Tõnu Õnnepalu’s literary paradise

The article uses the notions of both mental geography and semiotic Umwelt to analyse the autobiographical novel Paradiis („Paradise”) (2009) by Tõnu Õnnepalu. The book tells a personal experience of a real village on the western coast of Hiiumaa, an island of the Baltic Sea, where the author had lived for a dozen years. While based on a recognizable geographical reality, the spatial milieu also comprises several different temporal layers and the particular place is given the metaphorical toponym of Paradise. The subjective poetic world depicted in the book combines elements of the real world, on-site experience and autobiographical nuances of the everyday with the author’s intimate reflections, his entirely personal volatile sensations, the states of mind and yearnings inspired by the landscapes.

Thus Paradise represents Õnnepalu’s literary Umwelt and is interpretable as an inner vision of his surroundings and as its literal representation: although the locality referred to in the novel can be identified geographically, its description is intertwined with memories departing from immediate perception as well as with imaginings. The place has been metaphorically renamed Paradise in the novel and is subjected to deliberate, selective and multistage reshaping with temporal, spatial, objective and emotional ramifications. However, the description never diverges from the writer’s intimately personal and occasionally wishful base of perception. The aim of the article is to explain precisely how this literary Umwelt has been designed and how its its main qualities have been lined out.