Si je ne les écris pas, les choses ne sont pas allées jusqu’au à leur terme, elles ont éte seulement vécues.
– Annie Ernaux
(If I don’t write them, things that happened will never reach their culmination, they will only have been lived.)
Writing the annual book review has become a necessity. If I skip revisiting the books that shaped me over the past 12 months, they will only have been read. Browsing through my notes from 2020 + 2021 felt like a stroll in a museum, its walls covered in paintings that once moved me deeply. Their ensuing allure – faintly albeit firmly – still lingers in the air.
“One must be strict with books. I want to read only what I’ll want to reread,” Susan Sontag remarked in a Paris Review interview. This year, I returned to many beloved authors – Annie Ernaux, Joan Didion, Saul Bellow, Vladimir Nabokov, Tove Ditlevsen, Anne Carson. I also discovered new favorites, although not that many among the newly-published books. My sentimentalities are hopelessly grounded in the 20th century.
Above all, 2022 was the year when I finally put a pen on paper and my hands on the keyboard and wrote several short stories of my own. Two of them were published in Looming, others are buried in labyrinthine Google Drive folders. I also got into book reviews, writing for Sirp, Looming, and this blog.
“What a lifestyle thing life has become,” the protagonist of Ali Smith‘s Companion Piece observes. What a lifestyle thing it has become to sit down in an armchair and not flinch for an entire hour and just read and feel one’s mind and heart turn, feel them overturn the perturbing taedium vitae. Take a book. Open the first page. Forget about the rest of the world.
Books read in 2022
Fave & moving fiction:
Septology by Jon Fosse | Le jeune homme by Annie Ernaux | Companion Piece by Ali Smith | Faces by Tove Ditlevsen | The Hearing Trumpet by Leonora Carrington | Humboldt’s Gift by Saul Bellow | Sixty Stories by Donald Barthelme | The World and Other Places: Stories by Jeanette Winterson | Bad Behavior by Mary Gaitskill | “Varjuteater” by Viivi Luik | A Midsummer Night’s Dream by William Shakespeare | Paris Stories by Mavis Gallant | Ravelstein by Saul Bellow | The Complete Stories by Clarice Lispector | Collected Stories by Saul Bellow | Letters by Saul Bellow | Men in the Off Hours by Anne Carson | Pale Fire by Vladimir Nabokov | The Sea, The Sea by Iris Murdoch | “Seitsmes rahukevad” by Viivi Luik | “Kirgas uni” by Eva Koff | Twice Told Tales: Stories by Daniel Stern | Margarita by Anni Kytömäki
Eros the Bittersweet by Anne Carson | Unknown Unknowns: Essays, edited by Emanuele Coccia | The Hydrogen Jukebox: Selected Writings, 1978-1990 by Peter Schjeldahl | The Innocent Eye: On Modern Literature and the Arts by Roger Shattuck | Corona, Climate, Chronic Emergency: War Communism in the Twenty-First Century by Andreas Malm | Milk of Paradise: A History of Opium by Lucy Inglis | Angels & Saints by Eliot Weinberger | The Moon: Symbol of Transformation by Jules Cashford | Angels: Selected Lectures by Rudolf Steiner | Death by Landscape by Elvia Wilk | “Ja valguse armulise” by Asta Põldmäe
Sleepless Nights by Elizabeth Hardwick | Acute Melancholia and Other Essays: Mysticism, History, and the Study of Religion by Amy Hollywood | The Debutante and Other Stories by Leonora Carrington | The Memoirs of a Survivor by Doris Lessing | A Ghost in the Throat by Doireann Ni Ghriofa | The Collected Stories by Lydia Davis | Seize the Day by Saul Bellow | The Sweetest Dream by Doris Lessing | Veronica by Mary Gaitskill | The Powerbook by Jeanette Winterson | Sexing the Cherry by Jeanette Winterson | “Primavera” by Lilli Promet | “Minu Goa. Päike, penid ja piña colada” by Anne Vetik | “Eesti novell 2022” | Prize Stories 1994: The O. Henry Awards | Outward: Adrienne Rich’s Expanding Solitudes by Ed Pavlić | Labyrinths by Jorge Luis Borges
Praxis by Fay Weldon | Genius and Ink: Virginia Woolf on How to Read by Virginia Woolf | The Writings of Marcel Duchamp by Marcel Duchamp | Salt Slow by Julia Armfield | “Nimepanija” by Piret Raud | “Kummiliimiallikad” by Kiwa | The Visitors by Jessi Jezewska Stevens | The Collected Dorothy Parker by Dorothy Parker | The Dedalus Book of Surrealism, edited by Michael Richardson | Monday or Tuesday by Virginia Woolf
2022 Fave short stories
A haphazard list of short stories, collected over the year and re-encountered while revising my reading notes.
