Elin Toona (Elin-Kai Toona, married name Gottschalk, b. 12. VII 1937) is a prose writer and poet.
She was born in Tallinn, and spent her childhood in Haapsalu. In 1944 her mother and grandmother fled to Germany, and from there in 1948 onward to Great Britain. She studied at theatre schools in London and worked for some time as an actress. After her marriage she moved in 1967 to the USA. She has been a member of the Estonian Writers’ Union Abroad (1969), the Estonian Writers’ Union (1993), the Estonian PEN Club (1965) and the National League of American Pen Women.
Toona, who writes in both Estonian and English, began her literary activity, publishing in Tulimuld and other journals in the fifties. Her novels focus on the problems of exile, failure to adapt, and the dilemmas of society in a new homeland. The novel Puuingel ('The Wooden Angel', 1964, Henrik Visnapuu Foundation prize 1966) charts the development of an Estonian girl at loggerheads with society and her self-discovery in the London of the sixties. In the novel Lotukata (1969), a German refugee camp is viewed through a child’s eyes; its thematic sequel, Kolm valget tuvi ('Three White Doves', 1992) gives an insight into the world of refugees in the post-war period through the eyes of three generations of women. Failure to adjust among the refugees of the younger generation, alienation from everyone, is analysed in the novel Sipelgas sinise kausi all ('An Ant Under a Blue Bowl', 1974). The novel Kaleviküla viimane tütar ('The Last Daughter of Kaleviküla', 1988) also examines the problems of refugee life: on the one hand individual freedom, on the other Estonian ethnic identity. A more positive take on Estonian life in exile in the London of the seventies is treated in the novel Mihkel, muuseas ('Mihkel, Among Other Things', 2018), whose main protagonist undergoes a checkered path in life and discovers the possibility of a new life.
Elin Toona’s book of memoirs Pagulusse: lugu elust, sõjast ja rahust (2017) won the Estonian Literature Endowment Annual Award in 2017. Its English version, Into Exile: A Life Story of War and Peace (2013) was chosen among the Economist magazine’s best books of memoirs of 2013. She has also written a biography about her grandfather, the famed Estonian poet Ernst Enno, Rõõm teeb taeva taga tuld ('Joy Is Making Fire on the Other Side of Heaven', 2000.)
A. K. (Translated by C. M.)
Books in Estonian
Puuingel. Lund: Eesti Kirjanike Kooperatiiv, 1964, 259 lk.
Lotukata. Lund: Eesti Kirjanike Kooperatiiv, 1969, 262 lk. [2. tr 1995.]
Sipelgas sinise kausi all. Lund: Eesti Kirjanike Kooperatiiv, 1974, 238 lk. [2. tr 1991.]
Kaleviküla viimane tütar. Lund: Eesti Kirjanike Kooperatiiv, 1988, 236 lk. [2. tr 1991.]
Kolm valget tuvi. Lund: Eesti Kirjanike Kooperatiiv, 1992, 211 lk.
Mihkel, muuseas. Lugu läbikatsumata eludest. Tallinn: Varrak, 2018, 222 lk.
Rõõm teeb taeva taga tuld. Ernst Enno. Tartu: Ilmamaa, 2000, 326 lk.
Ella. Tallinn: Kultuurileht (Loomingu Raamatukogu), 2008, 190 lk. [A memoir.]
Pagulusse: lugu elust, sõjast ja rahust. Tallinn: Varrak, 2017, 454 lk. [A memoir.]