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Thread: Toomas Vint

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    Estonia Toomas Vint

    Toomas Vint (born 1944) is the subject of many postings to the Estonian Literature thread in the General Discussion section, but I have decided to repost all the material about him here, and add a little more, as it is rather scattered about the other thread.

    So I will introduce Vint again here. While the other Estonian author I'm promoting on these threads, Mats Traat, is very much a man of the countryside, Vint is more of a "towny". But, like every Estonian, he has strong links to the countryside. Another difference is that while Traat is a poet and a prose author, Vint is a prose author and a painter.

    Biography

    Toomas Vint was born in Tallinn, the son of a scientist. He studied biology and geography at Tartu University, but worked between 1967 and 1971 as an editor's assistant for Estonian Television. He published his first prose in 1968. He also became a member of the Estonian Artists' Union in 1973 and is a successful painter of what I would term "neo-na?vist" metaphysical landscapes, which have been exhibited in art galleries all over the world.

    About his books

    The Estonian encyclop?dia of writers says that the protagonists of his works are mostly people with conflicting moods, rather rootless contemporary people. The idea of being a loner is accentuated, as is unsureness and longing. In the forefront of his works is the psychology, present state and ethical bearing and inability to form a sense of responsibility of his characters. Another aspect is the opening up of characters to new impulses. His characters often act in an irrational way, are rarely happy, and "live past one another". It is the inner life of characters that counts. The story often evolves in the direction of the grotesque. Vint like the concepts of "game" and "playing roles", especially in his short-stories. In his more recent novels and stories there is an examination of the opposition of art to life. Vint takes quite an interest in sexual matters and roles, and his books contain sex scenes, usually of a complex kind, and can involve prostitutes, peeping toms, and so on. Stylistically, Vint is definitely postmodernist in his recent literature, playing as he does with levels of narration and novels within novels.

    Chad W. Post from the Three Percent / Open Letter website also mentioned Vint briefly in an article on the Estonian Literary Magazine (ELM) back in May 2008. This article was reproduced in the BlogSpy section.

    Bibliography

    From the late 1960s until the present day, Vint has published numerous collections of stories and novels, plus some essay work. If you look at the list of novels and collections of stories listed here...

    Estonian Literature Information Centre

    ...you will see that even during the 1990s and 2000s, Vint has published rather a lot. But between 1977 and the late 1980s, Vint published around six collections of stories, plus a couple of novels.

    To my mind, Vint is one of the most translateable authors in Estonia today. Curiously, articles on him in literary reference material in book form have been rather skimpy, although the internet, and especially the online articles written for the ELM and for the Estonian Literature Information Centre (ELIC) have gone some way to compensate for this in the English language. Here I have to thank the two Estonian literary critics Rutt Hinrikus and Janika Kronberg for their descriptions of Vint's work that I reproduce here. I feel that my task is that of translator, so it is really helpful when others review and describe the books.

    None of Toomas Vint's major novels have yet appeared in English, but I myself am taking a serious interest in translating (at least) two of them.
    Last edited by Eric; 19-Oct-2008 at 13:56.

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    Default Re: Toomas Vint

    Toomas Vint

    A Never-Ending Landscape
    L?ppematu maastik

    Published by Varrak [publishers], 1997. pp.255
    The novel A Never-Ending Landscape is actually one part of a triptych, which the author, an artist and a writer Toomas Vint, presented in 1997. Just before the novel appeared, he wrote an essay Reasons and Consequences for the magazine "Looming", and participated in a joint exhibition of four artists called Unfinished Landscape. The dust jacket of the book shows the author?s painting bearing the same name. The publication of this novel was a major cultural event and even created a minor scandal, as one well-know art critic recognised himself as the prototype of one harshly caricatured character. The critics, however, recognised the aesthetic values of A Never-Ending Landscape ? witty (self-)parody, inventive composition and postmodernist form.

    The theoretical model of A Never-Ending Landscape is supported by the statements that the today?s modern art is mostly generated by the ideas originating from the left-wing radicalism of the 1960s, and that mediocrity, and the skilful use of the mass media, push artists to the top of an elitist culture. According to the author, postmodernist art can easily be profaned and an artist can easily prove to be a charlatan. In his essay Vint proves these claims by referring to the works of an imaginary theorist Richard Bonnaire. These works are cited in the novel as well, where we can find, even in the names of the characters, some hints to Julia Kristeva, Jacques Derrida, Jacques Lacan, Joseph Beuys, not to mention the figures who shape the art life in Estonia.

    A Never-Ending Landscape is a work with a cyclical composition, where one and the same story is presented from three different points of view. This is the story about a writer, who prepares to write a novel about a man who, in turn, is planning a novel called A Never-Ending Landscape. The three synchronous parts of the novel are each written in a different key: the first part gives the story in a more or less traditional way, the second part presents the same plot almost as a crime novel, and the basis for the third and the most subtle part has been Anton Chekhov?s short story The Lady with the Dog. The story opens when a Minister of the Estonian Republic suggests that the main character, a writer (the author?s alter ego), spend some time on a forest farm of the firm Perfect Holidays with the aim of spying after them. There is reason to believe that the owner of the firm, a one-time student of Joseph Beuys, has connections with the Greenpeace movement and eco-terrorism. During what follows, the main character?s own views and attitudes towards the modern world are made clear.

    Toomas Vint?s novel is a grand aesthetic game, in the course of which many set standards of politics, social and moral life are thoroughly examined. Above all, the cultural situation at the end of the century.

