In 2018, the Baltic countries - Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania - are all celebrating the centennial of their independent republics. This anniversary of their first independence from Russia introduces the exciting chance to discover epic past and vibrant, inventive present through the strong voice of modern literature.
In 2018, the Baltic countries – Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania – are all celebrating the centennial of their independent republics. This anniversary of their first independence from Russia introduces the exciting chance to discover epic past and vibrant, inventive present through the strong voice of modern literature.
Estonia is in a unique position: it differs both culturally and language-wise from its Indo-European neighbours. The dilemma between embracing globalisation and returning to the Finno-Ugric roots is from where Estonian literature gains its power. History and identity form the key concepts of Estonian literature. Estonia boasts multi-talented authors and an exceptionally strong heritage of poetry.
Lithuania prides itself on its multicultural historical and literary traditions which is rooted in many languages, including Polish, French and Yiddish, which are the foundations of today’s world class literature in Lithuanian. Today, Lithuania is considered a nation of poets and has a strong lyrical tradition, with popular genres including historical fiction, children’s literature and the essay.
Latvian cultural heritage finds its roots in more than 300,000 folk songs, which explains the great love for poetry and literature. Publishing is considered the biggest creative industry in Latvia, and the current scene is ground-breaking, vivid and diverse. From politically motivated poetry and novels showcasing the historical landscape, to powerful feminist prose and innovative children’s books, Latvian literature engages with the country’s historical and contemporary identity.
To mark this momentous year here are just some of the exciting Baltic titles coming to the UK for the first time in 2018 that you should look out for:
- 1. Rein Raud, The Death of the Perfect Sentence (Vagabond Voices, 2017) A political thriller set mainly in Estonia during the dying days of the Soviet Union, but also in Russia, Finland and Sweden. This sometimes wistful examination of how the Estonian Republic was reborn after a long hiatus speaks also of the courage and complex chemistry of those who pushed against a regime whose then weakness could not have been known to them.
- 2. Jaan Kross, Between Three Plagues (MacLehose Press) - vol. I 2016, vol. II 2017, vol. III 2018Jaan Kross's trilogy dramatises the life of the renowned Livonian Chronicler Balthasar Russow, whose greatest work described the effects of the Livonian War on the peasantry of what is now Estonia. Like Hilary Mantel's Thomas Cromwell, Russow is a diamond in the rough, a thoroughly modern man in an Early Modern world, rising from humble origins to greatness through wit and learning alone.
- 3. Andrei Ivanov, Hanuman’s Journey to Lolland (Vagabond Voices, 2018) Hanuman’s Journey to Lolland was Ivanov’s first novel, and it immediately propelled him to the stratosphere of contemporary Russian fiction. The book is partly fictional and partly autobiographical, being based on the writer’s experiences of life in a Danish refugee camp, where he spent a year or so just before and after the turn of the millennium. Sharp-witted and involved dialogues, an idiosyncratic sense of humour, and a recurrent metaphysical dimension add colour to the story.
- 4. Doris Kareva, Days of Grace (Bloodaxe Books, Spring 2018) Kareva is the most adored and beloved author in Estonia. Days of Grace spans over forty years of her poetic output, showing how the sustained depth and clarity of her poetry lies in her ability to create ambiguity and suggest harmony at the same time, with a multiplicity of meanings generating the opposite of clarity: a form of hinting which at its most illuminating becomes utterly oracle-like.
- 5. Nora Ikstena, Soviet Milk (Peirene Press, 2018) A literary bestseller that took the Baltics by storm, it has been published in 10 languages already and will be published for the first time in English this year. This novel considers the effects of Soviet rule on a single individual. The central character in the story tries to follow her calling as a doctor. But then the state steps in. She is deprived first of her professional future, then of her identity and finally of her relationship with her daughter. Banished to a village in the Latvian countryside, her sense of isolation increases. Will she and her daughter be able to return to Riga when political change begins to stir?
- 6. Kristīne Ulberga, Green Crow (Peter Owen, 2018) Institutionalized in an asylum, a woman with a record of hallucinations commits her life story to paper. She records, from the age of six, her earliest memories of a drunken and abusive father, the strange men her mother introduced to repair the family, the imaginary forest to which she would run to safety, and, of course, the enormous talking green crow who appeared when she most needed him. Ulberga’s The Green Crow is a fable about womanhood, individual freedom and the strait-jacket of traditional gender roles.
- 7. Jānis Joņevs, Doom 94 (Wreckingball 2018) Jonevs’ debut, this quickly became a bestseller in Latvia and has already been translated into six languages, with a further three due soon. Doom 94 is a portrait of a generation in the 1990s who are searching for their own identity and are fans of alternative culture. This is a touching story about us as youngsters, when everybody is against the whole world and tries not to become ‘one of them’. But is it for real? Can one keep the promise?
- 8. Zigmunds Skujiņš, Nakedness (Vagabond Voice, 2018) One of the most translated Latvian writers, Skujiņš received the Cabinet of Ministers' Award for Lifetime Contribution to Latvian Literature (2007). His work has been translated across Europe and several of his books have been made into films and his latest, Nakedness, is publishing with Vagabond Voices this year.
- 9. Dalia Grinkeviciute, Shadows on the Tundra (Peirene Press, 2018) Dalia Grinkevičiutė spent her teenage years in a Siberian gulag. At 21 she returned to herhome country only to be deported to Siberia once again in 1951. Grinkevičiutė’s writings are now placed firmly in the Lithuanian canon.In 1941, 14-year-old Dalia and her family are deported from their native Lithuania to a labour camp in Siberia. As the strongest member of her family she submits to twelve hours a day of manual labour. At the age of 21, she escapes the gulag and returns to Lithuania. She writes her memories on scraps of paper and buries them in the garden, fearing they might be discovered by the KGB. They are not found until 1991, four years after her death.
- 10. Evelina Daciūtė (author), Aušra Kiudulaitė (illustrator), The Fox on the Swing (Thames and Hudson, 2018) This hope-filled children’s book teaches young readers about family, happiness, and friendship. Complete with stunning illustrations, The Fox on the Swing was selected to the final of the Nami International Picture Book Illustration Contest and to the Bologna Children's Book Fair Illustrators Exhibition.
- 11. Antanas Škėma, White Shroud (Vagabond Books, 2018) White Shroud is considered by many as the most important work of modernist fiction in Lithuanian. Drawing heavily on the author’s own refugee and immigrant experience, this psychological, stream-of-consciousness work tells the story of an émigré poet working as an elevator operator in a large New York hotel during the mid-1950s. Written from the perspective of a newcomer to an Anglophone country, White Shroud encourages readers to better understand the complexities of immigrant life
- 12. Sigitas Parulskis, Darkness and Company (Peter Owen, 2018) Sigitas Parulskis is one of Lithuania’s most fêted and influential contemporary writers and recipient of the Person of Tolerance Award.Darkness and Company is ground-breaking: it tells the gripping story of a young Lithuanian man drawn into the events of the Holocaust in Lithuania and is the first major novel by an ethnic Lithuanian to examine the Holocaust in that country.