- “On Angels” by Donald Barthelme
- “The Pull” by Lidia Yuknavitch
- “The World and Other Places” by Jeanette Winterson
- “Invisible Bird” by Claire-Louise Bennett
- “The Great Hug” by Donald Barthelme
- “The Balloon” by Donald Barthelme
- “Eddy” by Anne Carson
- “Death by Landscape” by Margaret Atwood
- “Atlantic Crossing” by Jeanette Winterson
- “Bad Graft” by Karen Russell
- “Charades” by Lorrie Moore
- “A Hunger Artist by Franz Kafka: A Story” by Daniel Stern, link
- “Dancing in the Moonlight” by Otessa Moshfegh
- “Diary of Remorse” by Nancy Lemann
- “Nondisclosure Agreement” by Saïd Sayrafiezadeh
- “Golden years” by Kaliane Bradley
- “Descent” by Harriet Clark
- “Armastus pärast” by Katrin Tegova
- “Katkine mängusõdur” by Andrei Ivanov
Reviews & stories published in 2022
I finally gathered all my courage and wrote, edited, and pitched some short stories and book reviews to magazines. More coming up the next year.
- Short story “Pool Kaks” in Looming
- #Short story “Roosiaed” in Looming
- Review of Le jeune homme by Annie Ernaux
- Review of “Margarita” by Anni Kytömäki in Sirp
- Review of “Eesti novell 2022” in Looming
- Review of Checkout 19 by Claire-Louise Bennett
- Review of The Sweetest Dream by Doris Lessing in Sirp
- Review of The Sea, The Sea by Iris Murdoch in Sirp
- Review of Weather by Jenny Offill in Sirp
- Review of “Nimepanija” by Piret Raud in Sirp
Twelve months with my nose in books
It really seems like I never choose the books to read. The books choose me. The pile of unread books keeps growing as new volumes find ways to sneak into my life from all angles– magazine reviews (The New York Review of Books is still a favorite but so is the TLS), bookshelves at Shakespeare & Co, museum bookstores, non-fiction books whose final page ends up accommodating a frenzied list of new authors to read.
TipI discovered that ordering second-hand books is much more fun than buying new books. The vintage book covers frame pages soaked with another century’s dust and sentimentalities. My vintage copy of James Broughton‘s poetry collection included a clipping of a newspaper review from 1957.
In January, I spotted Eros the Bittersweet by Anne Carson on the shelves at Shakespeare & Company and got immersed in contemplations on love, lack, desire, jealousy, and time, reaching all the way back to Sappho and Aristotle. It’s one of the most intelligent books on the subject of love I’ve read.
I discovered the master of short stories, Donald Barthelme, and liked some of his Sixty Stories so much that I listened to the author reading “The Great Hug” and “The Balloon” in his golden, incandescent voice. Continuing with short stories, I went through several volumes of Henry O. Prize-winning stories and had a lucky encounter with Bad Behavior by Mary Gaitskill and The World and Other Places: Stories by Jeanette Winterson. I read so much Winterson in a two-week period that the poetry of her prose turned too sweet to bear. I took pages of reading notes while at it.
While solo traveling to Rome in January, I read The Collected Stories by Lydia Davis and found a note from back then that sums up how I feel about Davis’ writing: “Masterful use of language, drudging subjects and musings. The author must have an exhaustingly boring life.” I started but couldn’t finish Books of Jacob by Olga Tokarczuk although Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead was one of my favorite books in 2021.
