Editor's Note: Baltic Discoveries
Use the links below to read the complete report on publishing in the Baltic region—Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania.
I was briefly posted as a journalist to Tallinn, Estonia, in 1997. This winter, I visited the city again, for the first time in 20 years, and found the place familiar but also alien: LED lights have been strung up around Old Town and the 100-year-old branch of the Rahva Raamat bookstore on Pärnu that I used to visit has been superseded by the magnificent Rahva Raamat outlet, considered one of the best bookstores in the world, at the posh Viru Keskus mall.
Riga, Latvia, and Vilnius, Lithuania, were both new to me, and both were revelations. Like many who have never visited this part of the world, I tended to lump the three countries—Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania—together under the idea of “the Baltics.” This convenient construction is, well, just that: convenient.
What the nations do share is a history of independence, giving way to 20th-century occupation by the Nazis and Soviets (under whom each nation suffered oppression and deportations), and then independence once more, in 1990. This year is an auspicious one for all three countries, as they are each celebrating the 100th anniversary of their initial independence in 1918.
The literatures of the Baltic states also share some characteristics. The Estonians and the Latvians, for example, are devoted to poetry. Lithuania has a strong commitment to publishing work in Lithuanian and brings out a smaller percentage of books from abroad than do the other two countries. Each has produced books that seek to engage with and understand their difficult histories, a fact that is highlighted by each country’s London Book Fair Author of the Day: Estonia’s Mihkel Mutt, Latvia’s Nora Ikstena, and Lithuania’s Kristina Sabaliauskaitė. These authors will be presented at the Fair and are profiled in these pages.
While this report cannot claim to be comprehensive, it does strive to highlight some important aspects of each nation’s literary program, including feminist writing in Estonia, edgy children’s publishing in Latvia, and the commerce-minded book moguls of Lithuania. There is a look at the extraordinary National Library of Latvia, a thoughtful essay on publishing from one of Lithuania’s top practitioners, and commentary on the Baltic literary community from one of Estonia’s finest writers.
Worth noting is that these nations, tiny in comparison to their large, looming neighbors, have developed dispositions best described as discreet. As a result, these writers and publishers are not prone to self-promotion. This discretion is perhaps best captured by Latvia’s marketing campaign for this year’s London Book Fair, #IAmIntrovert, which uses the persona of “I,” an antisocial Latvian writer, to embody the country’s literary sensibility. The campaign prompted the Estonians to joke that clearly the Latvians were the more extroverted of the two nations, since they have a marketing campaign in the first place.
That you may not be familiar with the literary lives of these nations means one thing: they are still yours to discover. This report is just a sampling, and if it makes you curious about these fascinating countries and their rich literary cultures, we will have done our job.
This special report was published with the support of the Estonian Literature Center, Latvian Literature, and the Lithuanian Cultural Institute.