    Text by Janika Kronberg and Rutt Hinrikus
    First published in the Estonian Literary Magazine

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    Default Re: Toomas Vint

    At the Weekend. Playing (N?dalavahetusel. M?ngides)

    Published by Varrak [publishers], 1999. pp.166
    Toomas Vint has during c:a 25 years found recognition as a writer and an artist. In the second half of the 1990s he has published a book, in most cases a novel, each year. His novels and short stories tell us about a modern man who tries to oppose himself to banality, who fights alone and with himself. Often he loses and adapts himself to the rules of the world he despises.

    Ideal landscapes in Vint?s works are unreachably beautiful and empty, people he depicts are outside of these ideal landscapes and dream in vain about harmony. The subject of Vint?s recent novels is the position of art and artists in the contemporary time, his characters often have to live different roles to achieve their goals.

    At the Weekend. Playing is wholly devoted to role games. People living in one and the same house in Lasnam?e ? a district of Tallinn, (meaning ? ordinary people from the most Soviet-style district of the city), go to spend a summer weekend on an empty island in the sea near the city. The organiser of the trip quite unexpectedly makes the whole company play role games. The first person narrator, who usually likes to be on the same wavelength with the company and to identify with the collective, this time distances himself from the group and wanders off to the island. He finds two other groups of people, who also play role games, but of slightly different nature. The narrator meets a woman, who reads a novel, the main character of which goes through all the same things that happen to the narrator on the island. Finally he meets a writer, who has already written a book about the things that are still to happen on the island. Vint?s book encloses a number of meditations on subjects that can be grouped as ? life during the Soviet time and now, society and the state, art and literature, and finally, the god.

    In the beginning of the book the main character thinks like the others, everything is confused up and expressed in everyday clich?s, all others are talking just the same way. Finding himself a character in a play led by somebody else, he suddenly faces many questions, which he has to disregard, or he has to find the answers. This realisation proves to be unexpectedly terrible. The book is in a modern and easily readable style, it discusses both the problems faced by people of the post-socialist society and existential problems.

    Text by Janika Kronberg and Rutt Hinrikus
    First published in the Estonian Literary Magazine

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    Toomas Vint

    The Janitor's Wife (novel) Kojamehe naine

    Published by Eesti Keele Sihtasutus, 2004. First published by Varrak 1995. pp. 232



    Vint gained most popularity with a broad audience with his novel Kojamehe naine (The Janitor's Wife, 1995). This is a tale from Vint?s younger days in the 1960s when he was, for the first time, living alone in a student flat, at a time when he has an erotic relationship with an older woman. This relationship can be described as a manifestation of obsessive lust, which Vint depicts openly and without false modesty or shamefulness. The story is essentially a tragic one, covering sexual taboos and a sexual development whose complexes which springs from sexual frustration, but also the defencelessness of youth in the face of erotic pressures. The young man?s blazing passion drives him into alien and incontestably tawdry realms of experience where his emotional life threatens to drown in sickly debauchery. The novel also throws into sharp relief the abasement of the woman as she employs a superficial brand of journalistic feminist rhetoric, which soon proves inadequate. But the r?le of the victim is nevertheless played by the young man, in whose depiction there are undoubtedly aspects of autobiographical confession on the part of the author. Toomas Vint is indeed the novelist par excellence in Estonian literature who is most courageous in his confessions. Kojamehe naine is written in a strikingly pliant and subtle style which never for a moment allows the sensitive nature of the subject matter to slip over into shrill polemic. This novel is a warm and misanthropic masterpiece, a book which would undoubtedly benefit from reaching a wider audience.

    ***

    Source: Estonian Literature Information Centre

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    Toomas Vint

    The Novel of an Artist (novel)

    Kunstnikuromaan

    Published by Varrak , 1999. pp. 336



    The Novel of an Artist is a many-layered novel. The first-person hero, writer Paul, is preparing to write a novel about a friend of his childhood, an artist Paul, using his notes written several decades ago, and trying to enfold his own personal experiences and emotions into literature. Therefore, a diametrically different approach to the plot is also possible: the writer Paul is actually preparing to write his own story and he only camouflages it with artist Paul?s biography. At the end of the novel the fates of the two different heroes of the same name are almost totally merged into one. The depicted material is at the same time a development and a final goal, a process and a result, movement towards a strange fate.

    At the same time, the plot of the novel is not simple and linear, many things remain intentionally hidden and no unambiguous solutions are possible. The central line is interrupted by continuous elusions and by novelette-like independent stories with surprising twists. The central theme of the book is art and related problems, so the essay-like discussions about the triangle of art-life-death suit the book very well. One of the main questions of the novel is, how much does the death of an artist influence the reception, evaluation and fate of his work.

    No doubt Vint?s novel has also an angle concerning the problem of generations, it describes the background for the development of the artists, who are now about sixty years old. There are some hints about the books people read at that time, such as Albert Camus and others, and some colourful details of the life of the period.

    Text by Janika Kronberg and Rutt Hinrikus
    First published in the Estonian Literary Magazine

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    Toomas Vint

    My Marriage to a Prostitute (novel)

    Minu abielu prostituudiga

    Published by Eesti Keele Sihtasutus , 2003. pp. 237




    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 clich?s 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.

    Text by Janika Kronberg

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    Default Re: Toomas Vint

    Toomas Vint

    Woman With a Memory Gap (novel)
    M?luauguga naine Published by Eesti Keele Sihtasutus , 2007. pp. 195



    Toomas Vint is an artist and writer, whose paintings of green, rather sterile, and carefully tended park landscapes stand in strong contrast with the deliberate robustness and variegated naturalism of his literary works. In his writings Vint is a gambler who likes to place ordinary characters living ordinary lives in unexpected situations, and while manipulating his marionettes, to bring to light bizarre or miserable aspects of the human condition.

