Prosaist and poetess Kai Aareleid made her debut in 2011 with the novel Vene veri (Russian Blood). The work, which was praised for its form, language, and themes, was nominated for Estonia’s most prestigious award for prose. In the story (which is unusually fragmented for a novel), the path of the narrator – the spouse of a diplomat stationed in St. Petersburg – is interwoven with the history of her Russian ancestress, who emigrated from Russia to Estonia. Mixed in are an intentionally suppressed past and a somewhat intimidating present; one draped with the sense of being homeless abroad and filled with a bright, very fine, and sensitive perception of place. The colorful shades of Aareleid’s descriptions paint both the St. Petersburg of a distant past and of a metropolitan present, evoking the issues of roots, borders, and prejudices. 

Kai Aareleid was born in Tartu in 1972. She graduated from the Theatre Academy Helsinki (Finland) with a master’s degree in dramaturgy (1997), and additionally studied literary translation and editing at Tallinn University (2001). Aareleid has written articles, literary reviews, and a play staged in Finland. A prolific translator, she has translated into Estonian works from the Spanish, Portuguese, French, Finnish, and English (including books by Bruce Chatwin, Arturo Pérez-Reverte, Carlos Ruiz Zafón, Javier Marías, Paulo Coelho, and Roberto Bolaño). 

Aareleid’s short story “Tango” won Estonia’s prestigious Friedebert Tuglas Short Story Award in 2013. She is the author of two poetry collections since 2015: Naised teel (Women on Their Way) and Vihm ja vein (Rain and Wine), which hold a bright, almost Japanese nostalgia. In 2018 Aareleid published her first short-story collection Salaelud (Secret Lives), inluding novellas and miniatures written from 2010–2018. 

The author’s second novel, Linnade põletamine (Burning Cities, 2016), repeats the unparalleled perception of time and place found in her debut work. It contains the same calm silence, a talent for conveying extremely delicate emotions, and discernment of the most fragile of notes – be they the sounds and colors of urban space, or the human soul itself. The novel tells the story of a family living in the battle-scarred southern Estonian town of Tartu shortly after World War II. By navigating a mosaic of fragmented memories, the reader gradually learns the family’s history, chiefly through the eyes of a girl named Tiina as she grows to become a young woman. 

Kai Aareleid was chosen as the 2016 Estonian Writer of the Year and she has been receiving the Estonian writer’s salary since 2020.

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