Short outlines of Books by Estonian authors: Toomas Vint. Minu abielu prostituudiga (My marriage to a prostitute)

by Janika Kronberg

Toomas Vint: Minu abielu prostituudiga (My Marriage to a Prostitute)
Tallinn, Eesti Keele Sihtasutus, 2003. 237 pp

The productive writer and painter Toomas Vint has recently published at the rate of almost a book a year, writing both novels and pieces of short prose mixed with memoirs. In most of them the plot is centred on intrigues stemming from the routine of marriage, with the addition of essay-like discussions of modern artistic movements. The latter are, actually, so organically dissolved into the subject that the slightly naturalistic style of his works, where relatively few things happen, becomes essayistic and deliberative.

The whole action of the novel My Marriage to a Prostitute takes place during 24 hours. In the course of a marital quarrel a middle-aged man is thrown out of his home without money and wearing only house slippers. He walks about in the suburb of his hometown; at the same time, his first person inner monologue reveals associations from and with the past. Wishing to borrow money, the hero pays a visit to his former music teacher, after not having seen her for many years, and only gradually realises that she has established a high-class bordello in her villa. He gets the money, and also receives free favours from a prostitute, with whom he spends the night in a hotel. The story of the prostitute, explaining why she had had to choose such a life, forms the subplot of the book. In the morning, the hero proposes marriage to the prostitute, but she refuses him, preferring her varied and adventurous life to the routine of marriage, thus also mocking the attitudes of a naive and proper bourgeois man.

The reminiscences of his childhood voyeurism and his first sexual experiences in the novel hint at Freudian themes, although the author’s attitude is rather self-ironic. It is easy to conclude from Vint’s novel that, from an early age, human existence is driven by libido, and such a statement leaves naked the illusory ideals expressed in pompous words and in high art. Through the eyes of his hero, Vint easily reduces the making of art to the mere making of money. Vint wilfully degrades human nature to a certain extent, and happily vulgarises bourgeois clichés and ill-used terminology. For example, the hero interprets the incident of his having been thrown out into the cold world as an existentialist act of being thrown into existence. The author examines unmercifully the questionable values of modern established art projects (e.g. an exhibition without spectators, in the form of a video installation where the artist shaves her genitalia). And finally, he mocks himself as well, having his hero remember in a few words an art exhibition arranged by Toomas Vint.

Vint, who has slightly conservative tastes, has not followed the modern trends in art and literature, but has preferred to criticise them as a satirical onlooker in his novel, demonstrating a rare insight into the male psyche.

Kristiina Ehin: Luigeluulinn (The City of Swan Bones)
Tallinn, Huma, 2004. 44 pp

Kristiina Ehin (b. 1977), a daughter of the poets and translators Andres Ehin and Ly Seppel, made her debut as a member of the Erakkond group of poets in 1997; she published her first collection of poems in 2000, and received the recently established literary prize given jointly by the cultural newspaper Sirp and Estonian Railway for her second collection St. Simon’s Day (“Simunapäev”) in 2003, sharing it with the elderly writer Andres Vanapa. At the beginning of 2004, she published her third collection of poetry, The City of Swan Bones, and attracted attention at the presentation of the book with a sensitive recital of her poems. We should also mention the fact that the first edition of the book quickly sold out, which does not happen often with new books of poetry.

Ehin’s highly personal poetry is written in free verse. Spiritually it searches for support in folk heritage and a natural way of living. The title of the book, The City of Swan Bones, refers to mystical substance described in folklore, which can be shaped into impossible things. In one of her poems she says: “Do not build a woman/ Better build her a house/ Of shingles and swan bones/ Of everything that you have/ And then/ Make deep windows in the walls/ So that the sun can come in”. The same motif, the wish to live in a city made of swan bones that flies high above dreams, is expressed by a prose miniature, printed on the cover of the book, among the clouds.

The opposition of the lightness of dreams and the heaviness of the earthly world, of the natural and artificial, of the city and the country, can be traced all through the book. A child is born into an artificial environment, holding a cell phone, and is sent to live in a flat made of concrete; but somewhere far away in Siberia somebody is searching for his eyes in the reflection of the rivers and drinks hot blood from the neck of a sacrificial animal. An enormous Boeing 757 falls in love with a heron and wants to free itself of its boring passengers and land with the bird. A poet is searching for a rusty key in the grass, which may open the door of the only house in the city, which may be his own home.