    Vint has located his latest book, Woman with a Memory Gap as the third work in a trilogy, though this need not deter the reader: the novel can be read entirely on its own, independent of its two predecessors. The only thing that unites the works is the era they represent, and Vint`s characteristic thematics, which focuses on routinised marital relations and the base instincts of human nature. For Vint, the time of narration is almost always the present, which is permeated by memories, and by the counterfeit morality of the nomenklatura of the Soviet era. This double morality lasts a lifetime, and persists throughout all subsequent social arrangements.

    The action of Woman with a Memory Gap transpires over barely 24 hours, and thus to call it a novel it may seem to be saying too much. The novel begins in the subjunctive, and is written in the second person from beginning to end. These devices intensify the author?s opportunities for playfulness, distancing and alienating the protagonist both from its creator and the reader. For ethical reasons this is entirely justified. Vint is a moralist, but he does not moralize directly, rather leaving judgment up to the reader. And when in the recurring, surprising turns of the plot, the full truth does not emerge, the characters have still stood up for judgment, and the finale does not lack catharsis. Nothing horrible happens, and even though a revolver is involved, death turns out to be just pretend. At least in this sense, Vint has mercy both on his characters and on empathic readers.

    The basic plot is simple, even to the point of banality. The protagonist?s wife, living in a routine marriage, suddenly announces that she is travelling abroad to visit a woman friend whom her husband has never heard of. The husband ponders over this, and decides to drive to their summer cottage to do some housekeeping and maintenance work, heat the sauna and drink vodka. On the village road, a woman is shoved out of the car in front of him, and the man picks her up and takes her to the cottage. The woman has suffered a loss of memory, and from the name she reads on the man?s wedding ring, begins to regard herself as his wife. The situation is especially delicate and embarrassing when another man drops in by surprise, who might be, but need not be, the same man who pushed the woman out of the car. The game acquires additional twists when the men start playing cards, and place bets on the car and on the woman?who is and who does not belong to either of them.

    Vint`s story, which contains both tenderness and excitement, and an inexplicable sense of mystery, is well constructed and witty; it evokes laughter and pity by turns, seeming comic, then tragic, and even turning into an erotic thriller in which three characters in a solitary country house settle their accounts. Sometimes it seems that Vint is leading his reader by the nose, and at other times that he is very serious, even anticipating the reader?s reactions. The strength of the novel is the precision of its details and its film-like quality; in this respect, critics have noticed a proximity to Roman Polanski?s Bitter Moon. It is significant that while the sexual games are going on, David Lynch?s film Blue Velvet is playing on TV. Yet in Vint`s novel, play remains play, and none is harmed, while the novel elicits thought and compassion both from those playing the game, and from the readers.

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    Default Re: Toomas Vint

    Finally for now, a reposting of the draft translation of the first couple of pages of A Never-Ending Landscape, which I translated on 18-10-2008, and hope to send to a publisher with a synopsis, one day. Though a publisher will require a substantially longer excerpt, by way of which to assess the book:

    A NEVER-ENDING LANDSCAPE


    [Epigram by Poe, from The Purloined Letter]


    This is not a pipe

    [Epigram by Graham Greene, from A Secret Agent]


    CHAPTER ONE

    He has grown fat, is what I'm thinking, as I lounge in the leather armchair that the minister has offered me, as if leaning on a pile of hay that has been raked together, fat and nervous ? a nervous life, or work that eats at your nerves, leads to endless nibbling, running at times to the fridge, sneaking into the kitchen at night, and munching a leg of chicken (exactly that: a chicken leg!). On TV he looks taller and leaner, his paunch neatly hidden behind his desk. If I were to pretend that I didn?t recognise him ? I cannot square Specs Leo with Minister Leo ? it would be interesting to know whether his little wry smile will grow larger, and hurt pride glitter in his glance. (Come off it! He has neither the time nor the temperament for such feelings and sentiments ? he is after all well known as a hard-boiled psychic brute.)

    "Can I offer you a cigarette?" asks the minister, and I get the feeling I would if I were under interrogation, someone who had undergone days without a smoke in his cell, and I am tempted to cry out ? I would, ???ja kuidas veel!???

    "I?d rather have one of my own, I?m used to mild ones," is my swift reply, thrusting my hand into my pocket to find the packet. I now have a last chance of avoiding his familiar turn of phrase, of not adorning my replies with the stand-offish "sir", but I don?t immediately want to make things unnecessarily awkward, curiosity is goading me on, and I haven?t the strength to wait until he reveals the reason for my presence here. The thermometer of my importance will be pumped up or pushed down, sitting here in the soft armchair at a lower level to the minister?s desk.

    I slip my hand out of my pocket and bring out my packet, while he, who didn?t hear me, slides a gold (gilt?) cigarette case over in my direction. He may smoke himself, this might be a relief for someone of his weight, I think as before.

    "Is your mother still alive?" asks Leo quite unexpectedly, then continues: "Look, even ministers can allow themselves a little sentimentality on occasions. Knowing that we were going to be meeting, I looked through a number of photos from our childhood and schooldays and came to the conclusion that your mother played a key role in our upbringing. At any rate, you?ve got a fine mother," he says in his soft, somewhat sing-song voice and I notice a wicked glint in his eye.

    "She?s already... (I wanted to say ?with the Lord?, but my lips shy away from such an alien expression, and I swallow my words and continue) ...been pushing up the daisies for a couple of years, now."

