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Thread: Karl Ristikivi

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    Estonia Karl Ristikivi

    Karl Ristikivi

    Before I run out of steam, and actually have to start translating stories intensively, I'd like to add another author to the Estonian ones that I have been examining in detail, such as Jaan Kross, Mats Traat and Toomas Vint.

    This time, it's the turn of Karl Ristikivi (1912-1977). Back in 1994, I started collating information and writing a few odds and ends about this author who, unlike Kross, Traat and Vint, escaped from Estonia, just before it became a Soviet republic, and spent last 33 years of his 65-year life living in exile in Sweden. I revised my essay in 2003 and published it (I'm sorry to say I can't remember where). But Ristikivi remains almost as forgotten internationally as he was then.

    Karl Ristikivi is remembered especially for his novel Hingede ?? (Night of Souls), first published in 1953. I tried to interest a British publisher in this book years ago, but was told it was "dated". So, that was that.

    Anyway, here's my "essay", which is not at all original, as it is based on the work of the Estonian scholars Endel Nirk, Arvo M?gi, Reet Neithal and others, who have studied the author in much more depth than I ever have.

    As for Eric's surname, it is real, and was something I didn't choose.

    KARL RISTIKIVI - an introduction to an untranslated author

    by Eric Dickens

    While the works of a number of (mainly Soviet) Estonian authors have been translated into several Western European languages, those of many exile authors, including the substantial oeuvre of Karl Ristikivi, remain untranslated into major languages. In the case of Ristikivi this is hardly surprising, since virtually none of his works have been translated into any language at all, including Swedish, the language of the country where he spent the last 33 years of his life!

    While authors living in Estonia such as Jaan Kross, Viivi Luik, Arvo Valton, Mati Unt, Jaan Kaplinski, Heino Kiik, Doris Kareva and others have enjoyed translations in Germany, France, Britain and especially Finland, where interest in Estonia is perhaps keenest, Karl Ristikivi (1912-1977) remains perhaps the most significant Estonian author who has, quite unjustifiably, been neglected by that small corpus of translators from the Estonian who tend to be greatly influential when it comes to deciding which authors the world gets to hear about. I will try here make a modest attempt to redress the balance.

    Karl Ristikivi was born in Varbla, Western Estonia, an isolated parish near the sea; he spent the latter half of his life in the urban environment of Greater Stockholm, the capital of Sweden. The contrast could not have been greater. In between, he worked as a columnist for a newspaper, as a sales assistant in a wallpaper shop and, during his exile in Sweden, as a clerk in the Stockholm Health Benefits Office.

    His life was that of a recluse, and quite undramatic on the surface. And yet Ristikivi wrote 17 novels (plus two others serialised in newspapers), two collections of short-stories, two books of literary criticism, one collection of poetry and even a whodunnit, written in Swedish. Fourteen of these novels were written and published in Sweden by the Estonian language publishing house Eesti Kirjanike Kooperatiiv in Lund, run by Bernard Kangro, a friend of Ristikivi's, who died in the spring of 1994.

    How did Karl Ristikivi end up living in Sweden? In 1943, in order to avoid being conscripted into the Wehrmacht during the German Occupation which lasted from 1941-44, Ristikivi, by now the author of some three well-received, though rather conventional, novels, plus some children's literature and journalistic texts fled to Finland and from there to safer neutral Sweden. By the following year when Soviet forces had "liberated" Estonia from the Germans, it became clear that to return to his native land had become an impossibility. Never again was Karl Ristikivi to set foot on Estonian soil.

    The author had become an author-in-exile. This fact was to become the theme, or at least undertone, of many of his works. Ristikivi shares this fate with the author of his favourite novel Der Zauberberg - Thomas Mann - who spent the years of World War II in the United States. But for Ristikivi, exiled in Sweden, the alienation, the loneliness, the nostalgia which can often distort the past, and the pathetically futile hope of return, coupled with the dread of finding his native land changed beyond recognition even if he should succeed, are all themes of his collection of poetry Inimese teekond (A Man's Journey; 1972), the only one he ever published, but which is regarded by some as one of the highlights of Estonian poetry.

    But it was with his novels that Karl Ristikivi made his mark, first as a young man in Estonia and later in Sweden. Between 1938 and 1942, while still living in Tallinn, the author published his Tallinn Trilogy - Tuli ja raud (Fire and Iron; 1938), ?ige mehe koda (The House of the Just; 1940) and Rohuaed (The Herb Garden; 1942). The first novel deals in a realistic way with the lives of working-class people in Tallinn. Ristikivi wanted to avoid two extremes: the glorification of working life which had become the vogue in independent Estonia, and naturalist gloom of ?mile Zola. Ristikivi's second novel deals with the merchant classes of te 20th century and with a the difficulties of earning enough to keep the family of the protagonist. But by the third novel, Ristikivi has moved towards a kind of poetic realism, and this time he describes the educated classes of society, starting with the life of a teacher of Latin and his family. His style has now matured and the book shows glimpses of the author's humanism and humour which were to accompany him throughout the rest of his career as a writer. During the late 1930s, Ristikivi was encouraged and admired by the then grand old man of Estonian literature Anton Hansen Tammsaare.

