Arvo Mägi

Short stories Arvo Mägi

Arvo Mägi (13. VI / 31. V 1913 – 27. XI 2004, pseudonym Juhan Timmukuru) was a prose writer, literary scholar and commentator living in exile.

He was born in Tartumaa county, attended Hugo Treffner’s Gymnasium, and from 1932 to 1939 the faculty of philosophy at the University of Tartu, and in 1939 the faculty of law. He also studied at the University of Helsinki. From 1939 to 1941 he worked at the National Museum of Estonia as a researcher and from 1941 to 1943 in the editorial office of Postimees. He fled in 1943 to Finland, where he worked for the journal Malevlane, and as an editor for the Estonian-language broadcasts on Finnish radio. From 1944 he lived in Sweden, where he worked for the newspapers Vabariiklane (1945-1947) and Eesti Päevaleht (1976-1982). He was on the board of the Estonian Writers’ Co-operative, and a member of the Estonian Writers’ Union in Exile, the Estonian PEN Club and several other organisations. He was an honorary member of the Estonian Literary Society and an honorary alumnus of the academic fraternity Fraternitas Liviensis. For his novel Esimesed read (‘The First Lines’, 1953) he won first prize in the Orto novel competition in 1952, and for the novel Peep Koordipoja põlistalu (‘Peep Koordipoja’s Primal Farm’, 1953) third prize in 1952. He won the cultural award of the Estonian National Congress in Sweden in 1978 and 1990 and the Estonian Committee’s prize in 1976, and the Order of the National Coat of Arms of Estonia, IV class in 1998. He died in Sweden; his ashes were scattered.  

The beginnings of the career of one of the most productive Estonian authors in exile were in current affairs commentary, which he began in Estonia in the late thirties and continued in exile. His debut novel Hõbedane noorus (‘Silver Youth’, 1949), which continued the tradition of the family novel, deals with the Tartu of the thirties, placing the Karovan family at its centre. The theme of sustaining the family tree, of the continuity of generations, one of the central themes in Mägi’s works, is evident even in his first novel. The psychological novel Ringid vees (‘Circles in the Water’, 1952), applying the methodology of the modern novel, portrays the life of a boy from the slums of Tartu. Esimesed read (1953) examines the viewpoints of schoolboys, and Peep Koordipoja põlistalu follows the story of a family who goes to live in the forest. There is a symbolic power in the struggle with an inundation in the novel Uputus (‘Overflow’, 1954), in which a clash between two brothers reveals an archetypal conflict.

The early sixties were an experimental period in Mägi’s career, trying out various subjects and forms. The novel Paradiisi väravad (‘The Gates of Paradise’, 1960) looks at an artist’s creative and internal problems; in the novel Karneval (‘Carnival’, 1962), which takes place on two temporal planes, examines various social questions, and human nature is revealed in extreme situations. In the novel Tants hämarusse (‘Dance into Twilight’, 1964) an uprising in mediaeval Germany is revealed from differing viewpoints.

The refugee community is viewed in a satirical light in the novel Tuuleveski (‘The Windmill’, 1967), co-written with Kalju Lepik under the pseudonym Rein Kaljumägi. Mägi also dealt with the refugee theme in his novels Epiloog (‘Epilogue’, 1977) and Kolm koda (‘Three Chambers’, 1987).

The action in Mägi’s characteristically realistic family novel Taalrimäng (‘The Taler Game’, 1968) takes place again in Tartu over the course of five generations. Tartu and Tartumaa county are among the central locations in Mägi’s works; in this respect he has been compared to the Estonian exiled writer Bernard Kangro, another writer who used Tartu as a subject. What is regarded as Mägi’s major work, the tetralogy Karvikute kroonika (‘The Karvik Chronicle’), which consists of the novels Risti riik (‘The Land of the Cross’, 1970), Uued isandad (‘New Masters’, 1971), Õigus hõima all (‘Law Under the Tribe’, 1972) and Lippude vahetus (‘Change of Flags’, 1973), looks at the conservative Karvik clan, placing them at the centre of the Estonian story over 31 generations, dealing with the period from the conquest of Sigtuna by the Estonians in 1187 until the nineteen-seventies. Alongside the characters’ fates runs the chronicle of contemporary events. On the basis of the historical commentaries, Mägi compiled the popular non-fiction works Eesti rahva ajaraamat (‘Chronicle of the Estonian People’, 1979) and Euroopa rahvaste ajaraamat (‘Chronicle of the European Peoples’, 1984).

