Salme Ekbaum

Poems Salme Ekbaum


Salme Ekbaum (until 1941 Neumann, 21. / 8. X 1912 – 10. IX 1995) was a prose writer and poet working in exile.

She was born in Paistu parish, Viljandi county, was educated at Taki and Kõpu, and at the Estonian Education Society’s girls’ gymnasium in Viljandi, and graduated as a pharmacist from the faculty of medicine at the University of Tartu. She worked in several places as a pharmacist. In 1944 she fled to Sweden, and moved to Canada in 1949, where she worked as a professional writer in Toronto. She was a member of the Estonian Writers’ Union in Exile (from 1950) and of the PEN Club. She won the H. Visnapuu Prize in 1980 for the novel Kohtumine lennujaamas (‘Meeting at an Airport’, 1979). She died in Toronto, and was buried in Paistu cemetery. The writer Minni Nurme (1917-1994) was her sister.  

She made her debut with Valge maja (‘The White House’, 1946), a novel written in Estonia but published in Sweden. Her novels can be divided into two parts: those based on farm life and those depicting life in exile. Greater attention was paid to the trilogy of novels Ilmapõllu inimised (‘The People of Ilmapõllu’, 1948), Lindprii talu (‘The Outlaw Farm’, 1952) and Külaliseks on ootus (‘Visited by Yearning’, 1952), which depicts the fate of a farm called Ilmapõllu and its residents in Viljandimaa in the late thirties and forties. The third volume in the trilogy moves on to life in exile, portraying the vicissitudes for the daughters of the family abroad. Also centred on Viljandimaa is the novel Süteoja (‘Coal Creek’, 1957), based around a love story, and Õigusenõudja (‘The Plaintiff’, 1962), depicting the mutual accusations between a cottager and a landlord.

Besides the theme of Estonian farm and village life, the exile of refugees is prominent in the novels: Kärestik (‘The Rapids’, 1955), Kontvõõras (‘The Uninvited Guest’, 1966), Vang, kes põgenes (‘The Prisoner Who Escaped’, 1975), Kohtumine lennujaamas (1979), Arm ja ahnus (‘Mercy and Greed’, 1972). The description of exile changes over time, becoming more nuanced; the contrast between Western pragmatism and spiritual values comes to the fore; it is often difficult for the protagonists to adapt to foreign ways and mentality, admixed with a feeling of a lost homeland. The homeland and natural imagery also dominate her poetry, a survey of which is provided in the selection Kivi kiljatas aknasse (‘A Stone Screamed at the Window’, 2005).

Memoirs are the basis of Varjude maja (‘House of Shadows’, 1959), set in a hospital, and which was at one time regarded as one of Ekbaum’s best works, and of Veimevakk (‘The Dowry Chest’, 1964), which mainly draws on her youth. The documentary novel Ristitants (‘Cross Dance’, 1970) depicts the internal conflicts in the refugee community which came sharply to the fore after the visit of the writer Rudolf Sirge from Soviet Estonia in 1964.

A. K. (Translated by C. M.)


Works in Estonian

Valge maja. Vadstena: Orto, 1946, 335 lk.
Ilmapõllu inimesed. Vadstena: Orto, 1948, 261 lk.
Lindprii talu: teine raamat Ilmapõllu inimestest. Göteborg: Orto, 1951, 230 lk.
Külaliseks on ootus: kolmas raamat Ilmapõllu inimestest. Toronto: Orto, 1952, 261 lk.
Kärestik. Lund: Eesti Kirjanike Kooperatiiv, 1955, 259 lk.
Süteoja. Lund: Eesti Kirjanike Kooperatiiv, 1957, 286 lk.
Varjude maja. Lund: Eesti Kirjanike Kooperatiiv, 1959, 294 lk.
Õigusenõudja. Lund: Eesti Kirjanike Kooperatiiv, 1962, 302 lk. [2. trükk: 1993.]
Kontvõõras. Lund: Eesti Kirjanike Kooperatiiv, 1966, 287 lk.
Ristitants. Lund: Eesti Kirjanike Kooperatiiv, 1970, 240 lk.
Arm ja ahnus. Lund: Eesti Kirjanike Kooperatiiv, 1972, 232 lk.
Vang, kes põgenes. Lund: Eesti Kirjanike Kooperatiiv, 1975, 218 lk.
Kohtumine lennujaamas. Lund: Eesti Kirjanike Kooperatiiv, 1979, 192 lk.
Inimene ingel. Lund: Eesti Kirjanike Kooperatiiv, 1983, 205 lk.

Short prose
Jälgkiri tormiuksel: jutte, juhtumisi, legende. Lund: Eesti Kirjanike Kooperatiiv, 1987, 203 lk.

Indiaani suvel. Toronto: Orto, 1951, 73 lk.
Kivi kiljatas aknasse. Stockholm: Vaba Eesti, 1967, 91 lk.
Ajatar. Toronto: S. Ekbaum, 1974, 74 lk.
Lupiinid, lupiinid. Toronto, 1979, 104 lk.
Õhumärgi all. Toronto: S. Ekbaum, 1983, 64 lk.
Talioras. Toronto, 1988, 80 lk.
Õhtu tiiva all. Toronto: Eesti Kirjanike Kooperatiiv, 1992, 112 lk.
Kivi kiljatas aknasse: luuletusi seitsmest kogust. Tallinn: Varrak, 2005, 312 lk.

Veimevakk: pühapäevakarjuse mälestusi. Lund: Eesti Kirjanike Kooperatiiv, 1964, 295 lk.