Arvo Valton (Vallikivi) is one of those writers who began writing in the nineteen-sixties and, having already seen the worst sides of the Soviet occupation, did not have fear of it. He was fresh and humorous, then satirical and grotesque while describing the absurd system of the huge state. He has tried his hand at all genres, from voluminous novels to the briefest of aphorisms, and has also written literary criticism, plays, film scenarios, opera librettos, travel books, poetry and non-fiction.
A versatile writer, he has also written for children. Interested in mythology, and the wider context of history, he has gone through the early history of Europe and Asia, always against violence in politics. And he is against Eurocentrism, one might say.
Born in 1935 in Märjamaa, Middle Estonia, he and his family were deported to Siberia in 1949 and Valton went to school in Magadan and Novosibirsk Oblasts. In 1954 he was allowed to come home. He graduated from the Tallinn Technical University as a mining engineer, then continued his studies by correspondence at the Cinema Institute while working as an engineer and already writing. Since 1968 Arvo Valton has been a professional writer. He has worked at the Tallinnfilm studios and travelled a lot in the world, especially in the former Soviet Union.
Valton's writings have varied a good deal over the years. In the nineteen-sixties he first made his mark as a writer of short-stories with the grotesque and strangeness as leitmotifs. Valton criticises absurd aspects of the technological revolution and its deleterious effects on beauty and art. The author is a master at suggesting a link between the bureaucracy and the totalitarian régimes and examines the boundaries of existentialist concerns. One of the best of his short-stories is Kaheksa jaapanlannat (Eight Japanese Women, 1968) where the delicate dancers whirl between the muddy puddles of a building site, where they are being shown the achievements of human progress. Valton has also written surrealist stories (e.g. the collection Läbi unemaastike - Through Dream Landscapes, 1975) which have the oneiric and subconscious traits of surrealism. Valton's absurd story of a man reading a book aloud at a railway station, Rohelise seljakotiga mees (The Man with the Green Rucksack) has been translated into Danish, English and other languages.
In the nineteen-seventies Valton continued an interest in the early history of Europe and Asia which he had already exhibited in some of his stories, now in longer prose form in his first novel Teekond lõpmatuse teise otsa (Road to the Other End of Infinity, 1978) where he describes a meeting between Genghis Khan, the Mongolian conqueror, and the Taoist monk Chan Chun, along with the dialogue there on differences in world views. Oriental motifs and aboriginal peoples, along with myths of the Borealis, dominated Valton's prose in the nineteen-eighties, which includes his fantasy story cycle Arvid Silberi maailmareis (Arvid Silber's Trip Round the World, 1984) which can be treated as a love story, plus Üksildased ajas (Lonely People in Time, 1983–1985) which contains six novellas in two volumes. The first of these depicts the distortion of time and space as people representing the basic prototypes of man and woman as they wander through the tenth city in the world. The theme central to these novellas is the growth of mankind out of the rut of routine into individual lives, a Taoist movement on the borderline of eternity and infinite space. In Valton's prose the difference between East and West becomes ever greater as the author becomes more convinced of the way the West has erred.
For ideological reasons, Valton was for a long time not allowed to publish that portion of his œuvre which was critical of Soviet society. When at last possible, the writer produced a selection of such banned prose in the book A Walk with the Tour Guide (1988). Valton's prose includes the autobiographical novel Masendus ja lootus (Depression and Hope, 1989), one of the first to describe those topics, about his childhood in Siberia: the picture widens over the whole generation that lived under the Communist régime.
He is a convinced supporter of little literatures and languages, especially the Finno-Ugric ones, in Russia. Since 1988 Valton is the President of the Association of the Finno-Ugric Literatures and has translated poetry of the Finno-Ugric nations in Russia. This theme has roots in his own works as well: in 2010 his novel Kirjad kasetohul (Letters on Bark) appeared, in parallel describing the excavations in Novgorod and the long lost world that once produced those letters on bark in 1130.
Valton is a productive writer today and has been translated into many languages.


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