Estonian Short Stories

Ritva Poom, Translator, Darlene Reddaway, Editor, Kajar Pruul, Editor Northwestern University Press $52 (277p) ISBN 978-0-8101-1240-7
Perhaps fearing that pre-WWII works by Katrin Jakobi, Aleksander Tassa and Karl August Hindrey wouldn't play in 1990s America, the editors have included no works prior to 1966. By the '60s, the modernist influence of Estonian writers abroad (particularly in Sweden) had made inroads into the social realism espoused by the state back home. Although not all the stories included here are of equal quality, they do illustrate the history of the Estonian writers' interaction with their culture and government. Arvo Valton's ``The Snare (i-iii),'' a blackly humorous allegory of repression in the '60s, gives way to multilayered stories of individuals lost within a faceless society, as in Toomas Vint's touching story of a woman who creates a private Eden within an anonymous apartment block. Even with perestroika, many Estonians continue to favor the fantastical over strict realism-witness Mati Unt's conversation with Tantalus; Ulo Mattheus's losing battle with the spirit of his wife's house; or the mysterious visitor who frees Maimu Berg's morbid writer. And all, including the well-known Jaan Kross, tend toward writerly ambiguity over straightforward readerly narrative. Perhaps more than any of the former Soviet republics, Estonia, with its Finnish language and historical position as a window on the West, is best placed to serve as a literary conduit between the first and second worlds. (Jan.)
Reviewed on: 02/12/1996
Release date: 02/01/1996
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