    "Oh, I see," he says, a few moments later, uncertainly, not able to place, systematise, comment on my reply. I feel he is observing me closely, shamelessly, and I give him time for evaluation as my gaze slides up to a picture the wall, behind the minister?s back, a landscape where a woman in blue has her back to the viewer and seems to be going off somewhere. The yellowish grey sky glows in the white cap on her head. She is wading through the long grass between the juniper bushes towards the horizon, where a misty patch of forest or brushwood hovers, from where some white forms shed their white light over her. The blades of grass appear to have been painted one by one. The picture breathes an inexplicable agitation, secret knowledge, which we never get to know. In this painting seems to be concealed a second picture, whose disturbing message has to be hidden from the viewer for as long as possible.
    I know the painter.

    "Look," says Leo, with unconcealed disappointment in his voice, as our common memories (for reasons incomprehensible to himself) have begun to distort, and the intended chumminess (and cannot help smiling!) is not coming into its own. "Look," he repeats in a different tone of voice and with new thoughts. "We have decided to encourage your creative efforts by offering you a little holiday. A couple of weeks in a nice place in the country. If you like it, for even longer. Living for yourself, with us paying you a daily rate, like a business trip."

    (The interjection, the sickly interjection is "look";, the minister ought to keep his use of speech under more control; interesting that he presupposes that someone from his childhood days should grow wistful when reminiscing with him ? does he imagine that he cuts an acceptable figure to me in political terms? And what fucking country holiday is he offering me?!)

    "Since when has your ministry begun to encourage writers?" I ask fractiously, growing more cautious and in so doing encouraging the minister to himself rein in.

    "Look," (!), he says, "in essence it isn?t just a holiday. You can see it more in terms of an assignment carried out for the government. You?ll be like a secret agent, like, well, 007 or Stirlitz,", he starts chortling hoh, hoh, hoh, keeping the tip of tongue between his teeth, with enough sticking out for it to be visible. I now understand that it is the expression on my face that has made him laugh, so I smile as challengingly and broadly as I can, as I did when the KGB tried to recruit me years ago; the words come tumbling out of my mouth, Leo listens patiently, but I cannot detect any interest in my tale in his facial expression, as it is a tale I have told on many occasions and grown tired of it.

    "Oh, you intellectuals. In permanent opposition to everything, not distinguishing between serving the KGB and serving the Estonian Republic."

    ***

    Two things to note about the act of translation;

    1) There are always things you don't know at a first attempt. I put them between ???s, and go back to them later, after I've Googled or consulted a dictionary.

    2) The passage highlighted in navy blue was the trickiest. This is where English differs from most European languages: in English, there is no modern way of differentiating between "you"-singular ("tu" or "vous" in French; Du or Sie, in German) and "you"-plural ("vous" in French; "Sie" and "Ihr" in German), nor between the polite singular and the familiar singular and plural. This is a problem for the translator when it appears literally on the first page of a novel! You have to compensate, because the very useful "you all" in American English is not a natural part of my vocabulary. So you have to play around with words such as "tutoyer" or "sir".

    Both points 1) and 2) are typical things the translator runs into: words you don't understand, and ones you do but can't render elegantly without some thought.

    One further point: the painting of a woman, seen from behind, is a real one: by Toomas Vint himself, who appears as the painter "Vennet", a minor character, in Vint's novels. The oil painting is entitled "Departure" and is from 1990 and is one metre by one metre large. I have it in an album and it is exactly as the protagonist in the excerpt above describes it as his gaze wanders up to the wall behind the minister. A similar painting was used as the cover of one of Vint's collections of stories from 1996. It has become a tradition for Vint to illustrate his own covers.

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    Default Re: Toomas Vint

    Here are small reproductions of several paintings by Toomas Vint from the following website, where you can look at the paintings in a much larger format, by clicking on the painting concerned:

    Toomas Vint













    And the following website:

    HAUS galerii


    So, here we have the two Toomas Vints - the author and the painter.

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    Estonia Re: Toomas Vint

    Eric,
    I feel privileged to have found out about Toomas Vints. Both as a writer
    and as an artist, he intrigues me. I'm so glad you re-posted your messages
    from the Estonian Literature thread to a thread strictly on Toomas Vints.
    Not only was it fascinating to read your translations of the reviews of
    Vints' work, but also it was gratifying to have the chance to
    actually read an excerpt from one of his novels. I look forward very much to reading your full translation of A Never-ending Landscape
    in the future.

    You are so thorough, Eric! Just as I was about to do a websearch on Toomas
    Vints in hopes of seeing more of his paintings (art is one of my passions), I came upon the post in which you included the reproductions. What can I say? They are simply exquisite!

    Thank you for all your hard work, Eric. Keep it up!!!

    ~Titania

    "Art is the nearest thing to life; it is a mode of
    amplifying experience and extending our contact
    with our fellow-men beyond the bounds of our
    personal lot."
    ~George Eliot
    "All men have the same defect: they wait to live, for they have not the courage of each instant.
    Why not invest enough passion in each moment to make it an eternity?" ~E. M. Cioran

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    Default Re: Toomas Vint

    Yes, I've just been asked from over the pond (I'm on the European side) to translate a story by Vint, and I was continuing my translation of the first chapter of his novel A Never-Ending Landscape. So I'm quite absorbed with his work right now, not least as I'm also reading his more sex-imbued novel The Janitor's Wife. I really hope that there will be a full translation of A Never-Ending Landscape.

    Vint-the-artist is no doubt paying the bills at present, as he has had one-man exhibitions and joint exhibitions in quite a few towns and cities internationally, e.g. Spokane, Tokyo, Helsinki, Riga, Montreal, Essen, Vilnius, Moscow, Budapest, Paris, New York & Jersey, Gdansk, Berlin.

