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Valev Uibopuu (1913-1997)


Estonian journalist, scholar, and novelist, who experimented discreetly with new techniques. Uibopuu was perhaps the best-known exile writer of his country during the decades after World War II, when Estonia was part of the Soviet Union. Uibopuu published his first short stories before the war. In his novels Uibopuu has described with deep psychological understanding people, who have become isolated from their surroundings. Often he dealt with some moral problem whose significance – perhaps bitterly tragicomic – emerges as the plot unfolds.

"Hirmus on surm, kui kaod ja lähed mulla alla, ilma et sinust midagi järele jääks. Mõni seina tõstetud palk, mõni istutatud puu, mõni kaevatud kraav, mõni veeretatud kivi ei ole siiski midagi. Need kõik kuivavad, lähevad umbe ja mädanevad, nagu sa isegi. Elav veretilk, mis igavesti jätkub, on rohkem väärt ja ainus, mis su elu lunastab. Mis tähendavad siin kõik inimeste seadmised? Ja mis see, kui mõni riivatud pullike kuski möirgama ja maad kaapima hakkab ning su soolikaid oma sarvede otsas nähä tahaks? Vana mehena mõtlen: mis on õieti ilus tegu ja mis hea tegu ning mis inetu tegu ja mis halb tegu?" (from 'Hämäriku eel' in Igavene küla, 1954)

Valev Uibopuu was born in 1913 in Võrumaa, Vana-Anstla, the son of a forest officer. During the Estonian War of Independence (1917-1920), his father, Evald, was arrested and executed by the Red Army in 1919. After graduating from the coeducational school of Otepää, he worked as a journalist in Valga and in Tallinn, including for the magazines Perekonnaleht and Eesti Sõna. As a writer Uibopuu started in the 1930s by publishing short stories in the literary magazine Looming. His first book, Väravate all, came out in 1936. Four year later followed Viljatu puu, also a collection of short stories. His early fiction, often telling about the harsh realities of life, was written in dispassionate style

In 1943, before the Red Army took over Estonia, Uibopuu escaped to Finland, where he worked at libraries. After the Continuation War (1941-44) Finland returned prisoners of war to the Soviet Union Soviet, but also Estonian and Ingrian refugees. In Estonia, tens of thousands of people were arrested and deported to Siberia. It has been estimated, that during WWII approxmitely 70,000 people fled the country, mainly to Sweden and Germany. A number of established or aspiring writers, such as Ilmar Talve, Kalju Lepik, Marie Under, Henrik Visnapuu, Artur Adson, Karl Ristikivi, and Bernard Kangro, chose emigration over Communist reality and Socialist realism. The Soviet occupation lasted until 1991 when Estonia restored its independence.

To avoid being sent back to his occupied home country, Uibopuu moved in 1944 from Finland to Sweden, where worked first as a journalist at the magazine Välis-Eesti and later with Bernard Kangro for the publishing company Eesti Kirjanike Kooperativ. Several of his books appeared also in Swedish. Along with Arved Viirlaid (born 1922), who settled in Canada, Uibopuu was one of the most translated Estonian exile novelists of his generation. Before the international breakthrough of such writers as Jaan Kross, Mati Unt, and poet Jaan Kaplinski, it was often said that the quality and quantity of literary production in exile surpassed that in Estonia. The situation was even compared to that of the great Polish emogration of the 19th century (Aleksis Rannit, Lituanus, Volume 16, No.2 - Summer 1970).

In Sweden, Stockholm became the center of Estonian exiles – close to fifty Estonian authors lived and worked in Sweden for many years. Uibopuu continued writing short stories and novels, of which several was published by Orto, a publishing company founded by Andres Laur. Uibopuu's novel production included Võõras kodu (1945), Keegi ei kuule meid (1948), and Neli tuld (1951), about the voyages and shipwreck of a vessel manned by Estonian refugees. This episodic work crystallized the mood of and the different attitudes of expatriated Estonians. In Janu (1957) Uibopuu followed in detail the life of a young girl from spring to autumns – she never fulfills her dreams of life after recovering from tuberculosis. Markuse muutumised (1961) examined the loss of idealism and the reality of welfare society. "What is wrong with that sentence, that the one who doesn't have a fountain pen is not a cultural person?"' (from Maskuse muutumised, 1961) The protagonist is a naive young man, who gets involved in increasingly awkward situations. Lademed (1970), was a story about a lonely woman and her difficulties of communing with other. In the scrutiny of the identity problems Uibopuu interweaved observations of the expatriate life.

In 1954 Uibopuu went back to Finland, where entered the University of Helsinki. After studying theoretical philosophy and psychology, he returned to Sweden. In 1958 Uibopuu received his M.A. from the University of Lund and in 1970 he published his doctoral thesis on Finno-Ugric philology. Uibopuu was appointed in 1971 professor of the University of Lund, retiring in 1980. Among his awards were Award of Dr. Arthur Puksov Foundation (Canada) in 1985 and Immigrant institute's prize 1993/94. He was a member of the Swedish PEN club and Immigrant Institution and a correspondence member of Finno-Ugrian Society and Finnish Literature Society. Uibopuu died on March 18, 1997, in Lund, and was buried in Karula, Lüllemë, Estonia. He never moved back to his old home country, though he traveled there after the independence. In the 1990s, Neli tuld, Keegi ei kuule meid, Janu, and Markuse muuttumised, were republished in Estonia, where his novels had not been available for decades.