    Ristikivi's second "trilogy" remained incomplete. In 1946, he published K?ik, mis kunagi oli (All That Ever Existed) and the year after Ei juhtunud midagi (Nothing Has Happened). The first novel covers the reactions of a Protestant minister to the time between 23rd June and 23rd August 1939. These are the last two months of the clergyman's life. Both dates are of symbolic significance. The first was a festival dating back to 1934, when President Konstantin P?ts had prevented the fascistoid Vapsid from seizing power but was himself forced to adopt authoritarian methods to keep them at bay. The second date is when the notorious Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact was announced, a pact where Stalin and Hitler in effect divided Europe into two spheres of influence, the Baltic states falling to Stalin. The second novel of this incomplete "trilogy" describes the reactions of ordinary people to what is known in Britain as the "Phoney War", the first year of the Second World War where nothing really happened - hence the title. The novel begins on 1st September 1939 and ends in June 1940. Ristikivi is already experimenting with the so-called "puppet-theatre" technique of narration where the various points of views of the main characters occur in consecutive chapters, a technique which the Russian literary theorist Bakhtin would have appreciated. This is a technique that Ristikivi was to continue to use in several later novels. Both of the above novels had already been sketched out while Ristikivi was still living in Estonia.

    Karl Ristikivi was hoping for a happy ending for the trilogy and for Estonia itself, although the books are in fact more of a metaphysical examination of categories such as "memory" and "experience" than a chronicle of events. But when first the Soviets (1940-41), and then the Nazis (1941-44) invaded Estonia, and Ristikivi himself was forced to flee his native land in November 1943, he abandoned the last novel of the trilogy.

    But his following novel, perhaps his most important, was written ten years later after a long pause, and can in some ways be regarded as a sequel to the other two:

    *

    HINGEDE ?? / NIGHT OF SOULS

    This novel, Ristikivi's perhaps most remarkable one, is Hingede ?? (Night of Souls; 1953) and appeared after the author had spent almost ten years in exile. It is a cross between Kafka (Das Schlo? and Der Proze?), Lewis Carroll (Alice in Wonderland), John Bunyan (The Pilgrim's Progress) and Hermann Hesse (Der Steppenwolf) with elements of Dante's Purgatorio and is set in a labyrinthine house in central Stockholm around which the protagonist wanders on New Year's Eve. As in the magical-realist works of the Flemings Hubert Lampo and Johan Daisne, time is distorted and although the main character enters the house at about a quarter to midnight, and emerges at five past the hour, the scenes, the dialogues and the "hearing" he witnesses, last far longer than the statutory twenty minutes of clock time. Another magical realist aspect is that nothing supernatural seems to occur, it is just the atmosphere created which is unreal.

    The novel is divided into three sections. In the first, entitled "The House of the Dead Man", the hero wanders from room to room, speaking to strangers and enters into futile conversations. He meets people whom he thinks he recognises, makes social blunders and is never sure whether he "belongs" or not. The building itself seems to contain a theatre auditorium and numerous rooms of different sizes but is constructed in a strange fashion so that floors and levels are not self-evident. A great admirer of literature written in English, Ristikivi, like one of his favourite detective novel authors (and translator of Dante's "Purgatorio"!), Dorothy L. Sayers, heads each chapter of this first section of the book with epigraphs by T.S. Eliot, Lewis Carroll, Oscar Wilde, John Bunyan, A.E. Housman, Walt Whitman and Edgar Allan Poe.

    The middle section of this novel is an alienation device, typical of certain types of modern literature and not unlike the technique which Ingmar Bergman used at the beginning of his film Persona where a piece of the film reel is shown to remind the audience that all is but a fiction. In this case, Ristikivi replies to a letter from a reader, the fictional Mrs Agnes Rahumaa, and discusses the novel Night of Souls which he is in the process of writing.

    The third section, The Seven Witnesses, is a hearing where the hero is implicitly accused of the Seven Deadly Sins as each witness relates some episode of his or her life which somehow exemplifies one of the sins, the gravest of which being acedia (from the Greek) i.e. Sloth. Estonian critics maintain this is a criticism of intellectual, rather than physical, laziness. The scene is reminiscent of one in the earlier Bergman film Wild Strawberries which was produced in 1957, five years after this novel was published. During this time, Bergman knew the Estonian exile pianist, K?bi Laretei, whom he later married, so the film could well have been indirectly inspired by Night of Souls, though this remains pure speculation since the Zeitgeist can do wondrous things..