    Vint-the-author has not yet been discovered widely abroad. Paintings are more readily accessible than things that have to be translated.

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    Default Re: Toomas Vint

    So, here's another draft excerpt from Toomas Vint's A Never-Ending Landscape and follows on directly from the last one. The novel is beginning to take shape, and the subject of the novel-within-novel is gradually being introduced.

    This translating is no extra effort for me, as I intend sending between 5,000 and 10,000 words from the novel, along with the synopsis, up to a publisher. I've done nearly three-and-a-half thousand words so far.

    A NEVER-ENDING LANDSCAPE

    [second except]


    I have the whole afternoon to think more about it, get straight in my mind, clarify, what I have heard being offered, what has been said in my ear. I pick a pavement caf? and sit down on a plastic chair, and assume the attitude of a city person ? bored indifference (as if I have finally grown bored with indifference).

    Thing are not easy for Leo, is what I am thinking in ordinary citizen mode, many things are not easy nowadays, as we have not yet learnt to assume responsibility, we?re not used to it. In former times personal responsibility came under the umbrella of collective responsibility, the majority of those now in power were minor civil servants or students who, by slipping up between the rungs of the ladder had managed to rise to the top.

    It seemed to be out of embarrassment that Leo said: "Look. You can refuse, pull a long face, and suggest that affairs of state have nothing to do with you, a well-respected author, but then the state itself will pull a long face and suggest that it is not interested in how you are getting on and won?t lift a finger to help you when times get tough."

    This was said with (feigned) embarrassment or as a joke, but the threatening undertone could not be disguised by the friendly tone of voice ? things are as they are.

    At any rate, when he, right at the end, looked me straight in the eye, I imagined him (the minister) lying in bed, his head on the pillow, the lace-edged (!) sheet pulled right up to his chin. "This is blackmail," I said, raising my voice in jest, seemingly going along with his game, while at the same time feverishly trying to work out what was expected of me.

    On the face of it, nothing very special.

    The waitress (girlish, her defiant make-up overdone) brings a mug of beer (not a real beer mug, but one of those transparent ones, made out of plastic, not glass) and I am thinking that all they want me to do is go off on holiday for a couple of weeks, and relax or work ? and do what I want to do, bankrolled by the state. This would hardly seem to be some nerve-wracking and highly dangerous assignment for a secret agent, no degrading snooping, nothing that differed substantially from the daily grind. I told him that to my mind I couldn?t really be of any use to them. "That?s my worry," said Leo.

    Towards the end of summer, the weather is warm and sunny, the beer cool and pleasantly bitter. Life is tolerable enough, even pleasant, and I have nothing special to do in the dusty (clich?!) city.

    Offer the Devil a couple of fingers and he?ll grab your whole hand ? that?s my grand version of the well-known proverb about inches and ells, which could well describe what the future holds in store for me. It is only natural that if someone is prepared to do the state a small favour (the prologue), soon more important and serious efforts will be demanded of him. So I told Leo straight out what I thought about the matter.

    "Anyway, think about it, and give me a ring," said Leo, his voice sliding into (seeming) indifference, which made me feel unexpectedly agitated (was I perhaps not important to them, after all?).

    "Fine," I said and thrust a sheet of paper with a name and phone number into my pocket. "I?ll think it over and phone you."

    Looked at from an ethical point of view, I think to myself, swallowing a mouthful of beer, a well-respected author ought to be in opposition to the powers that be; being a fellow-traveller or part of the claque is not the most honourable position to be in. In actual fact, the novels Names on a Marble Plaque and Red Carnations* are one and the same book. If a writer becomes a minister or even president, we can talk about his skills as an author in the past tense.

    [Translator?s endnote: Names on a Marble Plaque was written by Albert Kivikas and published in the independent Estonian Republic in 1936; it deals with the Estonian War of Independence (1918-1920), when Estonia left the Russian Empire, from a more right-wing point of view. Kivikas was the editor of a key Estonian daily newspaper during the German occupation of Estonia (1941-1944). Johannes Semper?s novel Red Carnations dates from 1955, and deals with the events leading up to the Soviet occupation of Estonia in 1940, but is written from a Communist point of view, where the occupation becomes "liberation". Kivikas fled to Sweden in 1944, while Semper became Minister of Education in the Estonian Soviet Socialist Republic. The third author alluded to ("...or even president..."), but not mentioned specifically, is the poet Johannes Vares, known as Barbarus, who became puppet president of Soviet Estonia in 1944, but committed suicide, or was murdered by the Soviet secret police, in 1946.].

    Seen from an ethical point of view, the intelligence services of every nation are one and the same institution. When some decent and honourable man begins to diligently serve the intelligence community, however intrinsically good the cause may be, it suddenly (overnight!) turns out that he has become the tool of Evil, and he will be unable to shrug off his links with his job or undo them. At any rate, the ethical man should stay ethically away from such things. Ring and let him know -- Writer So-and-So has thought it over, and has concluded that it would be unethical for him to collaborate with the powers that be.

    I can imagine myself phoning in a few minutes and saying, like a well-paid whore, that I agree to everything. Then I will meet an official, who will make me swear and oath of silence (!), after which I am given instructions, a few (only a few) cards of the game are revealed to me, and soon people will be winking conspiratorially at me from almost every direction, as all my colleagues have been secret agents for ages, in other words informers, to use the vernacular. I too will be such an informer, starting tomorrow.

    I think that actually things will be pretty straightforward. No covert operations, like in films, no spy romance. I am someone suitable to their purposes and it is natural that we will be working to our mutual satisfaction, and that I will have no reason (you are now reading completely ordinary, clich?ed stereotypes, but it is precise ways of saying it) mess around or wriggle out of it like a prostitute, pretending to be all innocent.

