Mostly I write about contemporary life in Estonia, mostly about failures," says Maarja Kangro, author of five poetry collections, several volumes of short stories, and one documentary novel, The Glass Child, which became a bestseller. "It's a book about a woman's desire to conceive a child, her inability sustain a pregnancy, and the emotional consequences that has on her life," Kangro says. The story, narrated over three months in stark realism, is partially depicted in the milieu of social media and is set against the 2014 war in the Ukraine. "In this way, it is a very public and very private story at the same time," she adds.
Kangro says that with this book in particular, she set out to give Estonian women a stronger literary voice. "The establishment encourages a kind of ‘good girl' writer, and the result is that people write about puking and being beautiful," she says. "But at the same time, the establishment doesn't value that type of writing and doesn't reward the writers." It's a kind of trap, she says. "If you consider the most important literary awards in Estonia, out of 105 prizes, only 14 have gone to women since 1984, a laughably tiny percentage." (By comparison, in Latvia, since independence, 60% of the winners of major prizes have been women.) She points out that this need not be the case and that gender equality is embedded in the Estonian language, where personal pronouns are genderless. "This can make for some interesting writing and even more interesting translations."
Another sign that Kangro is taking her literary destiny into her own hands and separating herself from mainstream publishing is the fact that she self-published The Glass Child. "It's not a big deal here to self-publish, and it's more and more common," Kangro says. "Estonian literary prizes are open to self-published works. The Estonians don't care where the book comes from, so long as it is worthwhile." She admits to getting some help from the establishment, in the form of a €2,000 grant from the government-backed Cultural Endowment fund, which is itself funded by a tax on tobacco and alcohol consumption, to pay for the printing.
As much as she may want to set herself apart within the Estonian literary community, Kangro says it's important that Estonians as a whole are seen as fully integrated into the contemporary European cultural community. "It may be fashionable to promote Estonian authors as some exotic species," Kangro says. "People expect everyone from this area to write about Soviet trauma and to be waving a nationalist flag. But we are part of what's going on in the modern world, and we write about that."