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October 2015

Writing from the Edge: Estonian Literature

Image: Aldis Toome, Matsiranna Loss, 2009. "The Poll Diaries," Dir. Chris Kraus, 2010., Matsiranna, Estonia.

This month we present new prose and poetry from Estonia. Influenced by its many colonizers and drawing on a rich oral tradition, Estonia’s literary sensibility reflects both an awareness of the natural world and a keen sense of what might lie beyond its borders. The writers here deploy that dual perspective to singular effect. Eeva Park’s narrator attempts to rescue a dog and her marriage. Mehis Heinsaar observes a summer romance turned icy. In two portraits of intellectual pretension, Mihkel Mutt records the meeting of two literary poseurs, and Maarja Kangro eavesdrops on artists and writers at a bourgeois cultural evening. Russian-language writer Andrei Ivanov contributes an impressionistic portrait of coming of age in Soviet-era Tallinn. Jan Kaus’s prose poetry illuminates both urban and rural landscapes. And in work from other poets, fs recruits for a divine vacancy, Kaur Riismaa praises the quotidian, and Triin Soomets reflects on translating love and loss. We thank our guest editor, Miriam McIlfatrick, and the Estonian Literature Center for its support.

 This month’s special feature showcases three Italian poets, introduced and translated by Wallis Wilde-Menozzi. And our fiction serial resumes with the second installment of Carlos Yushimito’s unsettling tale of childhood. 

Writing from the Edge: Estonian Literature

Modern-day literature in Estonia is both aware of and wary of borders.

Jackdaw on a Snowdrift

For two weeks I felt like I was wrapped in barbed wire.

At the Manor, or Jump into the Fire

At one castle reception she had bitten into a decorative banana that tasted distinctly of sawdust.

Mice in the Wind

A man of letters has to be in contact with life . . .

[I wish there was a god]

I wish there was the sort of god / who would preserve us from a god / we invent for ourselves

A Dog’s Life

He was old and filthy and probably hadn’t eaten for some time.

Evening Fare

Turnips and time, pork and posterity, man and his life on the road between day and night.


what do you write about

about love, I answered. / there isn’t anything else, is there.


Four Prose Poems

There is the transition of land into sea, there is the unsettled sea that spits foam and kelp.


Death among the Icebergs

Three days later a diagnosis was received from Kärdla hospital: cardiac arrest as a result of varicose glaciation.


Book Reviews

Andrus Kivirähk’s “The Man Who Spoke Snakish”

Reviewed by Dustin Illingworth

Andrus Kivirähk’s The Man Who Spoke Snakish interrogates not only the literary logic of the allegorical mode but also the relationship we have—as individuals and as readers—to the dueling lures of tradition and change.

Fiston Mwanza Mujila’s “Tram 83”

Reviewed by Adrian Nathan West

Mujila has given a curious twist to a timeworn genre: Tram 83 is a picaresque novel in stasis, its hero waylaid by adventures he is constantly hoping to avoid. The language ranges from slangy to poignant, with philosophical asides and frequent pastiches of received ideas of Africa in the west.

Valeria Luiselli’s “The Story of My Teeth”

Reviewed by Tynan Kogane

Stendhal said that a novel is a mirror carried along a highway. The Story of My Teeth is a mirror carried by a Highway Sánchez Sánchez: a coded yet gleeful journey through Mexico City, rich with details, offering . . . “a fissure in the relationship between style and reality.”

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