Jill Magi, . . Futurepoem Books, $14 (96pp) ISBN 978-0-9716800-7-4
Magi's full-length debut follows in a recent tradition of investigative cross-cultural autobiography, incorporating images, philosophical and personal reflections, indirectly related texts from artistic peers and, most notably, imaginative reconstructions of her ancestors' lives under foreign occupation. Magi's choice of thread as central metaphor—strings that bind two lives, two pages or two cultures together—is born out by her crisp, spare writing and the primary visual motif: decayed and torn, often artistically written-over pages of historical transcripts. But Magi's Estonia—a country that has changed hands several times since the 16th century, and only surfaced from Soviet rule in 1991—is a nation whose identity cannot easily be healed: “Dear Grandmother: You fed yourself hard candies from a personal dictionary that snapped shut while slipping folded up twenty dollar bills into my palms. [...] Did you prefer Swedish to Estonian or English to Swedish?” Magi deftly weaves together translations of poetry, travelogue and cultural reconstruction. The book is saturated with the quest for lost memory; a cellphone in contemporary Estonia seems anachronistic, and reproduced pages of documentation about her relatives' activities against Communist rule, leading to the Singing Revolution, make for fascinating reading in themselves (when in English). This is a confident, careful and unpretentious first volume.
Reviewed on: 05/21/2007