    The novel is around 250 average book pages long and has been reprinted a number of times, first in what was just still Soviet Estonia in 1991 and later, in independent Estonia, as recently as the year 2000 and is often regarded as one of the five best Estonian novels of the 20th century.

    *

    In the 1950s and early 1960s, Karl Ristikivi, a bachelor without family responsibilities (and as now is presumed - a closet gay), but with a steady income, started to travel a great deal, partly to see the setting for his novels for himself. As far back as 1955, he had visited Amsterdam as well as Switzerland and Italy. In 1957, he travelled to Mallorca and in 1958 was in Italy again. During 1959, he was to be found in Spain where he visited Malaga, Granada, Seville and C?rdoba. The next year he went to Greece. In 1963, he seems to have taken two longer trips, one to Egypt and the other to the Adriatic coast of Italy. In 1965, he visited the Middle East dropping in at Cairo, Beirut, Damascus and Jerusalem, among other places. In 1966, he visited Turkey and two years later, the USA.

    It was during the 1960s that the author produced his second complete trilogy which deals with the tragic fate of the medi?val Hohenstaufen dynasty. The leitmotif of these books, which have a chronicle-like narrative technique quite unlike Night of Souls, is struggling for a lost cause. But Ristikivi was also continuing to develop his interest in style and structure, now becoming interested in Bach - in a letter to a friend he said that, without getting any illusions of grandeur, he had read Bach's Die Kunst der Fuge with great interest, and drawn his own conclusions about the composer's mathematical exactitude.

    On 5th January 1964, Vatican Radio interviewed Karl Ristikivi on the publication of The Last City, the third of the Hohenstaufen novels. During this interview, Ristikivi made the observation that the Crusades had had their pluses and minuses, something which comes out in the trilogy. This is an interesting comment to be made in a decade which showed the rise of anti-imperialist and anti-interventionist thought. Ristikivi did not seem to be affected by the growing radicalism of the 1960s and was no doubt viewed at the time, even by some of his exile Estonian colleagues, as a mildly reactionary eccentric.

    After completing this trilogy, and presumably as light relief, Ristikivi published a grotesque allegory Isle of Miracles. This 280-page novel was even published in Estonia itself, a remarkable achievement during that decade for an exile author from what had become a Soviet republic. It is an anti-utopian satire, purportedly a translation of a work by the fictitious 14th century Genovese traveller, Niccol? Casarmana, who describes his voyage to Allotria, the Isle of Miracles, and is in the same vein as Swift's Gulliver's Travels, More's Utopia or Samuel Butler's Erewhon.

    Where alienation is the principle theme of Night of Souls, the novel M?rsjalinik (The Bridal Veil; 1965) forms its antipode. Here, in the first novel of Ristikivi's so-called "Biographical Trilogy", the author, who may have had private sympathies for certain aspects Roman Catholicism (most Estonians are staunchly Lutheran, with the exception of their autocratic interwar president P?ts, who was Russian Orthodox!), describes the life of the 14th century religious mystic, visionary and church politician Catherine of Siena. The novel, written in a lucid prose, describes her life, from her childhood in a large family of dyers right up to her death. Catherine was a remarkable woman. A tertiary of the Dominican order, she gained a reputation for her holiness and asceticism and yet became a powerful political figure. She sued for peace within the Church while arguing for a Crusade against the Muslims. She also tried to persuade Queen Joan of Naples, whom the Pope had excommunicated, to repent and also promoted the idea of the Papal See returning from Avignon to Rome. In many of her causes she remained unsuccessful. And yet she was canonised 80 years after her death, to become, in 1939, Patron Saint of Italy. The author uses an interesting narrative technique, alternating chapters of third-person narration which the reminiscences of various people who knew Catherine personally (a technique not unlike that used by Jaan Kross in his novel Ship Into the Wind).

    In 1966, Karl Ristikivi completed this second trilogy of his with the novel R??mulaul (Song of Joy) which is the story of the Welsh bard and composer, David of Wales, whose life consists of the struggle against the crushing forces of revenge in medieval France and Flanders.

    The final novel in the "Biographical Trilogy" is N?iduse ?pilane (The Sorcerer's Apprentice; 1967) which is the life of one Johannes Faber, a learned man and a doctor, who is sentenced to be burnt at the stake and relates his life to a Dominican father during the last few days of his captivity. The novel examines the struggle between religious free thinking and dogma.

