Estonia is my birthplace and root country.
I live in Germany now, but Estonian culture, music, literature and movies are a part of my upbringing, so today I’m introducing you to some recommendations from Estonian Literature.
These introductions will become a series here, as more and more Estonian novels have been translated into English and German in the past three or four years, and actual recommendations I can give are now attainable for international audiences.
(I wouldn’t ever suggest that anyone learn Estonian, it’s a beautiful but rather complex language!)
As the title suggestes, the first part of this series has already been published by the wonderful Faroukh @theguywiththebook, and can be read over here (link)
Here are some snippets from part 1:
Estonia is a small country in the Baltic region and its geographical position has caused it to be occupied by various other countries. Because of these historical events, Estonian culture has experienced many oppression periods and our literature has only been able to flourish since the beginning of the 20th century.
Thematically the most important novels deal with historical subject matter, focusing mostly on the country‘s development and awakening during the 20th century.
And an introduction to what I am digesting today:
Estonian literature depicting earlier history is similar to many Scandinavian writers: the novels often tell of a farmer’s life who works hard to survive against nature’s will, all the while being legally bonded to his master and enduring additional hardship from that. A great example for this is the pentalogy Truth and Justice („Tõde ja õigus“, 1926) by Anton Hansen Tammsaare, picturing Estonian life from 1870 to about 1930. A shorter conclusion of this collection and an introduction to Estonian folk tales is Tammsaare‘s novel The Misadventures of the New Satan („Põrgupõhja uus vanapagan“, 1964), which is a mixture of satire, political commentary and local mythology.
Misadventures is a great example of Estonian culture. It describes most of the stereotypical characteristics of an Estonian: wanting to be better than your neighbour, a certain narrowmindedness and pettiness towards anything foreign and unknown, the will to rebel against higher authority – whether rightfully placed into position or not.
Satan is supposedly trending and gaining following – a spike ever since Trump went into office, according to Huffington Post (link) –, but TV series and books suggest he has been an intriguing character ever since the beginning of TV series and books. Tammsaare and Estonian folklore see him as an ordinary person with mythological associations – he has certain powers, but can be outsmarted easily, because there are known and simple ways to keep him away.
Misadventures places Satan as an ordinary farmer amongst other farmers, and shows in simple dialogues, how an ordinary farming day goes along – but it shows so much more. The family dynamics, the relationship with his boss, the general problems with alcoholism and the coarseness of farmfolk because the nature of their lives has made them so. It also shows what is considered noble, smart or beautiful in that society, and how close the people are with nature.
Furthermore, Misadventures gets very philosophical and existential towards the end, somewhat surprising considering its simple language and narrative. However, the ending really puts the whole novel into a more interesting light and asks some very interesting questions about good, evil, and man’s, even Satan’s, role in the perspective of the eternal existence of the Universe.
The very question of human nature is asked, and the possible answers are very, very interesting for Satan and for humans alike, putting the seemingly trivial everyday life of a farmer into a new perspective as well.
In summary, I would absolutely recommend The Misadventures of the New Satan as a starting point for anyone interested in Estonian Literature.
For those more interested in 21st Century Estonian Literature: I’ll be getting into some newer novels very soon.
Want to know more?
You can download the English introduction to 12 Estonian Books to Translate here (link)