books

Chapter 8: Estonia. The Traveling Biblio Chronicles.

With Chapter 8 of the TTBC Sandra Falke will take us on a Literary Journey across Estonia through her pick to represent, Estonia.

Over a random conversation with Sandra last month she expressed interest in writing for the blog series and I immediately said yes! I personally have never read anything based in Estonia so there was my own personal agenda behind getting a recommendation as well!

Sandra will now take over, hope this becomes a good place to start for Estonian Literature!

Sandra can be found on wordpress, here and on Instagram here.

Estonia is a small country in the Baltic region and its geographical position has caused it to be occupied by various other countries. Because of these historical events, Estonian culture has experienced many oppression periods and our literature has only been able to flourish since the beginning of the 20th century – apart from a handful of folk songs, some poetry and short texts written in German by Baltic Germans there is no Great Estonian Novel before that time. However, we are now making our mark in the literary world. Here‘s a small introduction to what‘s happening in the moment and a speculation on what is about to happen soon.

Thematically the most important novels deal with historical subject matter, focusing mostly on the country‘s development and awakening during the 20th century, so it is no surprise that Ilmar Taska‘s „Pobeda 1946 – A Car Called Victory“ („Pobeda 1946“, 2016) has received raving reviews on the Estonian and European scale from readers and critics alike. The book has been translated into several languages and adapted into a short movie which takes place in Hungary.

Although the place of „Pobeda“ is actually Tallinn (the capital of Estonia), the history of Soviet Europe is interchangeable so like the KGB agent sent to question a small boy whose father is wanted for intelligence purposes, nobody in this story is given a name – only a motivation. The boy must not talk to strangers about his family life, the mother must protect the boy, the agent must infiltrate the family and keep his superiors satisfied.

This is a story most of Europe can relate to, since the Soviet Union has left an un-erasable mark in its history. The internal terror families were put through as the communist machine taught their children to spy on the parents at home, and the subtle techniques the agent uses to make a small naive person do just that are quite horrific.

As the novel is being told mostly from the little boy‘s perspective, sensations of horror and fear grip the reader almost immediately. The boy is in danger, while the agent keeps luring him in with his cool and modern car „Pobeda“, and Taska does a great job in keeping this suspense up while continuing to tell the story of the family as well as the agent in an empathetic way. Even the enemy is human, as „Pobeda 1946“ manages to tell the story from the other side as well.

In addition to all of that, Taska tells another story related to the family: Even in times of terror and behind iron curtains there is a love story to be found, about crossing borders and overcoming fear.

All in all, „Pobeda 1946“ is a complex novel, rich in emotions and stories, witty in its psychological structure, and well-balanced in combining horrifying and satisfying aspects of a suspenseful story. It is also a perfect example for getting to know one of the most important episodes of Estonian history.

Estonian literature depicting earlier history is somewhat similar to many Scandinavian writers: the novels often tell of a farmer‘s life who works hard to survive against nature‘s will, all the while being legally bonded to his master and enduring additional hardship from that. A great example for this is the pentalogy „Truth and Justice“ („Tõde ja õigus“, 1926) by Anton Hansen Tammsaare, picturing Estonian life from 1870 to about 1930. A shorter conclusion of this collection and an introduction to Estonian folk tales is Tammsaare‘s novel „The Misadventures of the New Satan“ („Põrgupõhja uus vanapagan“), which is a mixture of satire, political commentary and local mythology.

Newer Estonian literature is harder to pinpoint. Many writers reflect the individual loneliness that contrasts our fast technological development (Martin Algus, Katrin Johanson, Andris Feldmanis, Meelis Friedenthal). Some are analyzing the national individuality of Estonia in light of becoming a member of the European Union (Martin Kivirähk, Mihkel Raud). Many are still writing memoirs and reflections on the past (Toomas Mikker, Mart Sander, Andrus Kasemaa and many others).

However, I believe Estonian literature has come to a point where new ideas and perspectives are necessary and about to be explored and a future- or at least present-driven type of novel is emerging. This is made possible by the fact that more novels from Estonian authors have been translated into German and English in the last three years than ever before (Karl Ristikivi, Katrin Johanson, Ilmar Taska, Mart Sander, Vahur Afanasjev, Elin Gottschalk and many more). We are finally about to step out into world literature. In my opinion, the imminence of these developments makes Estonian literature something to watch out for in the future!

This was Chapter 8 of the traveling biblio chornicles by Sandra Falke. You can buy the book here from book depository
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Our previous Chapters are as follows, have a look!

Chapter 1: Australia here

Chapter 2: Afghanistan here

Chapter 3: Egypt here

Chapter 4: Palestine here

Chapter 5: Kenya here

Chapter 6: Pakistan here

Chapter 7: Argentina here