Writer, journalist, and film director Imbi Paju was born in central Estonia in 1959. She studied at several universities, including in political science at the University of Helsinki (1990–1995), and has worked as a freelance journalist for various television channels and newspapers in both Finland and Estonia.

Paju has written and directed two documentary films: Memories Denied, a psychological history documentary released in 2005, and Soome lahe õed (Sisters Across the Gulf of Finland) in 2009. The former investigates women’s treatment in the Soviet Union’s system of repression – tragically, bottling up agonizing memories was one way for survivors to protect and preserve themselves. Memories Denied was awarded Best Estonian Documentary at the 2006 Pärnu International Documentary and Anthropological Film Festival.

Memories Denied was released as a book in 2006, first in Finland and a year later in Estonia. Since then, the work has been translated into several languages and enjoyed multiple print runs in Finland. Paju has traveled around the world giving presentations on both the film and print versions.

Paju’s first work marked the beginning of a new era in Estonian memory studies: its manner of looking back upon the Soviet deportations, harrowing Gulag experiences, and perhaps even the collective experience of life within the USSR has bound the subject closer to international memory culture by adding Estonia’s sad chapter. In a quote on the book’s front cover, Pulitzer Prize-winning historian Anne Applebaum remarks: “By describing the fate of her mother – arrested, imprisoned, deported to the Gulag as a young woman – Imbi Paju has, in effect, told the story of an entire nation.” Paju’s writing has been compared to that of Günter Grass, Ruth Kluger, and Svetlana Alexievich.

Sisters Across the Gulf of Finland premiered in Finland, Estonia, and at the European Parliament in Brussels in 2009. Paju also released it as a book in 2012. Similar in style to Memories Denied, it juxtaposes the respective fates of Estonia and Finland against the backdrop of the Cold War. The book has also been translated into Finnish, Lithuanian and Swedish.

In collaboration with the Finnish-Estonian author Sofi Oksanen, Paju compiled a collection of articles titled Kaiken takana oli pelko (Fear Behind Us All: How Estonia Lost its History and How to Get it Back). Chosen by the Finnish daily Helsingi Sanomat as the best popular-science work of 2009, it was translated into Estonian later that year.

Paju has hosted an annual literary festival in her Estonian home village of Võtikvere since 1999. One event is the awarding of the Elise Rosalie Auna Prize for Literature, which is given to a literary researcher who has called attention to an otherwise forgotten female author and has been an outstanding interpreter of Estonian memory, or to a poet who fosters natural lyricism.

In 2010, Paju received the Estonian Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ Award for Culture. She has been recognized on several other occasions for her bold writing and original manner of presenting 20th-century history. Memories Denied was republished in 2020 as part of a Finnish series of modern literary classics.


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