The atmosphere of Uibopuu's short stories and novels is meditative. His characters reveal layer by layer more and more about themselves, but there is always something hidden and unexplained. In the first pages of Janu the lonely narrator tells that the time of her recovery was the most beautiful time in her life. "What does it mean to be lonely and forgotten? I was lonely already in my childhood." The first snow comes, and she sees her future as white and pure. But she never leaves her home, comparing her life to that of a plant chained on the soil.

For further reading: 'Relations of Estonian Exile Book to the Native Country and the World' by Anne Valmas (2005) Valev Uibopuu: elu ja loomingu lugu by Ülo Tonts (2004); Keskusteluja Valev Uibopuun kanssa / Vestlusi Valev Uibopuuga by Pertti Virtaranta (1991); Estonian Literature by Ender Nirk (1987); Estonian Literature in Exile by A. Oras and Bernard Kangro (1967) - For further information: Uibopuu, Valev (invandrarförfattare in Sverige)

Selected bibliography:

  • Väravate all, 1936 (a short story)
  • Hõbedane õng, 1940
  • Viljatu puu, 1940
    - Häkkilinnut: novelleja (suom. Helvi Katajavuori, Eino Parikka, 1945)
  • Metsamajake, 1941
  • Võõras kodu, 1945
  • Estland berättar: noveller, 1946 (ed., with Ants Oras, E.V. Saks, övers. av Menda Janson, Greta Milk-Barrot, Elisabeth Rein)
  • Linnud puuris, 1946
  • Keegi ei kuule meid, 1948
    - Ingen hör oss (översättning: Ilona Laaman och Christina Sejte, 1990)
  • Kahju läinud aegadest, 1949
  • Lainete saladus ja muid muinasjutte, 1949 (ed., with Arvo Mägi, Karl Ristikivi)
  • Neli tuld, 1951
    - Neljä tulta (suom. Kerttu Mustonen ja Helvi Katajavuori, 1952)
    - Fyra eldar (övers. via finskan av Ragna Ljungdell, 1955)
  • Mälesused / C. G. Mannerheim, 1952 (translator) 
  • Igavene küla, 1954
    - Myöhäinen rakkaus (suom. Tuuli Reijonen, 1965)
    - Margeriita sökaren (övers. av Ilona Laaman, 1982)
  • Pagulas-eesti lugejaskond kirjandusankeedi valgusel, 1955
  • Meie maa: Eesti sõnas ja Pildis , 1955-57 (4 vols., ed., with Bernard Kangro)
  • Janu, 1957
    - Jano (suom. Kerttu Mustonen-Hukki, 1958)
    - Att vilja leva (övers. av E. R. Gummerus, 1960)
  • Eesti talu: koguteos sõnas ja pildis, 1959 (ed., with Bernard Kangro)
  • Estlands ansikte: en skildring i ord och bild, 1960 (with Bernard Kangro)
    - The Face of Estonia: Estonia in Picture and Word, Compiled by Bernard Kangro and Valev Uibopuu (translated by Hillar Kallas, 1961)
  • Maskuse muutumised, 1961
    - Markus, älä muutu! (suom. Tuuli Reijonen-Uibopuu, 1962)
    - Markus hjälparen (övers. av E. R. Gummerus, 1963)
  • Kes on süüdi? / Tuuli Reijonen, 1962 (translator; alkuteos Kenen on syy?)
  • Toselli serenaad, 1962
  • Mosaiik: novelle ja laaste, 1962
    - Myöhäinen rakkaus (suom. Tuuli Reijonen, 1965)
    - Margeriita sökaren (övers. av Ilona Laaman, 1982)
  • Minu noorusmaa, 1964 (ed.)
  • Similarkomparative konstruktionen im Finnischen und Estnischen insbesondere in der modernen Schriftsprace, 1970 (doctoral thesis)
  • Lademed, 1970
  • Tosseli serenaad: jutustusi, novelle ja dialooge, 1982
  • Ingenstans att ta vägen, 1983
  • Meie ja meie hõimud, 1984
    - Finnougrierna och deras språk: kapitel om de finsk-ugiska folkens förflutna och nutid (översättning från estniskan: Herbert Lagman, 1988)
  • Ajovoolu võrendikest, 1987
  • Saksa noorsooraamat 18. sajandi soomeugrilaste kirjeldajana, 1987-88 (published in the magazine Tulimuld)
  • Mina ja Tema: esimene raamat romaanist Kaks inimelu ajapöördeis, 1990
  • Ainult juhus: teine raamat romaanist Kaks inimelu ajapöördeis, 1991
  • Keskusteluja Valev Uibopuun kanssa = Vestlusi Valev Uibopuuga, 1991 (with Pertti Virtaranta)
  • Muutunud maailm, 1997 (toimetanud Georg Grünberg)

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