Ehin’s poetry is not only a new world to escape into, or a private aesthetic bliss, or a utopia far from reality. In one of her poems she clearly states: “I do not believe in any fairy-tale/ But only in life itself/ Because any prince who solemnly kisses me/ Is nearer to me than a stone’s throw.” The sacred and primeval can be found in our everyday routine, and by ennobling this routine with the images of a high style, this young poet, being a melancholy observer, acknowledges the ever widening chasm between nature and civilisation, and points out the need and the possibility of living a happy life in this same world.

Ehin’s poetry contains feminine delicacy and natural power, the beautiful and the natural, which makes her a worthy standard-bearer of the Estonian tradition of great woman poets.

Kivisildnik: Päike, mida sa õhtul teed? (The Sun, What Will You Do in the Evening?=
Tallinn, Loomingu Raamatukogu No 26, 2003. 85 pp

Kivisildnik: Rahvuseepos Kalevipoeg ehk armastus (The National Epic Kalevipoeg or Love )
Tallinn, Tuum, 2003. 68 pp

The poet Kivisildnik, whose real name is Sven Sildnik, has already for about a decade been known as the malicious genius of Estonian literature. He is unquestionably talented in the use of language, but nothing is sacred for him and it would be utterly hopeless to expect of him the political correctness, which is so much sought after in the modern times. Rather, Kivisildnik recalls us of a pop artist, who abuses his audience, or a rapper, whose message, if the performance can be endured, would surprisingly hide both social criticism and the warmth of heart. Having worked as a copywriter, the poet knows well how to present himself. To communicate his message, Kivisildnik, who debuted as a poet already in the late 1980s, uses both poetry and daily newspapers, where he is an irregular columnist, as well as the TV, where he participates in a series of stinging broadcasts on modern cultural trends, finding new and new angles for his criticism. In such a way, Kivisildnik has created himself as an institution, as a machine of criticism or a text generator, who has a ready response and rating for all social phenomena.

Kivisildnik realised his ideal of being a poetry machine last year by publishing two books of poetry. The first of them, The Sun, What Will You Do in the Evening?, is a set of fragmentary texts, containing free verse poems in several thematic cycles, as well as a theorising manifesto. The latter is presented as a text of a performance, and given as a title a quite arbitrarily chosen phrase “A Chequered Bird”. He has striven for syncretism and for bringing the living word in the form of poetry into the examples of action art which accompany the exhibitions of modern art. A critical assault on the “degeneration of the current Estonian poetry” is obvious in the book, he stresses the need to communicate poetry in a modern, “competitive” way, to attract attention with breaking new taboos, to doubt the Holocaust, to be a racist, to insult minorities, etc., because these notions will soon overwhelm all forms of self-expression and bring along more and more of severe punishments.

On the background of such a manifesto, Kivisildnik’s texts are even relatively mild, but always unfamiliar and strange, paradoxical, and rebelling against public opinion and good taste. He admits that he writes poems only to fill a suitable number of pages and that his poetry will always remain on the meagre level of the life work of an average Estonian writer. In spite of such brave self-irony, the book has been considered to be his best so far – a witty mixture of pop art and conceptualism.

His second book of the previous year, The National Epic Kalevipoeg or Love, was inspired by the 200th anniversary of the birth of the creator of Estonian national epic Fr. R. Kreutzwald, which was officially celebrated last year. One of the direct incentives of this book was the claim voiced by the critics of the beginning of the 20th century that our national epic Kalevipoeg was too artificial and alien to Estonians. Kivisildnik, who found inspiration in such criticism, produced a book of legends and tales and presented them as real ones, recorded from the living tradition. Such impression is enhanced by the transcription of the text, which is broken into verses in quite an accidental way and full of dialect words and spelling mistakes. One by one, he takes the motifs of the epic and with gusto makes “corrections” in them, refers to variations, drags in Buddha and Moses, and, naturally, gives their due to G. Bush’s America and the EU.

In the increasingly controlled and politically correct world of the present-day, Kivisildnik’s poetry is healthily and merrily enjoyable; it may be sharp as a wasp’s sting, but it is still innocent, like poetry always is. Naturally, the reader, whom Kivisildnik deliberately irritates, should not take it too seriously.