Mägi was also a productive short-story writer; the style of short prose is also characteristic of his novels. As with the novels, the stories have a typically demotic style and a colourful vocabulary. Mägi’s short prose has both rural and urban settings; there are love stories and tales of crime. A sample of his short prose is found in the selections Lugu lahti (‘The Story Opens’, 1994) and Teine tera (‘Whole Other Story’, 1998).

Apart from prose, poetry and plays, he was also a prolific literary scholar and critic. He wrote both general surveys (such as Lühike eesti kirjanduslugu – ‘A Short History of Estonian Literature’ – I-II, 1965), monographs (such as Karl Ristikivi, 1962; Gert Helbemäe, 1968; Kalju Lepik, 1970); and essays collected in Aeg kirju ei kuluta (‘Books Do Not Fade with Time’, 1986). He also compiled poetry collections, such as Eesti lüürika (‘Estonian Lyric Poetry’, I-II, 1958-1959) and Henrik Visnapuu’s collected poems (I-II, 1963-1964).

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


Books in Estonian

Hõbedane noorus: peatükke Karovonide perekonna kroonikast. Vadstena: Orto, 1949, 316 lk.
Ringid vees. Lund: Eesti Kirjanike Kooperatiiv, 1952, 287 lk.
Juhan Timmukuru, Esimesed read: romaan ühe võitluse algusest. Toronto: Orto, 1953, 350 lk
Juhan Timmukuru, Peep Koordipoja põlistalu. Toronto: Orto, 1953, 320 lk.
Uputus. Lund: Eesti Kirjanike Kooperatiiv, 1954, 269 lk. [2. trükk: 1999.]
Paradiisi väravad. Lund: Eesti Kirjanike Kooperatiiv, 1960, 292 lk.
Karneval: romaan vahemängudega. Lund: Eesti Kirjanike Kooperatiiv, 1962, 312 lk.
Tants hämarusse: lugu kolmes jaos. Lund: Eesti Kirjanike Kooperatiiv, 1964, 310 lk.
Rein Kaljumägi, Tuuleveski: nelikümmend ja üks koltunud kirja lisadega. Lund: Eesti Kirjanike Kooperatiiv, 1967, 262 lk.
Taalrimäng. Lund: Eesti Kirjanike Kooperatiiv, 1968, 299 lk. [2. trükk: 2005.]
Risti riik: Karvikute kroonikat 1. Lund: Eesti Kirjanike Kooperatiiv, 1970, 272 lk. [Järgmised trükid: 1992, 2008.]
Uued isandad. Karvikute kroonikat 2. Lund: Eesti Kirjanike Kooperatiiv, 1971, 278 lk. [2. trükk: 1992.]
Õigus hõlma all: Karvikute kroonikat 3. Lund: Eesti Kirjanike Kooperatiiv, 1972, 259 lk. [2. trükk: 1997.]
Lippude vahetus: Karvikute kroonikat 4. Lund: Eesti Kirjanike Kooperatiiv, 1973, 294 lk. [2. trükk: 1997.]
Epiloog. Lund: Eesti Kirjanike Kooperatiiv, 1977, 232 lk.
Kolm koda: romaan Stockholmi suvest 1980. Lund: Eesti Kirjanike Kooperatiiv, 1987, 259 lk
Suvitusromaan. Lund: Eesti Kirjanike Kooperatiiv, 1989, 199 lk.