    A colleague of mine (a writer) plonks himself down on the chair next to me, sweating, panting and wheezing; he is stout, the hot city doesn?t agree with him, but he has no option but to (like a squirrel in a wheel ? I try to imagine him as a squirrel!) rush into town to earn money among the city buildings or, for a brief moment now and again, take a beer and a breather. My colleague is wheezing loudly, and I worry that he may be suffering from some hidden disease, and ask him, as if in passing, whether he would be prepared to work for the intelligence services (what an expression) of our dear Estonia.

    I ask this question, which he doesn?t expect, and I can see him wince visibly, trying to find an evasive answer, fending off the answer almost literally, and orders a beer from the waitress. Yes, he already is, I think to myself, he already is an Informer to the Estonian State.

    "I can understand the ulterior motive behind your question, and the irony hidden behind this ulterior motive. But the fault with all of us is that we are used to looking down on authority. Used to not wanting to join the armed services, or working for the police. People cannot be free until they get it into their heads that freedom has to be defended," my colleague explains, his face deadly serious, and in a slightly didactic tone of voice.

    I listen to his words of wisdom and his reasoning and know, that I am not going to get a straight answer to my straight question, and I get the quite inappropriate impression (but one built on a good degree of probability) that this is the same ministry text that Leo was presenting to me; possible that the text was cobbled together by this same colleague and learnt off by heart by the minister. All of a sudden (I would, however...) I feel uncomfortable about finding out where this colleague works right now, but he has to be working somewhere, as he and his family can?t make ends meet nowadays on his freelance work alone; ???this feeling of unease is laughable, as in due course we have managed to get over our fear (...), I think, in due course.???

    The expression "in due course" suddenly pops up in my flow of thoughts, as if from behind a cliff, and is now clearly visible.

    *

    It is curiosity, sheer curiosity, that makes me dial the number. Perhaps it is curiosity that urges me to give my name in reply to an unknown and faceless young man?s voice, and after a pause, I say that I think that I can go along with their offer to cooperate. "Fine," says the voice with no hint of feeling. "I?ll come round to your place, could you tell me what time would suit?"

    He could at least have sounded pleased, I think as I replace the receiver. One short phrase ? and that was all. No information, nothing concrete, and a couple more hours of not knowing. (Stupid of me! I should have told him to come right away.)

    "I?ll come round to your place." Without even asking for my address, or if I actually want him to come round to my home (you offer your fingers... and they grab your whole hand). Nevertheless I did say that I thought I would accept their offer to cooperate, but any reservations on my part were not understood, nor did they even want to understand them. I get a cold feeling below my heart, and the discomfort turns into a hollow feeling ? I?ve given in to their way of thinking, there?s no going back now, in fact everything was clear right from the start, I was being given one single chance and the choice was an illusory one.

    All of this becomes clear to me in a very short space of time. My fingers are still gripping the grey receiver, and my eyes are focussed on my pencil with its eraser on the end. Let me describe it: it is a (freshly) sharpened pencil, sharpened for the very first time, white, cylindrical, with a rosy pink eraser attached to the end by means of a little strip of tin, its edge slightly worn down and blackened with graphite. I do not know how such a pencil has arrived on my desk, the pencil does not have the name of the manufacturer. It is not my pencil.

    I could shout out: "Listen, how did this pencil end up on my desk?"

    My feeling of unease slowly turns to panic, in my imagination images like film shots ? killing, persecution and right in the centre a middle-aged writer with a tendency to grow plump, most unlike a spy or secret agent in appearance, with not an ounce of courage or recklessness, his psyche more that of a coward, whose heart even pounds on going out in the evening, let alone under those extreme circumstances that a secret agent would be faced with every day.
    (And yet: maybe the information I collect can prevent something terrible from happening, and thanks to this information, many people will be saved, as will the State, although at the same time my information can prove fateful to some ? some will be put behind bars, or may have to give up their lives.)

    I?m thinking that this is a situation worth writing about, letting the protagonist be fried in the fat of unawareness, allow the loyalty to the state that has been forced upon him make him dizzy as he stands on the edge of the precipice.

    I roll the white pencil-cum-eraser between my fingers until the telephone rings. I pick up the receiver and a moment later hear a howl.

    I feel that my quiet life is, from this day on, going to become more filled with adventure, complex, exciting (or repugnant). Of course someone could have dialled the wrong number, dialled a number they didn?t want quite by accident, then realised their mistake and ended the call, before I could answer. But I suddenly find this very hard to believe.

    I turn to a new page in my desk diary, write in the top margin - Informer to the Estonian Republic. That then could be the title. Just intriguing enough, and the capital letters imply a certain double meaning, giving the title ironic undertones.

    I write: is a love of one?s country reason enough to sell one?s skin? To be, or not to be an informer; an ordinary citizen who identify with being a subject of the state; compulsion; self-justification; lack of choice; not used post-Socialist conditions ? love of one?s country coming right from the heart.

    And why not use the opportunity presented to me on a plastic plate or silver salver, turn the situation completely to my advantage, write a tale, develop on the unpleasant situation in which I find myself, a novella or novel, could be a documentary novel or in other words literature that stands squarely on two feet (wearing soldiers top boots, well waxed and creaking) on solid ground.

