ESTONIAN SHORT STORIES by Kajar Pruul

ESTONIAN SHORT STORIES

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KIRKUS REVIEW

 A superb collection from the former Russian republic memorably displays how its contemporary writers have embraced literary modernism and rejected the constraints of Soviet Socialist Realism. The volume's 21 stories by nine writers run an exhilarating gamut of contrasting styles, tones, and thematic concerns, all skillfully rendered in their intriguing distinctness by translator Poom (her virtuosity is strikingly applied to Mati Unt's tricky, amusing ``He Translated''). Realistic tales of individual and family experience include Mari Saat's ``Elsa Hermann,'' which neatly encapsulates a repressed woman's late-flowering emotional life, and Toomas Raudam's ``Drooping Wings,'' an Ingmar Bergman- like story of an impassioned childhood that's rich in invented detail. Symbolism and allegory dominate such engaging creations as ölo Mattheus's ``Our Mother,'' a story of domestic conflict brilliantly developed from its folkloric origins, and ``The Fish's Revenge,'' a sophisticated parable depicting some possible sources of artistic creation by the Kafkaesque (and aforementioned) Mati Unt. Varying reactions to the Socialist pressure to conform are expressed in Maimu Berg's ``The Mill Ghost,'' a hilariously wry portrayal of a depressed (and depressing) writer vilified for her failure to celebrate the values of ``altruism, humanism, and pacifism''--and in Toomas Vint's ``The Swan-Stealing,'' in which a lonely woman makes a gesture of defiance against the imperatives of collectivism. Political considerations are more explicitly present in the fablelike work of Arno Valton, notably in his three-part ``The Snare'' (which offers a powerful and disturbing image of political repression), and in two densely written, resonant pieces by the great Jaan Kross (whose 1978 novel, The Czar's Madman, was published in English translation to great acclaim), especially ``The Day His Eyes Are Opened,'' which debates in 25 accusatory and heartrending pages the rival claims of dissident protest and cautious accommodation. An entertaining and revealing volume (with a helpful Introduction by the editors) that will send many grateful readers seeking any modern Estonian fiction available. And may we please have a collection of Jaan Kross's stories as soon as possible?

Pub Date: Jan. 1st, 1996
ISBN: 0-8101-1540-X
Page count: 232pp
Publisher: Northwestern Univ.
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15th, 1995




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