Tõnu Õnnepalu (Anton Nigov, Emil Tode)

Tõnu Õnnepalu is one of the most interesting and internationally known Estonian prose authors. He has published works under the pseudonyms of Emil Tode and Anton Nigov. He began his writing career as a poet in 1985, with a collection entitled Jõeäärne maja (A Riverside House). Õnnepalu´s real breakthrough came in 1993 when he published his novel Piiririik (Border State) under the pseudonym Emil Tode for which he received the annual literary award given by the Baltic Assembly.

Border State enjoyed an explosive success internationally and became the most translated Estonian book of the nineteen-nineties. It is a book which could not have been written and published in Estonian before. Here, there is the then new experience of Estonia and the rest of the former Soviet bloc as life beyond its borders is opened up as the Soviet Union collapsed. The novel examines the opposites east and west, Estonia and Europe. The protagonist is a young homosexual man on a bursary in Paris and who tries, by way of personal experience, to fathom the changes taking place throughout Europe in the early 1990s. The themes of the book are his relationship with an older West European man and a murder sub-plot. At the start of the 1990s, the principle questions an Estonian would ask himself or herself was: who are we? What is this world we see before us? What rules have to be obeyed here? The protagonist is a representative of the "noble savage" who tries to familiarise himself with these new rules. Maybe the international success of the book was on account of this dimension: the East European "savage" spoke, but did so in a way understandable to readers in Western Europe itself.

Born in 1962 in Tallinn, Õnnepalu studied in a biology-biased class and continued his studies of biology at the University of Tartu. He was a teacher of biology and chemistry in Hiiumaa Island till 1987, then became a freelance writer, translator and journalist. He has worked as an editor in the literary magazine Vikerkaar and in the Foreign Ministry of Estonia, as the director of the Estonian Institute in Paris.
In all his books, Õnnepalu seeks the answers to various crucial human questions covering love and loneliness, sexuality, social life and religious freedom, power over others and betrayal. Writing as Emil Tode, the author continued this theme in Hind (Price, 1995) and a novel from a woman's point of view, Printsess (Princess, 1997). Central to these books is a quest for identity in a changing world. Under another pseudonym, Anton Nigov on this occasion, the author has published a further, autobiographical novel entitled Harjutused (Practicing, 2002), a kind of confessional diary. Again writing under the name Emil Tode, the author published that same year a continuation of the themes examined in Border State in Raadio (Radio). This time the theme is the life of an ageing diva whose life is intricated with that of a young gay.
His novel Paradiis (Paradise, 2009) is in epistolary form a work about seven days on Hiiumaa – in May 2009, reminding the years he spent once there, those people of a little beautiful seashore village, their circles of life. This is a monologue arising the reflections in reader, a confession of seeking love, enduring loneliness and anticipation. He is a master of creating the atmosphere of her books, and here nature is forming the unity with the lifestyle of the past. Exceptional is the way of description: it consists of sounds, colours, feelings, very little things, together simple and yet sublime.
In 2009 Õnnepalu´s poetry Kevad ja suvi ja (Spring and Summer and, 2009) is a diary in poems, on the border of poetry and prose, about the year 2008. He is exceptional in writing about nature, so rich in subtle nuances, beautiful and wistful, very human. The form of a diary, used as well in his Flandria päevik (Flanders Diary, 2008), is somehow very indwell to the author: in the last one in Flanders, Vollezele, the velvety autumn landscapes strengthen the feeling of the intensive lonelyness of a writer, together with a monologue of a monk from the 13th century as an interlude. Õnnepalu has translated works from the French by the authors François Mauriac, Charles Baudelaire and Marcel Proust.
In 2006 he was chosen to be the best author of Estonia since the restoration of the Estonian Republic.


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