Jüri Ehlvest was one of the most exciting and mysterious authors to feature in recent Estonian prose. His works attracted a great deal of attention over the past decade and he received several literary awards. On two occasions, Ehlvest won the prize for prose writing awarded by the Estonian Cultural Endowment, and twice the Tuglas Award for short fiction. His first collection of stories, Krutsiaania (Cruciania), and the first novel of mosaics, Ikka veel Bagdadis (Still in Baghdad) appeared in 1996, and the first of these became instantly very popular. Ehlvest's method of creation could be described as magical realism, and has often been compared to a dream-like experience – also while reading it. His stories have to be peeled away, layer by layer, and have many very active intertextual references, not so much literary ones as ones involving religious texts. Ehlvest thus brought Old Testament discourse to Estonian literature which he interwove with simple, human matters: tales of love, beauty and wisdom as well as the search for truth.

Against this background, it is important to note that Ehlvest had studied both biology and, briefly, theology and analytical philosophy at university. Born in 1967 in Tallinn, he finished there a biology-biased school and continued with biology at the University of Tartu for two years. He then began to take part in a new and radical literary generation, being a member of different literary groups of alternative literature. He was interested in dramaturgy, has written short plays and staged an outdoor project. Jüri Ehlvest´s brother is the well-known chess player Jaan Ehlvest.

Critics have seen in his texts the urge towards "cabalistic interpretation" where the world of today is explained by way of certain key texts. Reading Ehlvest's stories is like unravelling riddles invented by the author himself. The associations made in them are often unexpected, while at the same time the reader is drawn into Ehlvest's games of meaning. It is easy to fall under the spell of his texts, perhaps also because he used the mystical and magical power of language when writing his stories. Ehlvest was more anarchic, even schizophrenic, in his earlier stories, the best of which have been collected in Päkapikk kirjutab (Tom Thumb Writes, 1997). His novel Elli lend (Elli`s Flight, 1999) has been analyzed as having three levels: one of a love story, a meta-novel of writing this love story, and an essay-novel consisting of the different thoughts of all the characters. His later works, especially the collection of stories entitled Hobune eikusagilt (A Horse From Nowhere, 2002) were clearer, more tranquil and even exhibit a certain undertone of social commitment. His writing has often been compared to something very tense and clever, so tense as to be like balancing between life and death. He wrote down the insanity, fears and pressures of a human being, while trying to stay healthy and lovable, to cope. He did it painfully but genuinely.

Jüri Ehlvest died in 2006 in New York.

Ehlvest's idiosyncratic style has become part and parcel of Estonian literature, and a number of younger authors followed in his footsteps. His works have been the topic of many literary and philosophical studies.


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