    A second ring of the phone rips through my flight of inspiration, and I get the feeling that if I ever manage to piece it back together again, it won?t look as good as it did. "Is Mrs So-and-So available?" asks a male voice with pushy familiarity, the voice quite unknown to me, I cannot place it at all. "Oh, you?ll have to wait a bit, she?s in the States and won?t be back until towards the end of the month," is what I say with a good dose of apology in my voice, thinking at the same time that the word "available" is ambiguous. Where do people find such expressions, is what I?d like to ask someone.

    *

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    Default Re: Toomas Vint

    An interview with Toomas Vint from about a year ago:

    Toomas Vint: literature for connoisseurs shrinking all the time

    16 November 2007

    Interviewer: Mari Peegel. First published in "?rileht", the Estonian business daily: http://www.arileht.ee/?kultuur=408054

    *

    In early November [2007], Toomas Vint published the last part of his trilogy called "The Amnesiac Woman" (or: "Woman With a Memory Gap"), where the shifting perspective reflects present-day Estonia exactly.

    ** When the first part of the trilogy "The Janitor?s Wife" first appeared in 1995, it almost caused a scandal with its many erotic episodes. How does its reception then compare with how it is received by readers over ten years later?

    In Russian times, censorship was particularly severe, so that a text never became erotic. For some reason, there was a special taboo regarding masturbation, you were not even allowed to allude to it. The Estonian literary world appeared to have taken puritanism as the norm. In "The Janitor?s Wife" there was a candid description of a young man?s sexual awakening, and this was bound to attract a counter-reaction. The more malicious critics called it a porn novel, and the cultural editor of one daily tried to fish out my own sexual preferences. Nowadays, it just makes people smile. The taboos no longer exist, the frontiers have been extended. But I do not like a crude text. Erotic tension arises from the situation, not from obscene expressions.

    ** To what extent have literary games influenced you?

    In literature, as in other walks of life, there are games involving power and vanity. With such games the activity would not be possible. But I see no reason why such games should be taken seriously, or go along with them. I feel I have produced such literature as interests me an has given me enjoyment. Both during Russian times and now, during Estonian independence.

    ** The trilogy is an endlessly multilayered one, like a freeway junction or a polyfunctional building. To what degree are you an architect as well as a painter?

    In a sense I do indeed "construct" texts. I create the flow of the undertext, compose systems, and often add references to other texts. I have a desire to express the unexpressible. But above all, my novels tell stories and should be enjoyable, both for those that demand less as for connoisseurs. I have the worrying feeling that literature nowadays is beginning to ignore the connoisseurs. Books have become lightweight and flat and instead of enjoying them you get a feeling of shame or guilt, like trying to find happiness by visiting a whore.

    ** One character that re-appear in the novels is the former young idealist Tepner, and who, when he appears in "In Double Light" and "The Amnesiac Woman", has become manipulative, both in politics and in private life. Is he more of a victim or perpetrator?

    "The Janitor?s Wife" is set in the 1960s, a time when the children born after WWII began to realise that the rest of the world was living in another epoch. Or feel that their eyes have been stitched shut, their ears stopped up, and their mouths filled with drops. It is strange that some high party officials began (in their own eyes) to revolt against the system of their parents, in the same way as students revolted at the Sorbonne in Paris, cudgels in their hands and Marxism on their lips, and were against capitalism.

    What is interesting is that by the 1980s, these rebels had themselves become powerful members of political parties, and the Marxists of the Sorbonne had become the chief proponents of the free market. It is really strange how so swiftly loyal Communists in Estonia became exemplary capitalists, but for whom, given their old Communist Party habits, a free and independent Estonia was a thorn in the side.

    ** To what extent was the trilogy intended to document a specific era?

    Nowadays, the expression "to map out" is used, and yes, within the boundaries of the trilogy I have tried to map out the Sixties, the year of the Singing Revolution, and (more or less) the climate of opinion in Estonia today, by focussing on the contexts of these epochs.

    ** The protagonist of "The Amnesiac Woman", a man in his thirties, seems to be acting according to how he can pay off his bank loan. Do you regard the youth of today as being so materialist?

    What else can they do. A hefty bank loan is an unpleasant phenomenon, that can soon turn an individual into a slave. He dare not be "himself". He is constantly fettered by the fear that he will lose his job and end up in financial difficulties. Fear governs his decisions and way of speaking. Being a slave to the bank is an insubstantial poison that you cannot smell and which, in the end, kills off your individuality.

    ** In the two last parts of the trilogy "Blue Velvet" by David Lynch and pieces of music by Mozart and [Estonian pop singer] Riho Sibul take on a certain significance. Which other film-makers and composers do you regard as important?

    I think that those who have shaped my written work are the film-makeers Ingmar Bergman, Claude Chabrol, Alain Resnais and Federico Fellini. I see texts as films ? a coloured row of pictures, which music helps make visible. While writing my novel "My Marriage To A Prostitute" I dreamed of being able to include a CD of P?rt?s "Alina" and Jarrett?s [?] "Chinese Concert" so that the reader could listen to them while reading. I like it when a novel or short-story has its "own" music.

    ** What sort of people read your books?

    Recently, an old gentleman stepped into the bookshop beside me and said he was a great fan of my books, and asked for my autograph. I imagine that my typical reader is someone who takes his time with reading, even if he hasn?t got much to take. This summer another gentleman, a young one this time, asked for my autograph for all the books I have written. By the way, some of them had been read so much, they were falling to pieces.

    ** What?s coming next?

    A collection of short-stories. I have a rhythm as a writer that I write a novel, then a collection of short-stories. This time two novels happened to come, one after the other, but this was because a short-story grew to become a novel. A writer has to accept the fact that it can happen that your writing takes you over and all your plans go awry.