Throughout the year, I was inclined towards the arcane, reading up on mysticism and symbolism, including The Hearing Trumpet by Leonora Carrington, Angels & Saints by Mary Wellesley, Angels by theosophist Rudolf Steiner, and a book on the Moon as an age-old symbol by Jules Cashford.
My year wouldn’t be complete without a month in the company of Saul Bellow, most of whose oeuvre I’ve been through at least once. This year, I read his Stories, Letters to friends and lovers (what a beautiful way to end a letter: “Yrs. from the midst of night”), and Humboldt’s Gift – a novel so intelligent and soulful it had a months-long affect my own writing style. I read my first one by Thomas Bernhard, he remains too haughtily misanthropic for my taste.
To escape the trap of Anglo-American writing, I read The Faces by Tove Ditlevsen, an entrancing account of schizophrenia. While in the Netherlands in May, I read and wrote a review of Annie Ernaux’s latest essay-length book Le jeune homme about her affair with a man 30 years her junior. Later this year, I read and reviewed for Sirp Margarita by Finnish writer Anni Kytömäki, a tale of forests and the destructiveness of human need for violence and growth.
While in Estonia for the summer, I continued my education in Estonian literature. A friend gave me “Varjuteater” by Viivi Luik and it was so good I immediately read her “Seitsmes rahukevad” as well. A tepid, humid laziness shadowed the months of July and August, and soon, work overtook my life.
It was only in October and November that I realized what a lifestyle thing reading has become. Going to a cafe, ordering a pot of tea, and reading for a few hours on a Sunday afternoon felt like the most luxurious pastime.
While in Milan, I found a book of essays accompanying the Unknown Unknowns exhibition at Triennale Milano, edited by Emanuele Coccia. Together with Elvia Wilk‘s essays in Death by Landscape and Andreas Malm‘s-eco-communist tractate Corona, Climate, Chronic Emergency, it introduced me to alternative ways of thinking about the human relationship with plants, the planet, and the universe that were just tiny particles of.
I ended the year on a meditative note, reading Jon Fosse’s Septology, its 800 pages neatly packed between the Klein-blue covers by Fitzcarraldo Editions. The novel grew on me over time, its fluid stream-of-consciousness text devoid of punctuation taking over my thinking patterns. The protagonist’s contemplations of faith, art, and addiction make the mind beat in a calm, steady rhythm. It’s one of those books that will remain echoing long after, along with other favorite novels encountered this year.
As Peter Schjehdahl noted, human minds are the universe’s only instruments for reflecting on itself. We are fabricating cultural rainbow textiles (Bellow) to make sense of the world around us. It’s a world of millions of shades and colors and literature can help to attune our eyes to see a more varied, vibrant palette of pigments.
Below are some recommendations of my fave books read in 2022.
Death by Landscape by Elvia Wilk
Like the protagonist of Margaret Atwood’s short story Death by Landscape, the writer and essayist Elvia Wilk distrusts the popular perception vis-à-vis the non-human (and non-animal) species that we share the planet with. In fact, her essays invite the reader to consider then doubt a litany of premises underlying the modern (yet often painfully outdated) beliefs.
The collection opens with essays that research, contemplate, and challenge how we perceive plants and nature. Drawing ideas and stories from the New Weird literary movement and authors such as Jeff VanderMeer, Richard Powers, and Emanuele Coccia, Wilk builds a solid case for seeing ourselves as particles not masters of this universe. Could not agree more.
While the book is short of 300 pages, the essays previously published in The Paris Review, Granta, and Bookforum among others, manage to raise several important if haunting questions. “If depression can be understood as the sensation of futurelessness, it is not only a sensible reaction to but a product of a world lacking a future?” Wilk mercilessly asks.
Or… What is the role of art or fiction in the age of climate change? Should it offer solutions or hope or inject fear and horror? Should literature be politicized? Unlike many authors, Wilk makes the effort to arrive at an answer (or, in one case, admits that she doesn’t know one). “What fictions can do, regardless of how dystopian or utopian they may seem, is to identify how the interests of different people and different species conflict – as well as to highlight the areas of the Venn diagram where they do overlap.”
