Ene Mihkelson´s novel Ahasveeruse uni (The Dream of Ahasuerus, 2001) was regarded as the greatest Estonian novel of the end of the 20th century, but her next novel Katkuhaud (Plague Grave, 2007) has been already mentioned as the first grand novel in 21st century literature in Estonia. Her novels are about the choices the Estonians had after World War II under the Soviet occupation, and she is regarded as one of the most prominent contemporary Estonian novelists.
Ene Mihkelson was born in 1944 in central Estonia as the daughter of a farmer. She studied Estonian literature and language at Tartu University and has worked as a researcher in the Estonian Literary Museum. Since 1979 she has been principally a freelance writer, remaining in her university town. Mihkelson made her debut in 1967 as a poet, and her complicated style was from the beginning also rooted in the historical layers of family myths and background.
Memory, identity, fate and the documented layers of history form the keynote of her poems. The poet tries, in the first place, to give everything a name, since only named objects and events retain their essence and manage to survive. With regard to the past, naming is important to prevent matters from slipping into oblivion, in the present naming becomes an invitation to exist, uttered by a human tongue. Mihkelson's vocabulary is painful. Her style of poetry is often one of allegory and becomes eternal in value, rising up by touching upon metaphysical themes. By way of intertextuality, Mihkelson's poems link up with the past and earlier poetic tradition as well as with the present, without in so doing becoming mere reportage. While still dealing with her nation, Mihkelson has, over the years, moved to the level of humanity as a whole, incorporating Biblical quotes and allusions to world literature.

By way of form, Mihkelson's poetry is quite unconventional: her poetry cannot be neatly divided up into verses and strophes, they lack versification, punctuation, voice instrumentation and rhythm; and breath breaks are indicated merely by a capital letter which can occur in the middle of a line with the concomitant enjambment as a result, all of which cuts up the verses unexpectedly. The language is intense, terse, concentrated, so that understanding of any given poem is interwoven with a process of inversions and paradoxes. The poems resemble passages ripped out of some magical-realist saga, whose misty beginnings derive their subject matter from the mythologies of the past.

With her novels she has changed the discourse of writing of the tragic episode in Estonian history involving the Forest Brethren, the anti-Soviet guerrilla movement in the late forties and early fifties. Herself daughter of such a Forest Brother, she was long not regarded as an acceptable writer in the eyes of the Soviet authorities.
The protagonist of her novels since Nime vaev (The Torment of a Name, 1990) is investigating the exploits of her own father, with whom she deals with a good deal of intensity. The protagonist also analyses her whole family lineage and her own motivation for studying the subject in the first place. The Torment of a Name was one of the most complex and interesting works published that year. In analysing the links between memory and the past, between the individual and history, the author is painfully thorough. In The Dream of Ahasuerus the man was regarded as a double agent by the Forest Brethren and sentenced to death by them.
In Plague Grave, a story of betrayal, the first-person narrator has grown up in strange ignorance of her origin. Her parents had gone into the forest in 1949, afraid of being deported to Siberia as kulaks; the little girl stays with relatives and finally with her aunt. The novel is a complicated inner monologue, often changing the speaker. It is a Hamlet-like inner struggle through deep psychology, tension rising gradually. While trying, years later, to find out what happened to her parents and to her home village, she visits her aunt again and finds her ready to confess, as if standing on an edge of a grave of those she has once betrayed, the narrator´s father among them. The narrator had been as a little girl a bait to lure her parents out of the forest.
Mihkelson´s poetry collection Torn (The Tower, 2010), awarded the Baltic Assembly literary prize, is like a poetic coda of these three novels, continuing and summarizing the essence of these novels, being at the same time somehow hopeful.
Ene Mihkelson avoids interviews and otherwise commenting on her writing. Her motto is to be found in her writings themselves. Flesh, which is a feeling of nationality in her writings, identity and the paradoxes of history have so precisely and in such a balanced Word, and so this cannot be uttered in any other way. If one is looking for a parallel in world literature, sometimes the name of Umberto Eco has been mentioned. Ene Mihkelson has also published short-stories and literary criticism.


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