Jüri Ehlvest

Short storiesJüri Ehlvest. Photo: Alar Madisson

About Jüri Ehlvest

Jüri Ehlvest (15. III 1967 – 11. X 2006) was born in Tallinn and was a prose writer—particularly of short stories—known for his use of magic realism, metaphysics and often riddle-like style. Much of this can be attributed to his interests, which hail from his studies at the University of Tartu, where he majored in biology and theology and additionally studied philosophy before leaving school to become a freelancer. While living in Tartu, Ehlvest involved himself with the more alternative literary groups of his generation, including the absurdist Abi-Piirissaare Dalinistlik Kõõl (with Sven Kivisildnik), Eesti Kostabi $elts, and Hirohall. He was also interested in drama and wrote short plays, including the text for the open air production Viimne võttepäev (‘The Last Day of Shooting’) with Margus Kasterpalu and Ilmar Raag.

Ehlvest’s literary style is idiosyncratic and divisive, often comprised of meta-elements, several layers of intertextual meaning, and genre-bending associations. He has frequently been characterized as a difficult author to study given the vague narrative structure of his work. His stories often contain themes of core human questions, such as truth, wisdom, and love, as well as unexplainable phenomena, while simultaneously turning to a more meta-level focus on the narration of the stories themselves and the unique blending of the perspectives of their characters.

Ehlvest published the majority of his work within the last decade of his life. Ikka veel Bagdadis (‘Still in Baghdad’) and the short story collection Krutsiaania (‘Cruciania’) were published in 1996. A year later, he published Päkapikk kirjutab (‘The Gnome Writes’, 1997). He was awarded the Friedebert Tuglas Short Story award twice, in 1997 and later in 2003. In 1999, he published the novel Elli lend (‘Elli’s Flight’) and Elumask (‘Life Mask’), and Taevatrepp (‘A Stairway to Heaven’) in 2001. His final publications were the short story collections Hobune eikusagilt (‘A Horse from Nowhere’, 2002) and Rahuldus (‘Satisfaction’, 2004), which he published under the name Jüri von Ehlvest, as well as the novel Palverännak (‘Pilgrimage’, 2005). He won the Estonian Literature Endowment Annual Award in 2002 for Hobune eikusagilt. In addition to his stand-alone works, he has several short stories published so far only in magazines and anthologies.

Ehlvest died in 2006 in New York. His brother is the world-renown chess player Jaan Ehlvest.

M. M.

Books in Estonian

Palverännak. Tallinn: Tuum, 2005, 247 lk.

Short stories
Ikka veel Bagdadis. Tartu: EÜS Veljesto kirjastus, 1996, 110 lk.
Krutsiaania. Tallinn: Tuum, 1996, 135 lk.
Päkapikk kirjutab. Tallinn: Vikerkaar, 1997, 217 lk.
Elumask. Tartu: Eesti Kostabi Selts, 1998, 192 lk.
Elli lend. Tallinn: Perioodika (Loomingu Raamatukogu), 1999, 56 lk.
Taevatrepp. Tartu: Krauklis, 2001, 148 lk.
Hobune eikusagilt. Tallinn: Tänapäev, 2002, 215 lk.
Jüri von Ehlvest, Rahuldus. Tartu: Ilukirjandus, 2004, 170 lk.