I enjoyed the first half of the book more – I found the essays on climate change and plant agency more relevant to our times and fascinating in their own right – and would recommend the book to anyone looking for fresh, healthy (or healing?) perspectives to living in a world full of that which, as quoted by Wilk, Rob Nixon calls “slow violence.”
For primer, read one of my favorite essays from the book, The Plants Are Watching, in The Paris Review. Link
The Faces by Tove Ditlevsen
The Faces is a perfect book to read in one day. Its twisting plot is so immersive that were the book longer than 130 pages, you’d end up reading it through 5 am in the morning, incapable of putting it down.
Like Ditlevsen’s three-part memoir that was published in English in 2021, The Faces is a semi-autobiographical account of a celebrated female writer struggling with a mental breakdown. Unlike Ditlevsen who was addicted to drugs, this novel’s protagonist battles an adversary resembling a case of schizophrenia. We meet Lise Mundus, a famous author in her early 40s, in the safe milieu of her home. Surrounded by her cheating husband, their maid, and the three children from her previous marriage. Lise, increasingly suspicious of her husband Gert and their bonne à tout faire, comes to believe that she’s turning mad again and finds out the two are conspiring to kill her.
In a desperate attempt to save herself, Lise swallows a jar of sleeping pills and calls her psychiatrist before losing consciousness. She wakes up in a hospital bed, her head filled with voices. As Lise grows ever more maniacally paranoid, the reader begins to see through her lunacy. It’s impossible not to feel for her. Will the voices stop? Will she come out of this sane or be sent to an asylum forever?
Ditlevsen writes with a clear, haunting voice. Ironically, the hospital staff is warm-hearted and the ending (almost to the point of disappointment) is upbeat.
Le Jeune Homme by Annie Ernaux
Annie Ernaux has written about her abortion, her affair with a Russian diplomat, and, most lately, she published Le jeune homme – an essay-length account of her affair with a man almost 30 years younger than she. “Si je ne les écris pas, les choses ne sont pas allées jusqu’au à leur terme, elles ont éte seulement vécues,” the book’s epigraph explains. “Unless I write, the things that happened won’t reach their end, they will only have been lived.”
Many of Ernaux’s subjects may sound exhibitionist adhering to a niche long-apparent in French literary tradition. Françoise Sagan’s memoirs, Sheila Heiti’s soul-searching contemplations, to bring some examples. Ernaux, however, has developed a unique way to process her memories and memoirs. She lays her past out in the open, like bedsheets on a drying line fluttering in wind. Observations, meanings, and conclusions begin to drip out of the memories. Moving through distant memories, Ernaux and her reader analyze the natural drives and desires of a person and discover deep truths about being human.
While “Simple Passion,” Ernaux’s account of her affair with a married Russian diplomat, the protagonist is living in a haunting fever of passion and longing, the protagonist of Le jeune homme is calculated to seduce. This time around, she’s the one making rules. The narrator doesn’t fall into details like the young man’s exact age, background, or social status. What is of interest is the relationship dynamic between a young man and a 30y older, socially and economically established woman. Ernaux asks what did both parties get out of this relation amoureuse and answers her own question: “Il était le porteur de la mémoire de mon premier monde.” “Avec lui je parcourais tous les âges de la vie, ma vie.”
I wonder whether by writing Le jeune homme she once more lived through the memories and sensations of her “first world.”
Companion Piece by Ali Smith
Sand’s keeping her father’s dog. Her father’s been hopitalized with a heart problem. She’s thinking of Kerberos. The phone rings. It’s Martina Inglis, a woman she hasn’t spoken to for more than ten years, has only spoken to once. Martina tells Sand a story about being kept in the airport interrogation room for seven hours, sitting there with a 16th-century Boothby Lock. More stories will follow, stories will abound. But, as Sand knows: “A story is never an answer. A story is always a question.”
While Companion Piece is a pandemic novel, the covid problem is there only as a source of relevant constraints. Smith is at her best here, telling one story after another, the boundaries between real and surreal becoming ever faint.
