Jaak Jõerüüt is a writer, politician and diplomat, who began his career as a hippie poet in Tallinn cafés. Jõerüüt made his debut with poetry in 1967; his first collection Kaitsekiht (Protection Layer) was published in 1975. He mediated the world rather than created it, and seemed in his choice of topics often non-poetical and non-lyrical, although his complicated poetry is very rhythmical and beautiful. The title seems to originate from the need to hide sadness: for that a protection layer is necessary. His latter poems are more realistic and concrete, very discreet, and filled with quiet irony, and tiny, precise details, yet creating the feeling of somehow universal experience and perception of the world.

Jaak Jõerüüt was born in 1947 in Tallinn. At the Tallinn Technical University he graduated in economics, worked then as a librarian and journalist, editor, and became vice-chairman of the Estonian Writer's Union. He was a member of the Estonian transition period Parliament in 1990-1992 and the defence minister of Estonia in 2004–2005. Jõerüüt has been Estonia´s ambassador to Finland, Italy and Malta, Cyprus, the United Nations, Latvia, and since 2011 to Sweden. He is married to the writer and poetess Viivi Luik.

Jõerüüt´s poetry delves into the question of the fatality of human existence, rendered with sincere and intuitive wisdom. His poems are very rhythmical in free verse as much as earlier - somehow alert and tense. He seems to consciously oppose postmodernist playfulness with polished, explicit sincerity, even resignation. Rhythmical power intensifies his lively irony without losing its empathising brilliance. And he is an existentialist, with his fine, Camus-like search for truth, extraordinary in the stylistic wholeness and the elaborateness of his poems. His poetry collection, Armastuse laiad, kõrged hooned (The Wide, High Buildings of Love, 2010) will probably touch a large audience with its good composition and melancholy, and profound way of thinking. It is sad, ironic and serious, often lonely.

In prose, Jõerüüt is very fine, with the quickness and flexibility of thought, intuition and yet the cognition of a poet. Jõerüüt´s prose is compact, analytical and seasoned with chilly irony, describing the emptiness of the beautiful world. He is an “(anti-)urbanist” author, dealing with the modern artificial city environment, spoilt ecological balance, consumerism as a cult, and careerism. Very exceptional is the novel Raisakullid I–II (Vultures, 1982; 1985) with its description of the lifestyle in the mass-produced residential areas of Soviet Tallinn in the nineteen-sixties and -seventies. The panel town, the so-called dormitory suburbs built after the war to replace the devastated buildings and host the waves of immigrants from the other parts of the Soviet Union, is here opposed to the old houses of the town´s ancient part, as one protagonist, an ambitious official living in a luxurious flat, is opposed to the other, a bohemian old-town dweller, who finally is ready to sacrifice everything, including his ideals, for such living conditions.

He has written children’s books rich in word play. In his later prose he seems to ask often whether it is possible to find happiness and peace in the midst of unpredictable history, and thinks about lost ideals and confounded ideologies. Jõerüüt´s texts are rich in allusions from world literature, and lately his prose is often based on diplomatic experience in a foreign country. A selection of short stories from a longer period, 1979–2005, Sõber (Friend) appeared in 2005. Jõerüüt has published essays and articles from his political career, Poliitiline avaldus. Arvamusi ja kommentaare 1996-2008 (Political Declaration. Positions and Comments 1996–2008, 2008) and Diplomaat ja mälu (Diplomat and Memory, 2004) as well.

One of the literary milestones of 2010 in Estonia, Jõerüüt´s book Muutlik (The Mutable, 2010), a novel about time, is like a confession of a scholar exploring himself and the world, interested in human beings and humanity generally, two important places on the background: Riga, the capital of Latvia, and the island of Vormsi in the Baltic Sea. The book is fragmentary and not linear, and interesting in the way of giving little things significance and eternity – a distinguishing characteristic of the author throughout his artistic career. The novel is sad in a way, and fascinating with its poetical use of language, with quotations from other authors like Rainer Maria Rilke and Aleksandr Blok. In breaking the linearity of time, he adds the weird feeling of flowing. Commentaries on these books the writer has read, impressions from the everyday working life of a diplomat, memories, repetitive motifs, are, taken together, like letters written to himself, investigating the inner landscapes of the soul.

Text by Elle-Mari Talivee


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