THE BEAUTY OF HISTORY by Viivi Luik

THE BEAUTY OF HISTORY

by & translated by
Email this review

KIRKUS REVIEW

Originally published in Estonian in 1991, this novel follows rather surrealistically the effect of the invasion of Prague in the spring of 1968 on an unnamed woman.

While politics gives rise to what thin plot exists here, the novel is far more lyrical than political. It opens with the depiction of the sky, likened to a vault, arcing over a large geographical area, from Tallinn to Riga, from the Karelian isthmus to “Dracula’s castle and Ceausescu’s kingdom,” a region in which “the black beech-trunks on the mountainsides weave great clouds of fog…” This tenebrous beginning sets the tone for much of the rest of the narrative. Characters slip in and out of the murkiness, time itself becomes mutable and elusive, nothing ever becomes quite clear. It appears that the woman is supposed to pose for Lion, a well-known sculptor who wants to escape to the west but who eventually ends up in Moscow. The woman takes a train ride from Riga to Tallinn, and with each passing mile the atmosphere grows more Kafkaesque. The journey becomes emblematic of Luik’s novelistic technique: “[I]t is already very difficult, if not impossible, to be certain whether…this train journey [has] been, for her, merely a semi-conscious illusion or whether it is, after all, a question of events that really took place and of people she saw with her own eyes.” As with all surrealistic narratives, at some level it becomes impossible to determine what is happening in reminiscence and what in objective reality. Language itself becomes unreliable and treacherous as it slips in and out of description and observation, memory and longing. In the final sentence the narrative circles back on itself, for Luik returns to the sky, which now encompasses “the future, and its terrifying beauty.”

Powerful lyricism but enigmatic storytelling.

Pub Date: Jan. 14th, 2008
ISBN: 978-1-870041-73-7
Page count: 152pp
Publisher: Dufour
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1st, 2007