Helga Nõu (b. 22. IX 1934 in Tartu) is known above all as a refugee writer, one of the many writers in exile who managed to escape a Soviet-occupied Estonia. In September 1944, at just ten years old, she fled to Sweden with her brothers and parents and, within the first year of her escape, lived in several refugee camps. In 1957, she moved to Uppsala and married Enn Nõu, also an exiled Estonian writer. They have three children: a son, Heino, and two daughters, Laine and Liia. In recent decades, the two have divided their life between Uppsala and Tallinn, alternating between both during the year.
Helga Nõu (born as Raukas) spent her childhood in Kohtla, Tallinn, and Pärnu. From 1942–1944, she went to the City of Pärnu’s Primary School no 5. In Sweden, she studied at Adesö Primary School, Hermåds Correspondent Institute, and the Södermalm Higher Girls’ School in Stockholm. In 1957, she completed the Stockholm Teachers’ Seminary and went to work at Örby School, where she taught for a year as a primary school teacher. Later she taught at Balingsta School, Södra Hagundas, Uppsala Estonian Supplementary School, and Sunnersta School. Between 1977–1999, she taught at Eriksberg-Hogadal School and then afterwards retired.
She has been active in the community and contributed to several societies and committees, including the Estonian Society in Uppsala, the Estonian Committee, the Swedish Representation of Estonians, the Swedish Teachers’ Union, the Estonian Club in Uppsala, the Estonian Evangelical Lutheran Church in Uppsala, the Estonian Writers’ Union Abroad, the Baltic Institute, and the Estonian Writers’ Cooperative. She is also a member of the Estonian Writers’ Union, the Estonian PEN Club, and the Estonian Literary Society. She has given lectures at the Forest University (Metsaülikool) in Canada and Sweden, as well as given seminars for Estonian teachers. She has participated in the distribution of the publications Tulehoidja ('Keeper of Fire') and Eesti Kroonika ('Estonian Chonicle'). Additionally, she has appeared together with her husband at many Estonian libraries and schools. Between 1979–1983 and 1988–1993, she reviewed manuscripts about Estonian literature for the Swedish National Council of Culture, and from 1983–1988 acted as a member of the Commision for Supporting Immigrant and Minority Literatures.
She has received the Society of Estonian Culture Award (Eesti Kultuuri Koondis) in 1968, the Henrik Visnapuu Prize for Literature (1971, for the novel Tiiger, tiiger), the young adult literature prize called Lauri (1983), the award of the Office of Estonians in Sweden (1983), and the awards of Virumaa Fund and Rakvere Theatre (1990). In 2001, she received the Order of the White Star, Fifth Class, and in 2014, in honor of her 80th anniversary, she received a letter of thanks and award from the Estonian Ministry of Culture.
Helga Nõu has been actively writing since the early 1960s with the publication of her short stories in "Mana" and "Tulimuld". Her works include short stories, novels and plays, she has written for children and adults. Her debut novel Kass sööb rohtu ('The Cat Eats Grass', 1965) described the insecurities of Estonian students living in Sweden and the sentimental identity crisis of the older generation of Estonians. It received some disapproval of the more conservative circles of the Estonian exiles. Helga Nõu is considered a modernist writer; her pedagogical and psychological books are socially sensitive, investigate the evolution and development of an individual and closely describe changing times. Her earlier pieces often dealt with the problems of refugees, world order, relations between native and exiled Estonians and conflicts between generations. The majority of Helga Nõu’s work first appeared in Sweden, not arriving to Estonian readers for several decades.
She has translated the work of Astrid Lindgren and Kerstin Thorvall into Estonian. Her own work has been translated into Finnish, Swedish, Latvian, and Russian, and has also been issued in audio book format. Her play Põgenejad ('Escapees', 1990) was staged at Rakvere Theatre and produced as a radio drama a year later. In addition to writing, she has also partaken in the arts, illustrating both her own work as well as writings by others. Her paintings and other works of art have been organized in exhibitions in both Estonia and Sweden.
M. K. (Translated by M. M.)
Books in Estonian
Kass sööb rohtu. Lund: Eesti Kirjanike Kooperatiiv, 1965, 278 lk. [2. trükk: Tallinn: Õllu, 1991, 192 lk.]
Tiiger, tiiger. Lund: Eesti Kirjanike Kooperatiiv, 1969, 244 lk. [2. trükk: Tallinn: Eesti Trükitööstus, 1990, 208 lk.]
Paha poiss. Lund: Eesti Kirjanike Kooperatiiv, 1973, 214 lk. [2. trükk: Tallinn: Õllu, 1990, 160 lk.]
Inimvaresed. Stockholm: Välis-Eesti & EMP, 1993, 240 lk. [2. trükk: Tallinn: Õllu, 1995, 208 lk.]
Hundi silmas. Tartu: Ilmamaa, 1999, 239 lk.
Ood lastud rebasele. Tallinn: Eesti Keele Sihtasutus, 2006, 231 lk.
Peaaegu geenius ehk Schrödingeri kassi otsimas. Tartu: Atlex, 2008, 240 lk.
Mahajätjad. Tallinn: Tänapäev, 2013, 284 lk.
Nartsiss, meesteõgija. Tallinn: Eesti Keele Sihtasutus, 2016, 366 lk.
Kord kolmapäeval. Lund: Eesti Kirjanike Kooperatiiv, 1967, 270 lk. [2. trükk: Tallinn: Õllu, 1993, 224 lk.]
Children's and young adult books
Ruuduline röövel. Lund: Eesti Kirjanike Kooperatiiv, 1965, 70 lk. [2. trükk: Tallinn: Eesti Raamat, 1990, 64 lk.]
Oi-oi-oi, mis juhtus!. Lund: Eesti Kirjanike Kooperatiiv, 1967, 32 lk.
Pea suu!. Stockholm: Välis-Eesti & EMP, 1983, 182 lk. [2. trükk: Tallinn: Õllu, 1994, 127 lk; 3. trükk: Pea suu! Tõmba uttu!. Tallinn: Tänapäev, 2003 ja 2004, 274 lk; 4. trükk: Pea suu! Tõmba uttu!. Tallinn: Eesti Ajalehed, 2011, 216 lk. 5. trükk: e-raamat: Pea suu! Tõmba uttu!. Tallinn: Hea Lugu: Eesti Digiraamatute Keskus, 2014.]
Tõmba uttu!. Tallinn: Kupar, 2001, 206 lk. [2. trükk: Pea suu! Tõmba uttu!. Tallinn: Tänapäev, 2003 ja 2004, 274 lk; 3. trükk: Pea suu! Tõmba uttu!. Tallinn: Eesti Ajalehed, 2011, 216 lk. 4. trükk: e-raamat: Pea suu! Tõmba uttu!. Tallinn: Hea Lugu: Eesti Digiraamatute Keskus, 2014.]
Kuues sõrm. Tallinn: Tänapäev, 2003, 167 lk. [2. trükk: Tallinn: Maurus, 2011, 168 lk; 3. trükk: Tallinn: Maurus, Eesti Digiraamatute Keskus, 2011; Audioraamat: Võru: Pimedate Infoühing Helikiri, 2003, 1 CD, 4 t 45 min.]
Appi!. Tartu: Atlex, 2008, 264 lk. [Audioraamat: loeb Kristin Jürgenson. Tallinn: Eesti Pimedate Raamatukogu, 2009, 1 CD, 8 t 29 min.]
Jääauku. Tartu: Atlex, 2010, 244 lk.