    Karl Ristikivi was to produce one more trilogy before his untimely death in 1977. This last trilogy consists of novels whose action takes place in two different epochs. The most important of these novels is the ironical ?ilsad s?damed - ehk Kaks s?pra Firenzes (Noble Hearts - or Two Friends in Florence; 1970) which deals with the 1960s staging of a play by the fictitious 17th century author Richard Clifford, itself entitled Two Friends in Florence. To complicate matters even further, Clifford himself delves into history, describing the life of the dictatorial 15th century Italian church politician Savonarola, while he in fact wishes to maked a veiled criticism of the contemporary dictatorship of Oliver Cromwell. (This technique of analogous epochs is one which the Estonian non-exile writer Jaan Kross used when covertly criticising the Brezhnev r?gime by describing the life of Timo von Bock in the novel The Czar's Madman written a few years later.) The contemporary level of the plot consists of the description of the conflict between two of the actors, one of which comes from an intellectual Oxford background, while the other has worked in a sawmill.

    Finally, a few words about Ristikivi the short-story writer and Ristikivi the poet. As mentioned above, the author only produced a handful of poems. And yet these somewhat nostalgic elegiac poems are regarded very highly in Estonia. The poems translated at the end of this article all express the loneliness and alienation of the exile. They were all written in Sweden between 1950 and 1977. The Arcadian theme was first introduced by Ovid, Arcadia being the bucolic paradise of the ancients. The theme was picked up by Schiller (Auch ich war in Arkadien geboren...) whom Ristikivi echoes with his rhythms. And, in turn, the Estonian poet Paul-Eerik Rummo wrote a poem entitled Variation, directly inspired by Ristikivi. The other poems are, I feel, self-explanatory.

    Ristikivi's two collections of short-stories, Sigtuna v?ravad (The Gates of Sigtuna; 1968) and Klaassilmadega Kristus (Christ With Eyes of Glass; 1980) are proof of the author's skill as a writer of the cameo as well as the epic. While the former collection often revolves around the themes of morality and are of a historical nature, the latter collection is a posthumous anthology, but also a short epic, odd words indeed when used to describe a collection of stories! Notable stories from the latter collection are the symbolist stories Elu peegel (A Mirror on Life; written in 1975) in which a man sees another world through his hall mirror, Novell (Short-Story; written in 1949) which is a meta-story examining Ristikivi's attitude to short-story writing and the title story Klaassilmadega Kristus (Christ With Eyes of Glass; written in 1940) which also examines the problem of the metaphysics of art.

    Had Ristikivi been translated, foreign readers would have also seen the value of this erudite, yet modest, writer of novels, short-stories, and those few, but significant, poems. But although he wrote eleven of the novels, plus two collections of short-stories in Sweden, only one stray short-story has ever been translated into Swedish, thus barring the way to further recognition abroad. Ristikivi was never discovered even in Sweden, a fate shared by so many other Estonian authors living in that country such as Bernard Kangro, Arvo M?gi and Enn and Helga N?u, while at the same time he never made a literary name outside of his native land unlike other exiles in Sweden such as Kurt Tucholsky, Nelly Sachs and Peter Wei?. And since the Soviet authorities prevented all but a trickle of exile literature getting through to Estonian readers back home, the author had to content himself during his lifetime with only the tiny exile Estonian community as his readers.

    And so to this day, the recluse, writer of historical fuges in prose, twentieth century existentialist and humanist Karl Ristikivi remains the great untranslated Estonian.

    Sources

    Since there is no detailed information on Karl Ristikivi in any other language but Estonian, I will list the four principle sources on which this article is based:

    * Arvo M?gi: Karl Ristikivi, pp 64, Eesti Kirjanike Kooperatiiv,
    Lund, 1962.
    * Karl Ristikivi 75 (Conference material on 75th birthday of the
    writer), 2 vols pp 128 + 116, Estonian Writers' Union,
    Tallinn, 1988.
    * Endel Nirk: Teeline ja t?hed (Wayfarer and Stars - a biography
    of Ristikivi), pp 288, Eesti Raamat, Tallinn, 1991.
    * Reet Neithal: Karl Ristikivi - Arengulooline essee (Karl
    Ristikivi - An Essay on Development), pp 72, Koolibri,
    Tallinn, 1994.


    A brief biography in French is available at:
    http://mapage.noos.fr/estonie/Ristikivi.html
    which gives leads to pages describing (also in French) the novels of the Hohenstaufen trilogy.

    *

    Eric Dickens,
    Netherlands
    October 1994 / January 2003
    Last edited by Eric; 21-Oct-2008 at 22:15.

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    Estonia Re: Karl Ristikivi

    Eric,
    Glad to see a thread on yet another Estonian author. I will comment
    on both this writer and others in more detail another time. By the way,
    I had no idea you were the Eric Dickens! It's a privilege to have
    a world-renowned translator like you on the list.

    Lest you wonder, I always want to have something intelligent to say
    when I make comments on your post. And at the moment, with
    a couple of projects to attend to, I'm often too tired or too hungry
    to make any profound statements. It takes a certain amount of
    deep thought to remark on the works of these Estonian writers.
    And, I do not want to do them a disservice or to make light of all
    the work you've put into this by making perfunctory observations.

    By the way, my mum is convinced you're a genius, Eric. And she's rarely mistaken about such things .

