Villem Gross (pseudonym Ott Varangu, 11. I 1922 – 6. IV 2001) was a prose writer.
Villem Gross was born in Tartu; afterwards his family moved to live in Kohtla-Järve. He was educated in Kohtla-Järve, Jõhvi and Rakvere. He was active in Komsomol. He was mobilized and served in the Estonian Rifle Corps. After the war he worked as a journalist: on the Talurahvaleht, Rahva Hääl, culture paper Sirp ja Vasar and Noorus, a magazine for young people. Thereafter he was a professional writer. He joined the Writers’ Union in 1950. From 1966 to 1971 he was the secretary of the Union and, from 1971 to 1976, of its board. He was a member of the CPSU from 1946 to 1990. He was a Merited Writer of the ESSR from 1975. He won the Juhan Smuul Prize in 1978 for the novel Vaikimise motiivid ('Motifs of Silence', 1978).
He made his literary debut in print with the story Noored ('The Young'), which appeared in the almanac Võitlev sõna ('The Warring Word', 1949). At the beginning of Gross’ career his main output was plays, of which the most acclaimed was Ankeet ('Questionnaire', 1955), the first to appear as a book, and which considers the topic of human relations. Gross’ first book of prose was a tale of youth, Ühe poisi suvi ('One Boy’s Summer', 1956), which tells the story of one young man’s attainment of adulthood. The events of the forties are central to Tiivasirutus ('Spreading the Wings', 1958). The shaping of young people and the decisions made in the forties are among the central themes of Gross’ work. This comes out most clearly in Pinginaabrid (Desk-mates, 1965), in which the lives of two classmates diverge because of the war and end up on different fronts. The novel also scrutinizes the society of the fifties and people’s opportunities and choices in an atmosphere of mistrust. Gross’ realistic prose mingles the depiction of characters mostly against the backdrop of wider society. Gross often portrays his own contemporaries.
The sixties were particularly productive years in Gross’ career. His novel Müüa pooleliolev individuaalelumaja ('Half-completed Private House for Sale', 1962) attracted attention; typically for Gross, it looks at the development of two young people and their marriage in post-war society.
The short story collection Keskmised päevad ('Average Days', 1966) deals with the author’s contemporaries with psychological insight and a depiction of the time and conditions. The novel Kooliraha ('Tuition', 1967), with a mining setting, analyses a young miner, giving a central place to society and human relations.
Post-war society and human relationships are the focus of the novel Talvepuhkus ('Winter Holiday', 1975), from which a film was made with the title Naine kütab sauna ('A Woman Lights the Sauna', 1978, directed by Arvo Kruusement. Ethical problems are dealt with in different time-frames in the novel Vaikimise motiivid (1978).
In the novel Enne suurt ilmamuutust ('Before the Big Change in the Weather', 1990) Gross uses autobiographical material, placing a young musician in the late thirties in a mining settlement in northeast Estonia. Personal and memorial material is gathered in Õhtuoode ('High Tea', 1996).
In his work Gross reached into the present day, dealing with the events of the late eighties and early nineties, such as in the novels President ja ta koerake ('The President and His Little Dog', 1992) and Lasnamäelt alla ('Down from Lasnamäe', 1999).
A. K. (Translated by C. M.)
Books in Estonian
Müüa pooleliolev individuaalelumaja. Tallinn: Eesti Riiklik Kirjastus, 1962, 341 lk. [Järgmised trükid: 1974, 1987.]
Kooliraha. Tallinn: Eesti Raamat, 1967, 211 lk. [2. tr: 1988.]
Talvepuhkus. Tallinn: Eesti Raamat, 1975, 160 lk. [2. tr: 1988.]
Vaikimise motiivid. Tallinn: Eesti Raamat, 1978, 192 lk.
Ülekoormatud paadis. Tallinn: Eesti Raamat, 1981, 143 lk.
Enne suurt ilmamuutust. Tallinn: Eesti Raamat, 1990, 190 lk.
President ja ta koerake. Tallinn: Koolibri, 1992, 147 lk.
Ott Varangu, Abielumehe pihtimus. Tallinn: Kuldsulg, 1995, 191 lk.
Lasnamäelt alla. Tallinn: Kuldsulg, 1999, 190 lk.
Ühe poisi suvi. Tallinn: Eesti Riiklik Kirjastus, 1956, 78 lk. [Järgmised trükid: 1959, 1972, 1984.]
Tiivasirutus. Tallinn: Eesti Riiklik Kirjastus, 1958, 240 lk. [Järgmised trükid: 1959, 1967, 1982, 1987.]
Keskmised päevad: jutustused. Tallinn: Eesti Raamat, 1966, 176 lk.
Ankeet. Tallinn: Eesti Riiklik Kirjastus, 1955, 68 lk.
Kas ainult täna on tänapäev?. Publitsistikakogumik. Tallinn: Eesti Raamat, 1972, 223 lk.
Õhtuoode. Mälestused ja romaan noorusajast. Tallinn: Faatum, 1996, 268 lk.
Valitud teosed 1. Tiivasirutus. Müüa pooleliolev individuaalelumaja. Tallinn: Eesti Raamat, 1987, 461 lk.
Valitud teosed 2. Pinginaabrid. Kooliraha. Kiiktool. Sündmus ratastel. Tallinn: Eesti Raamat, 1988, 429 lk.
Valitud teosed 3. Talvepuhkus. Vaikimise motiivid. Ülekoormatud paadis. Mardikarneval. Tallinn: Eesti Raamat, 1988, 494 lk.