C.M-S: Since I am not very good at either
Estonian or Swedish - the two languages in which your book has
been published - can you tell me something about it, please?
Emil T.: The novel is written in the form
of letters, from and author who lives in Paris to someone called
Angelo. The sex of the author is not clear – which is quite easy
in the Estonian language. The author of the letters translates French
poetry into the language of a small east European country. It seems
as though he has poisoned the professor in whose flat he has lived
– but this is not certain. The author of the letters explains to
Angelo his upbringing – including his childhood in this east European
C.M-S: You were awarded the Tupilak (the
Nordic Association for gay and lesbian cultural workers) prize for
the first Estonian gay novel. Is it correct that yours is the first
Estonian novel which deals openly with homosexuality?
Emil T.: I should say I did not intend
to write a “gay novel" but somehow the word has been attached
to it. I am not sure that it is good to put such a label on a novel.
C.M-S: Do you think it is wrong to describe
the novel in this way?
Emil T.: Not necessarily wrong, but it's
not the best way to perceive and read literature. I think in this
way we build a ghetto or create a sect for ourselves. One has either
to be a member of the sect or not. Those who are outside are super-critical,
and those in the sect are like “believers” who worship at a shrine.
Somehow it cuts of others who might read it if they didn't know
beforehand it was a ,,gay" novel. Naturally there was discussion
of this in Estonia.
C.M-S.: What caused the discussion?
Emil T.: The media didn’t directly discuss
the homosexual theme, but the book was quite quickly translated
and published abroad. The discussion was about whether such a book
should “represent” Estonia abroad. Some people didn't like the idea
of a “pinky book" representing Estonia but that wasn’t the
opinion of the majority. It won a prize from Baltic Parliamentary
Assembly well as the Estonian National Prize for Prose which was
awarded for the first time in 1994 – and to my novel.
C.M-S.: Novelists often put their own
experiences into a novel. Is that so in your case?
Emil T.: Certainly, but it is not directly
autobiographic. That isn’t necessary, because one has to depict
circumstances which fit the characters and facts – and in this process
things are changed. I didn’t write a novel to relate the story of
my life, - which is no more interesting than that of many others.
What makes the story interesting is how I develop the plot. Somehow
I have to believe in the characters and have a picture of them.
C.M-S.: You have to imagine the novel
in your head?
Emil T.: Exactly. Sometimes
I think we all live in our own heads.
C.M-S.: Is this the first novel in the
Estonian language with homosexuality as a theme?
Emil T.: Not the very first. There is
an earlier novel published by an author living in Stockholm in exile
during the Second World War. But mine, is the first to cause such
a public discussion on the topic.
C.M-S.: What is your family background?
Emil T.: Absolutely normal. My mother
was a book-keeper and father an agronomist. We lived in a small
house on the outskirts of Tallinn.
C.M-S.: Did your family accept it easily
when you said you were gay?
Emil T.: We have never discussed it. Both
my parents are very old, and the seem to accept me. They read my
books and the newspapers too, - but we have never discussed the
topic - and with certainty will not do so.
C.M-S.: Why not?
Emil T.: They can’t discuss it. - and
it would help no-one if I went to them and said: "Mother, Father
I am gay!" They know that and accept the fact, because they
love their son.
C.M-S.: What’s the situation for ordinary
gays & lesbians?
Emil T.: I often think that intellectuals
have it easier. There are no anti gay laws, the themes are openly
discussed newspapers, but in ordinary families the ideas are very
old fashioned .
C.M-S.: You told me you wrote poetry -
Emil T.: Yes. I started when I was student
and published my first book of poetry in 1985. Some have been published
in as part of a collection in Finnish and French. It’s not easy
to get things published in English - there is a massive supply of
all literature in English. Border Land is my first novel.
By the by, Border Land (Grenzland) will be published in Germany
by Hanser Verlag in München. (March 1997)
C.M-S.: Good, then I shall finally be
able to read it. I wish you success with your novel, and thank you
for the interview.
C. de la Motte-Sherman