If you are an avid reader and read a wide range of books and different authors and read the literary magazines and the literary pages of the newspapers, you might think that your perspective on literature is vast and you know more or less what is happening in the literary world. Who won the Booker Prize, who are the big authors authors of the moment and which novels are currently being adapted into films. However most of us tend to read books from very few different countries. I certainly do and feel because of this I have been missing out on countless different perspectives.
What brought about these reflections was reading The Dedalus Book of Estonian Literature, first published in 2011. I hadn’t read any Estonian literature before and I was entranced by many stories in the book. I would like to mention three. They demonstrate how your preconceptions about countries that you no little about can be wrong and how you can be entertained and surprised by unknown authors from a small linguistic area.
The first story which I found moving was ‘Bread’ by Eduard Vilde. The author lived at the turn of the twentieth century and his stories are considered to be classics in Estonia. ‘Bread’ is a bitter and moving short story about a man’s love and devotion. In the midst of a celebration, the reader’s attention is directed towards an individual’s troubles. Vilde’s story is told in a matter-of-fact manner and does not stir up strong emotions until the last sentence when you realise the character’s feelings and the author’s power to move his readers.
I could not omit an interesting fact about the figure of Vilde. As his name, undoubtedly, reminds one of the great Irish writer Oscar Wilde, an Estonian sculptor Tiiu Kirsipuu decided to design a sculpture of the two w/vildes and since its completion in 1999 it has been located in front of Eduard Vilde café in an Estonian city of Tartu. In 2004 Estonia joined the European Union and as a way to celebrate it, a copy of Kirsipuu’s sculpture was presented to Galway in Ireland.
The second story which drew my attention is a short story by Juhan Liiv, an Estonian poet and writer of the turn of the twentieth century. His house in the province of Tartu is now a museum open to those interested in the life of the famous Estonian poet and there is the Juhan Liiv Poetry Prize awarded every year. Despite the fact that Liiv’s story ‘On Lake Peipsi’ is only five pages long, it is a successful exploration of the human mind when one is faced with danger and of what people learn from their experiences.
Last but not least, the third story from the Dedalus anthology which I would like to recommend is Anton Hansen Tammsaare’s ‘Grandfather’s Death.’ The author is yet another writer who is considered to be one of Estonia’s classic authors. Like Vilde and Liiv, Tammsaare lived at the turn of the twentieth century and was recognised not only in Estonia but also in a few other countries as some of his works were translated into, among others, Latvian and French. For a few years until his death he lived in an apartment in Kadriorg and today the place is turned into Tammsaare Museum. In his short story ‘Grandfather’s Death’ which begins with the grandfather’s somewhat comical prediction about his own death, the author explores the theme of death through the eyes of a boy and gives the reader an eerie story which, like the other stories in the anthology, will linger in the mind long after the book has been read.