A girl, a blacksmith. Raped and believed dead, but saved by a nestling of a curfew. Saving the curfew, saving herself, learning the ways of vagabond life. Tears and laughter. The present and the past. While the language of the book, for this reader, became at times wearisomely playful à la Smith, the messages and ideas it carries were beautiful and artful. Companion Piece is a book that requires a certain mood. And then, it will accompany you to places you’d never expected to reach.
“The poem’s about a person who’s miles from land, they’ve been at sea in a boat for a long long time, and it’s sort of prayer about our aloneness and our surviving. All the season pass through it, or the poem’s speaker passes in the boat through all the seasons with nothing for company but the sea and the life of the sea. Except, dad, and this is what I love about it, actually the speaker isn’t alone at all, because I’m reading or hearing the poem, or you are, if it’s you reading. A conversation with someone or something that’s silent is still a conversation.”
(Sand is telling this to her hospitalized father, unconscious but, according to the nurse, able to listen.)
“What a lifestyle thing life has become, I thought.”
Corona, Climate, Chronic Emergency by Andreas Malm
Everyone, especially the well-off of the Western world should read this to adjust their consciousness away from the silenced, comfortable acceptance.
Andreas Malm is one of the leading modern thinkers on capitalism and climate change. In this timely book, he walks us through a logical, revealing, and well-argumented journey from the Covid crisis, the human destruction of the natural world, and its dire consequences. Then, Malm pauses to ask: how can we stop this?
The Covid19 outbreak revealed three truths, covertly known to most:
First, the human hunger for constant growth and luxuries is driving the decline of biodiversity and thereby creating a more fruitful breeding ground for viruses. The blissful consumers in the US, France, and Germany (and all other EU countries) are accountable for the destruction of natural resources and land in distant, third-world countries.
Second, the rich Western countries only care about global pandemics and disasters if they bring discomfort to their own, rich, aging population.
But, maybe even more importantly, Malm notes that in case of an emergency, governments actually are able to limit the production of non-essential commodities. He argues that it’s not anarchy we need to save the world, but strong states acting with a long-term vision.
Some terms & theories to look up: zoonotic spillover, dilution effect (in biodiversity), critical vulnerability (Wisen et al), war communism.
Art and Lies by Jeanette Winterson
This poetic novel by Winterson has been one of those happy if mysterious occasions of finishing a book by an author, the first you’ve ever read, and having loved it so much you begin to wonder how you came upon it in the first place. I have no idea. Like chance strangers and pre-ordained events encountered by Winterson’s characters, the book appeared in my life out of the blue and altered the way I think in its own decisive if invisible way.
Winterson at her best is a writer preoccupied with finding the words to express that which she thinks can’t be put into words. Following the fictional characters of Handel, Sappho, and Picasso (bearing some traits of the historical figures but being the brainchildren of Winterson), we learn about their worldviews, yearnings, and past lives, the latter at times intertwining onto the very same lifepath, only to take a distant road once again, and to end up on the same train.
If there was one writer like whom I could write, currently, it would be Winterson.
“The fatal combination of indulgence without feeling disgusts me. Strange to be both greedy and dead.”
“And we still long to feel. What’s left? Romance. Love’s counterfeit free of charge for all. Fall into my arms and the world with its sorrows will shrink up into a tinsel ball. This is the favorite antidote to the cold robot life of faraway perils and nearby apathy. Apathy. From the Greek A Pathos. Want of feeling. But, don’t we know, only find the right boy, only find the right girl, and the feeling will be yours. My colleagues tell me I need just such a remedy.”
“‘Kiss me,’ she said. I did. Kissed her mouth where the sea was, kissed her mouth where the ship was waiting, kissed her mouth on a flotilla of time, jumping, ship to ship, mouth to mouth, all the mouths kissed through time.”
“Each collects their severed head and catches the train home. Some say that they enjoy their work. Time mocks them but they do not hear. Their ears are full of the sports pages and the index of The Financial Times. Time sits in their ribs and mocks them but his language is old and they do not hear. Time does his work and leaves his manuscript for the worms.