    I just put one of Jaan Kross's novels in my amazon "wish-basket."

    ~Titania


    "The contemplation of beauty, whether it be a uniquely
    tinted sunset, a radiant face, or a work of art, makes
    us glance back unwittingly at our personal past
    and jutxapose ourselves and our inner being with
    the utterly unattainable beauty revealed to us."
    ~Vladimir Nabokov, La Veneziana
    "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: Karl Ristikivi

    Just for the sake of accuracy, I should tell you that when I said that Karl Ristikivi has never been translated into any language, this is not strictly true. Apart from one crime novel he wrote in Swedish and that was translated into Estonian by Jaan Kross, there is also one short story translated into Swedish.

    But two of his novels, "The Song of Joy" (1966) and "Dragon's Teeth" (1970) have been translated into Russian by Olga Nael. They appeared together in paperback in 1997. Just to show the routes some people take to literary translation, here is her brief biography:

    Olga Nael (born 1919) was born in the Oryol (Or?l) gubernia of Russia in 1919, the daughter of an Estonian distiller and a Russian mother. The family moved the following year to a newly independent Estonia. She attended the Russian-language grammar school in Tallinn, and between 1937 and 1940 studied music at the Tallinn Conservatory. She also worked as an interpreter between 1938 and 1941. She was evacuated to the Kuibyshev oblast of Russia from 1942-44, where she continued to work as an interpreter at a kolkhoz (i.e. collective farm). In 1951, she graduated in piano at the Tallinn Conservatory and was the Head of Music there from 1951-58. She was musical director of the Estonian State Philharmonic from 1958-75. From then onwards, she worked as a professional translator. (Note: "interpreter" means an oral translator; "translator" means one doing books and articles from paper.)

    Before translating the two Ristikivi novels, she had translated four others, plus about a dozen collections of short-stories by various authors.
    This shows how literary translators can have varied and non-literary backgrounds.

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    Estonia Re: Karl Ristikivi

    Eric,
    I'm so pleased you brought this thread back to life! It disheartens
    me that none of Ristikivi's works have been translated into English.
    Nights of Souls sounds mesmerizing. I cannot imagine the action in
    a novel taking place within the course of twenty minutes. This reminds me of a Russian film I saw awhile back, though the name
    escapes me at the moment. It had a very surrealistic feel to it.
    I would imagine this novel might have a similar "aura" to it. The idea
    of a novelist's writing being a cross among Lewis G. Carroll, Kafka, Bunyan, Hesse, and Dante is something to wrap one's mind around. The anti-Utopian satire, Isle of Miracles, sounds equally unique.

    My goodness, what a writer! His "Biographical Triology" sounds riveting, especially books 2 and 3, Song of Joy and The Sorcerer's Apprentice. Have you, per chance, any plans to translate some of Ristikivi's work anytime soon, Eric? I shall be first in line to order copies if/when they become available!

    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: Karl Ristikivi

    Actually, Titania, I've translated most of "Night of Souls", but I have not yet found a publisher. I translated it over a decade ago, revised it around the year 1999, but all to no avail. The publisher Peter Owen, usually interested in foreign literature, said it was "dated". I sent it to an American publisher more recently, but have heard nothing.

    Obviously, the time frame is one of those literary tricks. He goes in at midnight on New Year's Eve and emerges a short while later, although the intervening events would have taken literally hours of real time, plus the whole courtroom scene.

    Here are the opening passages, with an epigram by the Finnish poet, Uuno Kailas, which I've never got round to translating. The epigram says that the poet has only two doors: dream and death. Nor have I looked at the translation, or revised the manuscript, for years. The protagonist is living in Stockholm, a city alien to him as an Estonian exile. So much is autobiographical, on the part of Ristikivi. Hence Swedish references, such as Konserthallen and the term "vaktm?stare". From my experience of Sweden during public holidays, the atmosphere is rather accurate. This is all before the protagonist actually enters the mysterious house, in which the rest of the novel is set:

    HINGEDE ?? / NIGHT OF SOULS

    [Translation: April 11th 1999]


    ...Ei yst?v?n, vieraan tulla
    ole ovea laisinkaan.
    Vain kaks on ovea mulla,
    kaks: uneen ja kuolemaan.


    Uuno Kailas



    The story which I would now like to tell began on New Year's Eve, and this was in all likelihood no mere coincidence, even if coincidence could be used to furnish an excuse for anything at all.
    New Year's Eve, alongside Midsummer's Eve, has always been one of the hardest to get through. But here we have no mere late springtime melancholy, drifting in through the open window, it is already inside, a chunk of iron chill in the middle of the room, its icy breath rising up from the inner depths. And it has always been like that as long as I can remember.

