Vaata, kõik on teised – See, everyone is someone else
Estonian literature has thus far been relatively unknown in Slovenia. I would dare to say that this fact cannot be attributed to Slovenes’ lack of interest in literature from this Baltic nation, and the reason for its being unknown lies even less in the fact that Estonian literature would have nothing to offer us. The main reason for the very small number of Estonian translations in Slovenia is quite simple and logical: the lack of translators and literary intermediaries from Estonian. Especially when it comes to the literature of smaller nations, translators are often the key link between language communities. They suggest works by authors from foreign languages to Slovenian publishers and, of course, see to translations. So far, we have seen translations of Estonian poets who have performed at the Vilenica Festival and the Days of Poetry and Wine (Jaan Kaplinski, who passed away in 2021 and was nominated for the Nobel Prize in Literature, was the only Estonian to receive the Vilenica Grand Prize, in 2001); since 2018, several children’s and youth works which testify to the quality of Estonian youth literature have been published in direct translation by the author of this foreword; in 2020, the poetry collection Love Is by the Estonian co-editor of this anthology, Kätlin Kaldmaa, was published (an excellent translation from English was done by Bojana Vajt). So there are many important Estonian literary names who are still waiting to be translated into Slovene, the first of which is probably Jaan Kross (1920–2007), who is, with translations into twenty-six languages, the most translated Estonian author. His best-known novels are The Czar’s Madman (1978) and Between Three Plagues (published in four parts between 1970 and 1980); the first one in particular is an allegorical masterpiece in which Kross presents a critique of the Soviet regime through a historical framework.
The present anthology thus fills an important gap and represents a sampling from the lively contemporary literary scene in Estonia in the field of poetry and prose. It brings together twenty-one literary voices – eleven poets and ten prose writers; the oldest born in 1961 and the youngest in 1992. These are mostly new names that are being presented in Slovenia for the first time. Only a few have already visited Slovenia, such as poets Triin Soomets and Hasso Krull at the Vilenica Festival and Maar Kangro at the Days of Poetry and Wine (however, in this anthology we get to know Kangro as an author of short prose), while Andrus Kivirähk has two translations of youth literature in Slovene and appears here for the first time with adult prose.
How to describe contemporary Estonian literature? What common denominator is there to define it? This question is not an easy one to answer and it might seem quite pointless to look for an answer. As with any national literature, Estonian literature’s greatest richness lies in its diversity, and this is exactly what the present anthology brings. From Andrus Kivirähk’s story about Pinocchio falling in love with the statue of the Virgin Mary, to Ave Taavet’s story about a museum visitor who becomes an exhibit in the same institution, as well as excellent poetry from many voices – Estonian authors are alive, sparkling, and above all, diverse. Although Estonians are linguistically and culturally closest to their Finnish neighbours (Estonian, like Finnish, is a Finno-Ugric language, but the two are not similar enough for their speakers to be able to converse), it would be in vain to expect to find Paasilinna-like quirky characters in their literature, which in Slovenia we often equate with Finnish literature.
Culturally and linguistically, Finns and Estonians might be close, but the history of the two countries was significantly different, as Estonia was part of the Soviet Union from World War II to 1991. During this time, there were mass deportations of Estonians to Siberia and other parts of the Soviet Union, and resettlements also took place in another direction: Russian-speaking citizens were relocated to Estonia. There are still about 300,000 Russian-speaking people in this country which has a total population of just over 1.3 million. The Russian community is large and has a special status in Estonia, but mostly lives in the east of the country, where Estonian is almost non-existent in some cities (e.g., in Narva). In this anthology, Russian-speaking Estonian authors are represented by the poet Igor Kotjuh and the writer Andrej Ivanov.
Besides Tallinn, the city of Tartu is an important academic centre, where the university was founded in the 17th century and still remains the largest and most prestigious university in the country. Tartu is a city with a lively cultural scene: just like Ljubljana, it holds the title of UNESCO City of Literature, it hosts several literary festivals, the Karl Ristikivi Writers’ Residence (where the first resident was Slovenian author Andrej Tomažin, in 2017), several literary magazines are being published there, for example Värska Rõhk, an important magazine for young authors, and in 2024, Tartu will also become the European Capital of Culture.
Let me conclude on an entirely personal note. Discovering new Estonian literary voices was a true revelation for me: such a small country and yet so many great authors! As a long-time translator from Finnish, I noticed some time ago that no one is actively translating Estonian literature, but I was convinced that their literature hides many treasures worth discovering, so I started learning the language. Somewhat naively, I expected to learn it almost overnight due to its resemblance to Finnish, but I soon found out that the two languages are still quite different and that the task would not be as easy as I initially thought.
But it was worth persisting – the present anthology is proof of that. I would like to thank the Estonian co-editor Kätlin Kaldmaa, with whom I made a selection of author and who brought my attention to many authors I did not know before. Thanks are also due, of course, to the Vilenica Festival, the Slovene Writers’ Association and all those who made this anthology possible, and especially to the translators Matej Goršič, who also translated directly from Estonian, Ana Pepelnik and Andrej Pleterski, who translated from English, as well as Lijana Dejak and Sara Špelec, who translated Kotjuh and Ivanov from Russian. Together we present previously unknown Estonian literary treasures. Let them enchant you as they enchanted me. Finally, I invite you to read the Anthology of Contemporary Estonian Literature with the concluding verses from a poem by Triin Soomets:
how to remain myself
I asked someone else
it is not possible, he told me
see, everyone is someone else
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