Short prose
Ei lasta elada: novelle. Lund: Eesti Kirjanike Kooperatiiv, 1956, 303 lk.
Kiusaja: novelle. Lund: Eesti Kirjanike Kooperatiiv, 1958, 312 lk.
Viimane paar: kakskümmend viis variatsiooni. Lund: Eesti Kirjanike Kooperatiiv, 1965, 288 lk
Neli emandat: novelle. Lund: Eesti Kirjanike Kooperatiiv, 1966, 274 lk.
Vana Testament: kaksteistkümmend sündinud lugu: jutustused. Lund: Eesti Kirjanike Kooperatiiv, 1976, 219 lk.
Arvo Mägi, Silvia Rannu, Kakskümmend üks moraalset mõrvajuttu. Lund: Eesti Kirjanike Kooperatiiv, 1979, 199 lk
Liivimaa jutud. Lund: Eesti Kirjanike Kooperatiiv, 1983, 221 lk.
Hingede helin: seitseteist armulugu. Lund: Eesti Kirjanike Kooperatiiv, 1985, 253 lk.
Nigulapäev: kümme variatsiooni. Novellid. Lund: Eesti Kirjanike Kooperatiiv, 1988, 233 lk.
Lugu lahti: valimik novelle aastaist 1949-89. Tallinn: Perioodika [Loomingu Raamatukogu
], 1994, 135 lk.
Kolmas võimalus: jutte, novelle ja episoode 1988-96. Stockholm: A. Mägi, 1996, 96 lk.
Teine tera. Tallinn: Eesti Raamat, 1998, 291 lk. [Sari ‘Eesti novellivara’.]
Pärast pidu: 19 variatsiooni tungival teemal. Tartu: Ilmamaa, 2000, 245 lk.
Katk ja koolera: kilde ajalooketta servadelt. Novellid. Tartu: Ilmamaa, 2003, 206 lk.

Regivärsid: luuletusi. Lund: Eesti Kirjanike Kooperatiiv, 1963, 88 lk.
Vastuhelgid: luuletusi 1964-69. Lund: Eesti Kirjanike Kooperatiiv, 1969, 80 lk.

Jeruusalemmast Tallinna. Lund: Eesti Kirjanike Kooperatiiv, 1983, 244 lk.

Karl Ristikivi: lühimonograafia. Lund: Eesti Kirjanike Kooperatiiv, 1962, 64 lk.
Lühike eesti kirjanduslugu. Algusest kuni iseseisvusaja lõpuni. 1. osa. Lund: Eesti Kirjanike Kooperatiiv, 1965, 64 lk.
Lühike eesti kirjanduslugu. Algusest kuni iseseisvusaja lõpuni. 2. osa. Lund: Eesti Kirjanike Kooperatiiv, 1965, 63 lk
Gert Helbemäe: lühimonograafia. Lund: Eesti Kirjanike Kooperatiiv, 1968, 63 lk.
Kalju Lepik: lühimonograafia. Lund: Eesti Kirjanike Kooperatiiv, 1970, 64 lk. [2. trükk: 1993.]
Eesti rahva ajaraamat. Stockholm: Eesti Päevaleht, 1979, 256 lk. [2. trükk: 1993.]
Euroopa rahvaste ajaraamat. Stockholm: Eesti Päevaleht, 1984, 264 lk. [2. trükk: 1992.]
Aeg kirju ei kuluta: vaatlusi kirjandusest ja ajaloost. Lund: Eesti Kirjanike Kooperatiiv, 1986, 255 lk
Arvo Mägi, Karl Ristikivi, Bernard Kangro, Eesti kirjandus paguluses 1944-1972. Lund: Eesti Kirjanike Kooperatiiv, 1973, 180 lk.
Endisaja elu-olu: kuidas elati Põhja-Tartumaal 1920-40. Stockholm: A. Mägi, 1994, 48 lk.

Mis meelde on jäänud: episoode ja meeleolusid. Tartu: Ilmamaa, 2001, 310 lk.

About Arvo Mägi
Helmi Eller, Arvo Mägi: lühimonograafia. Lund: Eesti Kirjanike Kooperatiiv, 1963, 64 lk