    When I was a child, the warmth of Christmas Eve was so great that you did not even notice when your feet grew cold. I had even lain down on the straw intended for the crib, and it was not cold although it had been brought in from outside. That was then. Later on, you would begin to notice it more, not only whether the straw was cold or warm, but also whether it belonged to you or to someone else. Later on, we tended to borrow the straw. (I am not talking here about theft - this story is no confession.) Borrowing something once a year, without any prospect of return, is still within the bounds of acceptability. But there are not as many years as days in the year. So on the other evenings, you are thrown back on your own resources.

    May that serve as an explanation as to why I was alone that particular evening. I had not gone round to friends to see in the New Year, although I had been invited to do so. I no longer remember the excuse I gave to avoid hurting the feelings of those kind people who had invited me. I had made the firm decision to stand on my own two feet. You can always find something to do if you simply dare not stay at home to hear, in the void, those twelve strokes of the clock which seem to grow closer and louder each year, until they fill your ears with their ringing. The consequences can be even more dire - the sound of bells can be fatal, as Dorothy L. Sayers used to good effect in one of her novels.

    I went out. Here in the city, the Old Year is seen out in numerous ways, not only in homes and restaurants. Judging by the announcements you can find in the newspapers, and by observing the people milling around in the streets, you can imagine that very few stay at home. Easiest is going to the cinema, there it is dark. It is a pleasant darkness, warm and protective, like the darkness surrounding a sleeping child. Everyone sits in the dark, only the screen is lit up, but there, there are no people, only shadows. This creates a feeling of equality. And there are quite entertaining performances, where you can sit quietly among the audience and no one feels surprised by your presence. Paid actors seem to be doing all they can to put the audience in a pleasantly festive mood. But I am nevertheless unsure what the reaction would be, were they to succeed. The doorman in his blue uniform with gold buttons, the so-called "vaktm?stare", who is standing behind me would no doubt not approve. He looks more like a customs officer, keeping his eyes skinned to make sure no one brings in any contraband. I have, in fact, been to a couple of these night performances, one of them in Konserthallen - the Concert Hall - where the programme was even more staid than the audience, so that even the sparse applause for Grieg's Violin Concerto gave the impression of being quite out of place. But when the concert was over and the clock struck twelve over the loudspeakers, I saw no one who wished anyone else a Happy New Year, and I do not know whether it was forbidden, or simply superfluous.

    On this occasion, I did not go in anywhere but remained on the street. I had read so much about the primeval loneliness of city streets that I was quite prepared to allow myself to be swept along by the crowd. I soon realised, however, that I shouldn?t really have done so. People and cities differ a great deal, and what in one lightly raises your spirits can, in another, knock another right off your feet.

    It was as if I had ended up in a madhouse. (My greatest experiences of fear have always been connected with madness. I remember the fear I felt walking through the Kopli Cemetery when I had just been and seen "Dr Mabuses Kabinett /Testament???". Not because it was a graveyard, it could just as easily have happened in a forest or some other isolated spot.) The whole street, both the pavement and the roadway was packed full of young people of both sexes who were walking in gangs, bawling, whooping and blowing paper trumpets. In this last activity there was an imbecility both insidious and sinister, out of which senseless acts of violence could at any moment erupt. Though for the present they had got no further than setting off a few firecrackers.

    I had indeed imagined that these people should have been glad and light-hearted. Sincere, spontaneous joy is not always expressed so harmoniously, or gracefully, as on stage at the opera. But I did not see one happy face, one happy individual. The elbows of happy people are not so painful, or perhaps only to someone who was in mourning. But I had not come out into the streets in mourning or in joy, I had come out empty, in the way that a farmer's wife puts out bowls before the rain comes to catch the mild rainwater. But to continue the metaphor, I could say it proved to be a shower of hailstones. These were morose, spiteful faces, scornfully angry utterances, directed presumably at their companions, but in such a way that the words lashed half-consciously out at passers-by. They must have had their own brand of humour, and which of us has never laughed at a scene in one of those American farces when a cream tart aimed at quite another person misses its mark and flies straight into the face of some respectable lady passer-by? The yells spat out of the back of their throats were indeed the same kind of conscious, yet unintentional, remarks aimed at strangers and the humorous aspect of the situation was hard for me to judge, since at the same time I saw a fist which was kept balled even when the arm put round the shoulders of a girl. I did not see anyone laughing, though I heard laughter. But the laughter was nearer to a invocation for warding off evil spirits, idiotically animal-like and nevertheless intended to be uttered with intelligent irony.
    (...)
    The whole novel, from 1953, is about 250 pages long. I suppose I should again make attempts to find a publisher.

    One reason for all these Estonian threads is to get people to think: "hey, if so much material is locked away in one little language, spoken by only one million people, how much more European literature is hidden from the gaze of Brits & Americans, because of the lack of translations? Why do we ignore them?".