Why do the dead give up life? Pawn the hours that cannot be redeemed?
FOR SALE: MY LIFE. HIGHEST BIDDER COLLECTS.”
Angels and Saints by Eliot Weinberger
Among the angels that Weinberger lists in his book, after having introduced the reader to the Christian theology debate about the creation and nature of those creatures, are:
- Azreal, who is forever writing in a huge book and forever erasing what he wrote: the names of the born and the names of the dead
- Penemue, who taught mankind the corrupting art of writing
- Tabris, the angel of free will
Whether exploring the bodily existence of angels (“Bonaventure, the Seraphic Doctor, thought that angels are a mixture of aid and a conglomeration of elements. Aquinas, however, said that they [angels] are purely air condensed by the Divine power like clouds are, for instance; he also noted they are completely transparent.”) or figuring out the number of angels and devils with medieval theologians (“The followers of Luther estimated the number of devils at 2.5 billion then raised the figure to 10 trillion – roughly 100,000 devils for every Christian at the time of Reformation.”), Weinberger does it with snappy commentary, making the book an amusing read.
Eros the Bittersweet by Anne Carson
From Sappho to Sokrates down to Plato and Aristotle, Anne Carson explores the concept of ‘eros’, wandering through its psychological paradoxes and linguistic implications. Moving between love, lack, desire, jealousy, and time, Carson weaves an intricate web of cultural interrelations and philosophical treatments.
The book-length essay is brimming with quotations, historical facts, and Carson’s own interpretations that – while undressing the mystery of the feeling called ‘love’ – teach the reader to appreciate and attune to the feelings of want, desire, and change.
Some quotes n’ facts from the book:
The Greek word eros denotes ‘want,’ ‘lack,’ ‘desire for that which is missing.’ The lover wants what he does not have. It is by definition impossible for him to what he wants if, as soon as it is had, it is no longer wanting.
The English word ‘symbol’ is the Greek word symbolon which means, in the ancient world, on half of a knucklebone carried as a token of identity to someone who has the other half. Together the two halves compose one meaning. A metaphor is a species of symbol. So is a lover.
The word Deute combines the particle dē with the adverb aute. The particle dē signifies vividly and dramatically that something is actually taking place at the moment (Deniston, 1954, 203, 219, 250). The adverb aute means ‘again, once again, over again’ (LSJ). The particle dē marks a lively perception in the present moment: ‘Look at that now!’ The adverb aute peers past the present moment to a pattern of repeated actions stretching behind it: ‘Not for the first time!’ Dē places you in time and emphasizes that placement: now. Aute intercepts ‘now’ and binds it to a history of ‘thens.’
Humboldt’s Gift by Saul Bellow
In one of his revering reviews of Bellow’s oeuvre, Martin Amis noted that somehow by mistake the letter “O” in the name must have gotten exchanged with “A.” Humboldt’s Gift is the most soulful and intellectually potent novel by Bellow I have read thus far.
A trademark of Bellow’s mid-career writings, this novel too centers around an intellectual protagonist. This time, we follow the ordeals of the recognized writer and playwright Charlie Citrine. Like a ghost of his former self, he is pulled around helter-skelter in Chicago’s social circles, both by friends and foes and a litany of characters hard to place. What little money the divorce proceedings and angling friends haven’t managed to suck out of the fortune he made at the pinnacle of his now-defunct career, Citrine now spends on his luxury-hungry foxy girlfriend.
But his head isn’t set on money. Instead, Citrine’s mind is preoccupied with the memory of his late friend and famous poet Von Humboldt Fleisher. What little mental space is left untouched by these contemplations, he dedicates to studying the works of Rudolf Steiner, an Austrian esotericist and anthroposophist.
As always, Bellow’s mastery as a philosopher, stylist, and comedian blesses every single page. Unlike Citrine’s young girlfriend who used his musings as a backdrop to her own contrivances, I found the novel’s winding events and intellectual digressions utterly gratifying.
And it would be blasphemic to recommend a Bellow novel without quoting from it.
“Don’t kid yourself, kings are the most sublime sick. Manic Depressive heroes pull Mankind into their cycles and carry everybody away.”