    *
    Toomas Vint

    ** Born 1944
    ** Graduated in biology from the Tartu State University in 1966
    ** Worked from 1967-71 as a director?s assistant at Estonian Television.
    ** From then onwards a freelance writer and painter
    ** A selection of his short prose:, entitled "Roads Bordered on Each Side By Hedges" (1974); Family Games" (1977); "A Touch of Happiness For the Tormentor of Women" (1996)
    ** Novels: "A Small-Town Novel" (1980); "A Large Male Fish in the Aquarium" (1985); "Novel of an Artist" (1998), plus several more
    ** Twice won the Estonian National Short-Story Prize, named after short-story writer Friedebert Tuglas and received the Estonian Annual Literary Award for his novel "A Never-Ending Landscape".

    ***
    Translated from the Estonian by Eric, 26th October 2008

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    Estonia Re: Toomas Vint

    Eric,
    Many thanks for translating the Vint interview. What a treat! Vint's personality shines through his words and sentiments. I particularly
    love his comment about how the literature for connoisseurs is
    becoming more and more scarce:

    "Books have become lightweight and flat and instead of
    enjoying them you get a feeling of shame or guilt, like
    trying to find happiness by visiting a whore."

    One reason I tend to read more "classic" (esp. 19 century) fiction
    than anything else is because many of the modern writers have
    so little to say. And time is our most precious commodity. It seems
    senseless to spend a few hours reading a book that will make less
    of an impression on me than a ripple made by a pebble in
    a lake.

    My comments on your Beauty of History review will be coming up.
    If not today, then sometime soon. My schedule for this week is
    maddening. Somehow I have to finish a 300-page novel, in addition
    to writing an in-depth paper. Plus, there's a doctor's appointment on the calender and a Halloween birthday party for my great aunt. I daresay I won't find much time to post at the forum.

    But as you know, Eric, your posts are always one of the first
    places I look--even if I'm just "lurking."

    Cheers,
    Titania
    "All men have the same defect: they wait to live, for they have not the courage of each instant.
    Why not invest enough passion in each moment to make it an eternity?" ~E. M. Cioran

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    Default Re: Toomas Vint

    I was very conscious of translating that bit you quote, Titania.

    The original says:

    Raamatud on muutunud liiga lihtsateks ja ?heplaanilisteks ning tihtipeale saab naudingu asemel kogeda ebalevat h?bi- v?i s??tunnet, justkui oleksid tulnud l?but?druku juurest ?nne otsimast.
    i.e.

    "Books have become lightweight and flat and instead of enjoying them you get a feeling of shame or guilt, like trying to find happiness by visiting a whore."
    The bits in red can be translated in different ways. And when you get a lot of them in one sentence, you have to make choices. This was only a short interview, but when you're translating 300 pages of text, you can't agonise too much.

    If you forget about the inflections, endings, and so on, the basic words are "lihtne", "?heplaaniline" and "l?but?druk".

    "Lihtne" can mean: ordinary, simple, plain, elementary, common.

    "?heplaaniline" means: one-levelled, one-planed, etc., i.e. flat, without variation.

    "L?but?druk" means: a whore, prostitute, call or escort girl, what have you. It contains the word "l?bu" (pleasure) "t?druk" (girl).

    As I'm just banging out these articles to spread the word, I don't always think for a long time before plumping for one alternative.

    I'll deal with your other points in my next posting.

    Cheers!

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    Default Re: Toomas Vint

    Just one minor afterthought about Vint. I was wondering whether the novel "A Never-Ending Landscape" as mentioned in previous postings, would be better called "An Unending Landscape", so as to get rid of the hyphen. Any thoughts on this change?

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    Default Re: Toomas Vint

    Quote Originally Posted by Eric View Post
    Just one minor afterthought about Vint. I was wondering whether the novel "A Never-Ending Landscape" as mentioned in previous postings, would be better called "An Unending Landscape", so as to get rid of the hyphen. Any thoughts on this change?
    It works better. Personally, I'd take liberties: A Landscape Spread Forever, in my head, sounds nice. Probably not in others' heads, right enough.

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    Default Re: Toomas Vint

    Glad you think "unending" to be better. I think the "spread" solution is a trifle flowery for me. The title is straightforward in Estonian, while "A Landscape Spread Forever" is maybe too poetic. And the image is actually of a landscape-within-a-landscape, as you can perhaps see from the turquoise cover of the book. Vint parallels this feature of his own painting, used as the cover illustration, with the novel-within-a-novel way the book is built up:




    Ten Vint pictures at:

    Picture 053.jpg

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    Default Re: Toomas Vint

    Ah, I do like a poetic title. I suppose, looking at the picture now, you could also have An Infinite Landscape, or Infinite Landscapes. etc. Still, that's all down to you. But An Unending Landscape is far better than A Never-Ending Landscape.

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    Default Re: Toomas Vint

    I'd thought of "infinite" before. But both that word and "spread" can imply something moving ever outwards, like outer space. Whereas, as you can see from the picture, it's a kind of Russian dolls effect which, admittedly also occurs when you place two mirrors facing one another, and you get an infinite number of reflections of reflections.

    Ultimately, the publisher decides the title, but as the translator, I like to have a hands-on approach. With "Treading Air", I was exceptionally lucky. I thought up the image myself, based more or less on what the author had called the book, approved it with the author, and the publishers also liked it. When I rather long-windedly called another novel I translated "There Are Things in the Night", following the Estonian exactly, the publisher wisely cut it down to "Things in the Night", which is more manageable.

    The title, like the spine and the whole cover, can be big factors in whether browsers in bookshops even bother to open the book in the first place, unless the book has been hyped by two-page reviews in the Guardian.

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