived in various parts of Europe, in Brittany for a number of years, and then returned to Sweden near the border of Norway.  

Jaks started out as a chronicler of memories of war, and between 1958 and 1977 he published four collections of short stories to which he added in 2003 the collection Pimedus (Darkness / Blindness). This was his first collection to appear initially in his homeland, not in exile. Jaks is known as a vivid master of short forms.
Significant is his change of emphasis with regard to the content of his stories. He started out examining the war and its aftermath from the point of view of a refugee living in exile. Then he introduced more universal themes including the fate of the individual, taking as his point of departure an episode or detail from everyday life which, by way of the author's treatment, gains in humour, irony, the grotesque or, on occasions, tragedy. Jaks has himself said that he carries the landscapes of his youth within him as a psychological microcosm, as sights, voices, smells, added to which are his road through life since that time. Being an incorrigible wanderer he moves through his memories of youth with the same ease as through memories of other parts of Europe; his stories can be set on a train rushing from Hamburg to Kiel, in a Paris café, a Gasthaus in Bremen, a Normandy farm, a petrol station in Cardiff or just about anywhere - often, however, in settings of his youth and schooldays. Although Jaks has claimed that people are the same the world over and that his stories could take place anywhere, each short story has its own specific topography, mostly quite concrete in nature. Nor should we overlook the Biblical themes: Jesus is depicted by Jaks as a bohemian who protests against the world around him, and about Mary he suggests that Joseph had some part to play in the game.

Jaks the author can be contrasted with Jaks the lawyer, and this contrast emerges in his novels where human laws are questioned. One of the key works of Estonian Modernism is the novel Eikellegi maa. Ülestähendusi Siimonist (No Man's Land. The Jottings of Siimon, 1963) where the protagonist jots down associative fragments of memories which on occasions approach poetry. In the novel Talu (Farm, 1980) Jaks examines the urge to own property, as he does the need for rules in human society and the primeval theme of love between those opposites, man and woman, and where the man's freedom comes at the cost of the farm burning to the ground. The novel Neptun. Õiguse telgitagustest (Neptune. Behind the Scenes at Law, 1981) tells of a lawyer who abandons his legal practice when he encounters the clash between the law and human values.

What is interesting is that his novels recall poems, and not only free verse, but even rhymed poetry, as has been said about his novel Farm.

In his writings, Jaks created his own utopia, the no-man's-land of his own "pure" existence, and contrasted that with the animal regimentation of human society, which theme gives rise to a large number of descriptions of animals in his works. For this reason, critics have termed Jaks the consistent anarchist whose sceptical views help promote a true sense of justice.
Ilmar Jaks passed away in September 2019 in Stockholm.

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