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    Estonia Re: Karl Ristikivi

    Quote Originally Posted by Eric
    Actually, Titania, I've translated most of "Night of Souls", but I have not yet found a publisher. I translated it over a decade ago, revised it around the year 1999, but all to no avail. The publisher Peter Owen, usually interested in foreign literature, said it was "dated". I sent it to an American publisher more recently, but have heard nothing.
    First of all, Eric, I owe you a heartfelt apology for not posting to this thread sooner! Every time it has come to mind, I haven't gone to do so immediately; thus, I'm afraid I've forgotten about it completely. Until now, when something brought Ristikivi to mind. There are a few threads I've meant to post to that I haven't yet gotten around to, but this is certainly the most important one.

    I encourage you to finish your translation of Night of the Souls, and I also urge you to seek a publisher. From what I've read, it's not the least bit dated. Don't give up easily. You feel too passionately about Estonian authors to let yourself stop trying until you've explored every viable option. If you have to try two dozen publishers before having success, I hope you won't hesitate to do so. I read about a famous British crime novelist who actually got 749 rejection slips before getting his first book accepted for publication. He has now published over forty successful novels.

    I find the opening passages of this book very compelling. I am immediately drawn into the atmosphere of the story, which is saying a great deal as it oft-times takes me at least two or three chapters to really "connect" with a book. I love the metaphors Ristiki uses. From all appearances, you've done a brilliant translation. Such passages as "like the darkness surrounding a sleeping child," and "I came out empty, the way that a farmer's wife puts out bowls before the rain comes to catch the mild rainwater" positively take my breath away. I enjoy the references to Dorothy Sayers (the novel mentioned is, of course, The Nine Tailors), as well as the Grieg violin concerto (there is a dazzling rendition of this performed by Gideon Kremer. Highly recommended! Try to get the recording!). And my favorite passage is easy to guess.

    "People and cities differ a great deal, and what in one lightly raises your spirits can, in another, knock you right off your feet."

    Quote Originally Posted by Eric
    Obviously, the time frame is one of those literary tricks.
    Quite a fascinating one, at that.

    Quote Originally Posted by Eric
    He goes in at midnight on New Year's Eve and emerges a short while later, although the intervening events would have taken literally hours of real time, plus the whole courtroom scene.
    It obviously has strong surrealistic elements. You see, the more you speak of it, the more intrigued I am. Why can I say that will persuade you to keep trying to find a publisher for this, Eric?

    Quote Originally Posted by Eric
    So much is autobiographical, on the part of Ristikivi. Hence Swedish references, such as Konserthallen and the term "vaktm?stare". From my experience of Sweden during public holidays, the atmosphere is rather accurate. This is all before the protagonist actually enters the mysterious house, in which the rest of the novel is set
    I can't wait to read more. You are leaving me, and everyone else in suspense. I've never been to Sweden, by the way; so, I know very little about the country except for what I've seen on travel specials and read about in books. But I'm certain a writer of Ristikivi's consummate mastery would be quite apt in re-creating the ambience of Sweden. It is incumbent upon a top-notch author to be able to evoke the sights, sounds, and general milieu of any country, city, or state he/she sets his/her novel or story in.

    Quote Originally Posted by Eric
    I suppose I should again make attempts to find a publisher.
    See my comments above. I hope perhaps you'll consider dropping the "I suppose" part of that sentence, Eric . You must make this novel available to as many people as possible. As a master translator who
    is so madly devoted to his work, you owe it to your intended audience of readers to do all you can to make these overlooked books obtainable.

    Quote Originally Posted by Eric
    One reason for all these Estonian threads is to get people to think: "hey, if so much material is locked away in one little language, spoken by only one million people, how much more European literature is hidden from the gaze of Brits & Americans, because of the lack of translations? Why do we ignore them?".


    There is no easy explanation for why literature from certain countries is ignored. I believe people get accustomed to that which is familiar and have difficulty branching out and expanding their horizons. But you're helping to change this, Eric. And I, for one, very much appreciate it.

    Keep up the spectacular work!

    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: Karl Ristikivi

    Quote Originally Posted by titania7 View Post
    There is no easy explanation for why literature from certain countries is ignored. I believe people get accustomed to that which is familiar and have difficulty branching out and expanding their horizons. But you're helping to change this, Eric. And I, for one, very much appreciate it.
    Yes, I can't disagree with anything here: how could anyone?

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    Default Re: Karl Ristikivi

    Indeed, Titania and Lionel: why are not only countries, but whole continents, virtually ignored on our forum? One of the most populous continents of all is Africa, but apart from Ngugi, Achebe and a few Afrikaners, this vast area appears to attract relatively little interest on this forum.

    The secret is, surely, specialisation. I happen not to exactly be a specialist on Ristikivi, but like all inquisitive people, especially ones that know a language or two, I can access just about anything about him. On account of my language knowledge. We need more Africa firebrands, ones who specialise in specific countries, can read English, French and / or an African language.

