Brecht at Night

Mati Unt, Author, Eric Dickens, Translator , trans. from the Estonian by Eric Dickens. Dalkey Archive $13.95 (209p) ISBN 978-1-56478-532-9

The late Estonian novelist is notable for his irrepressibly playful and idiosyncratic writing style, and Dickens's translation of this slim novel is a perfect example of it. Unt offers a sort of tragic origin myth of Estonia, peopled by Bertolt Brecht and his entourage as they flee from Nazi Germany to Finland in 1940. The author's license with his material is apparent from the very first sentence, which isn't even completed before Unt interrupts it to offer an italicized gloss on the novel's premise. Brecht takes up residence in a hotel in Helsinki, befriending Hella Wuolijoki, an Estonian writer who regales Brecht with her life story, while Unt, in interspersed italicized paragraphs, provides scraps of Estonia's tragic history. Brecht, meanwhile, remains supremely obsessed with himself and chews over his pet subject: dialectics. Dismissing standard conventions of plot and structure, this is a startling document in its own right—of irony, of Unt's experimental style and of the terrible (and mostly unknown to the rest of the world) hardships of Estonia during most of the 20th century. (Sept.)

Reviewed on: 07/27/2009
Release date: 07/01/2009
Genre: Fiction
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