“Ninety per cent of life is a nightmare, do you think I am going to get it rounded up to hundred per cent?”
On a girlfriend:
“Think of an El Greco beauty raising her eyes to heaven. Then substitute sex for heaven. That’s Renata’s pious look.”
On another girlfriend sleeping:
“But in a few minutes I heard what I expected to hear – her night voice. It was low hoarse and deep almost mannish. She moaned. She spoke broken words. She did this almost every night. The voice expressed her terror of this strange place, the earth, and of this strange state, being. Laboring and groaning she tried to get out of it. This was the primordial Demmie beneath the farmer’s daughter beneath the teacher beneath the elegant Main Line horsewoman, Latinist, accomplished cocktail-sipper in black chiffon, with the upturned nose, this fashionable conversationalist. Thoughtful, I listened to this. I let her go on awhile, trying to comprehend. I pitied her and loved her But then I put an end to it. I kissed her. She knew who it was. She pressed her toes to mu shins and her me with powerful female arms. She cried “I love you” in the same deep voice, but here eyes were still shut blind. I think she never actually woke up.”
“Varjuteater” by Viivi Luik
In “Varjuteater” (Shadow theatre), Viivi Luik takes the reader on a journey to Rome where she lived with her husband, the ambassador to the Estonian Republic. She describes the black cobalt streets, shining as if covered in grease; the haughty sensibilities and vulnerable pride of Italians; the luxuries that float above the surface while below looms an ocean of poverty and suffering. But in Luik’s eyes, even the most misfortunate of affairs has its own glimmer of beauty.
The book isn’t as much of a travel memoir but a collection of images and wisdom collected on one person’s journeys to Berlin, Rome, New York, Helsinki, Tallinn, and the unknown villages of Estonia. Everything in this world, Luik shows us, is interconnected. From Italy to Estonia, olive trees to apple trees, there’s a mysterious connection that threads together places, events, and times. On rare occasions, two distant memories connect and transform into a complete, circular shape. Like two puzzle pieces that have been waiting to find their second half.
This might as well be the best Estonian book I have read.
“Sa võid oma vanad mõtted veel aastate ja aastakümnetegi pärast üles leida, kui lähed tagasi samasse kohta, kus sa neid mõtlesid. Alles siis, kui need kohad ja paigad on maa pealt kadunud, kaovad ka nendega seotud mõtted. Sel põhjusel hävitataksegi vallutatud maades kõigepealt kõik endine ära, lammutatakse maha ja kujundatakse pmber. Kui pole enam alles mõtlemise paika, pole alles ka mõtet.”
“Südasuvel on õunapuud rohelised. Õunad pole veel värvi võtnud. Mõnikord puhub merelt vali tuul ja lööb õunapuulehed pahupidi. Siis läigatab õunapuulatvades hõbedat nagu oliivipuulatvades. Siis olevat maailm korraga üks tervik. Kera. Ilma alguse ja otsata. Siis olevat oliivipuu ja õunapuu inimesega üks tervik ja nii õlipuu kui ka inimese ainuke ja tõeline ülesanne olevat saada seest tühjaks ja avada oma süda.”
The Hearing Trumpet by Leonora Carrington
The latest addition to my collection of favorite books of all time, the surrealist novel by Leonora Carrington combines mysticism and symbolism with a fast-paced storyline.
The protagonist, 92y-old Marian Letherby is sent by her family to an institution for elderly ladies, and in this secretively magical community, her real-life of adventures begins. Building on the mysticism of the moon and the triple goddess Hecate, Carrington reimagines the tale of the Holy Grail.
Like the picture of the abbess Rosalinda Alvarez della Cueva on the dining room walls, the book itself seems to give out mischievous winks to the reader, inviting them to let go of the pragmatic reality and be carried away into a fantasy world of bearded ladies, violet limousines, and six-winged seraphim.
“Strange how the bible always seems to end up in misery and cataclysm. I often wondered how their angry and vicious God became so popular. Humanity is very strange and I don’t pretend to understand anything, however why worship something that only sends you plagues and massacres? and why was Eve blamed for everything?”