Kai Aareleid (b. 26. IX 1972) is an Estonian prose writer, poet and translator.
She was born in Tartu, where she spent her first five years. From 1979 to 1990 she attended Tallinn 21st Secondary School; from 1990 to 1991 she studied psychology at the University of Tartu and then from 1991 to 1997 stagecraft at Theatre Academy Helsinki, from which she graduated with a master’s degree. In 2001 she also qualified as a translator-editor at Tallinn Pedagogical University. From 1996 to 2006 she worked as an administrative assistant at the British Council office in Tallinn, and from 2012 to 2017 as an editor for the magazine Loomingu Raamatukogu.
Aareleid’s first story, Madonna, appeared in the journal Looming in 2003. She became well-known in 2011 with her novel Vene veri ('Russian Blood'). The first-person protagonist of it, as the spouse of a diplomat, finds herself living with her three children at the end of the first decade of this century in St. Petersburg, which seems – especially in view of the political situation at the time – a hostile environment. But in Russia the protagonist confronts her previously suppressed family history, and her partially Russian origins. The language of the novel is laconic and dense. Vene veri earned enthusiastic and positive responses in Estonia as soon as it appeared.
Tiina, the protagonist of Aareleid’s second novel, Linnade põletamine ('The Burning of Cities', 2016), recalls her childhood and adolescence in Tartu after the Second World War, with its many ruins and wastelands. As a child Tiina comes into contact with the adult world, which in the Soviet era was full of cryptic conversations, unnamed terrors and heavy drinking. Tiina is a witness to the effects of Stalin’s death on society, her father’s addiction to card-playing and her parents’ divorce, unable to prevent the tragedy that has changed her life: a suicide in the family. Great attention is paid to Tiina’s immediate surroundings in Tartu. The novel won positive criticism, and has been translated into several languages. For Linnade põletamine Aareleid won the Estonian Writer of the Year 2016 award at the literary festival held at the Juhan Liiv Museum.
Kai Aareleid has published short prose, mainly in Looming; for the short story Tango (Looming, 2012), she won the Tuglas Short Story Prize. In 2018 Salaelud ('Secret Lives'), a collection of stories and miniatures, was published. Aareleid has also published two collections of poetry, both of which appeared in 2015: Naised teel ('Women on the Road') and Vihm ja vein ('Rain and Wine').
Kai Aareleid is a productive translator. She has translated into Estonian from English, Spanish, Finnish, Portuguese and French: works by Jukka Viikilä, Michael Ignatieff, Bruce Chatwin, Paulo Coelho, Arturo Pérez-Reverte, Carlos Ruiz Zafón, Javier Marías, Roberto Bolaño, Enrique Vila-Matas, Jorge Luis Borges, Juan José Millás and Isabel Allende.
S.V. (Translated by C. M.)
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Books in Estonian
Naised teel. Tallinn: Eesti Keele Sihtasutus, 2015, 103 lk.
Vihm ja vein. Tallinn: Eesti Keele Sihtasutus, 2015, 63 lk.
Vene veri. Tallinn: Varrak, 2011, 199 lk. [E-raamat: 2011.]
Linnade põletamine. Tallinn: Varrak, 2016, 327 lk. [E-raamat: 2016.]
Salaelud. Novelle ja miniatuure. Tallinn: Varrak, 2018, 149 lk.