    No, I have not read all of Ristikivi's novels. Yes, I filch things from others, too. (But don't we all, when pulling something from the Guardian, NYT, or Wikipedia?) As well as access via language, there must be an element of natural curiosity alive in readers. Otherwise we go round and round on the same old carousel of names, mostly dredged up originally by journalists who have realised that, for example, Writer X was born or died fifty, or a hundred, years ago. Neat dates, signifying nothing.

    I don't think the name "Ristikivi" has ever appeared on the books pages of any of the British dailies. Maybe in 2012 (Ristikivi's date of birth + 100).

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    Default Re: Karl Ristikivi

    Hi,
    I want to thank You, Eric, for your work with Estonian literature. I hope You can find the publisher for the translation of “Hingede ??”.
    Btw, first novel of the historical cycle by Ristikivi, “P?lev lipp”/”The Burning Banner” is now available in French:
    “L'?tendard en flammes”, traduit de l'estonien par Jean Pascal Ollivry, Paris, Alvik, 2005.
    And the list of Russian translations of Ristikivi’s novels has increased:
    Ljudmila Simagina has translated the last novel of third trilogy of the historical cycle, detective story “Kahekordne m?ng”/”Double Game”, Russian title is “Двойная игра” (Tallinn :Varrak, 2007) and, which makes me especially happy, the grand finale of Ristikivi’s cycle, “Roman Diary”, in Russian “Римский дневник Каспара фон Шмерцбурга” (Tallinn, 2008).

    I wonder what Ristikivi would have thought about being translated into Russian in first place ... and then again, he was really concerned about reaching outside the boundaries of our beautiful language with one million speakers.

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    Estonia Re: Karl Ristikivi

    "Night of Souls", "The Chronicle Trilogy", Reet Neithal, Ristikivi po Russkiy

    Thanks for that, Eva. I have the manuscript of "Hingede ??" / "Night of Souls" on my hard disk, and did send some of it up to Open Letter in the States, but no reply yet. Peter Owen in Britain thought it "dated" when I sent it to that publishing house some years ago. But I shall continue to try and promote it with English-speaking publishing houses. I find the novel rather intriguing. (Otherwise, I wouldn't have bothered translating it!)

    *

    I was aware of Jean-Pascal Ollivry's French translation of that one novel from the trilogy. It is, in fact, part of the so-called "Chronicle Trilogy" which deals with various episodes during the Crusades and other matters involving Knights Templar, between 1266 and 1311. For those who are entirely unfamiliar with that trilogy, there are three novels: "The Burning Banner / Flag" (1961); "The Last City / Stronghold / Bastion" (1962) and "Knights of Death" (1963).

    Reit Neithal, in her 70-page survey of Ristikivi's work, "Karl Ristikivi - arengulooline essee", says the following about the three books:

    "The Burning Banner" deals with the attempts of a German duke Konrad von Hohenstaufen to re-conquer the land of his ancenstors, Sicily, but his forces are dealt a devastating blow in Itlay. The novel ends with the death of Konrad.

    The main plot of "The Last Bastion" is the struggle in Palestine in 1291 centred around the dramatic and bloody events at the last bastion of Christianity at Akkon. The knights also fail here.
    Neithal is less precise about the third book, "Knights of Death", but says that it continues in the style of a good old adventure story after the death of Konrad and the fall of Akkon. Has Konrad's death been in vain? Ditto the fall of Akkon? The Crusaders continue to fight in the Holy Land, including the notorious Catalonian company of soldiers, between the years 1301 and 1311.

    *

    I would also love to translate this whole short introductory book by Reet Neithal, if I could find a publisher, as it would afford Western publishers insights into the whole span of Ristikivi's work. It is an extremely useful reference work, when you are trying to find out about the plots of the various novels you haven't read, and an insight into Ristikivi's rather lonely life in Swedish exile for the last 30-odd years of his life. Even I still have a lot of discovering to do with regard to Ristikivi's work.

    I also possess, half-unread, Endel Nirk's much longer biography of Ristikivi. I'll get round to reading all of it one day. (I am at present reading the biography of another Estonian author, Eduard Vilde.) The problem with the Nirk book is that it has no index for quick reference, whilst Neithal's book is short enough to flick through and find what you want.

    *

    I'm sure that Ristikivi would smile at the irony of the fact that his books are gradually appearing in Russian, the language of the very country that caused his long exile. Not least, because Sweden has totally ignored him, and I mean totally. A dozen of his 15 or so novels were written in Sweden between 1946 and 1977, but only one of his short-stories has appeared in a Swedish anthology dating back to the 1940s or early 1950s. No other translations into Swedish.

    Swedish literary intellectuals are keen to write essays on Modernism and all sorts of things, but it is little short of amazing that there is so little curiosity there as to a major writer from a neighbouring country who was "parked" in their country for over 30 years! Horace Engdahl and others take note.

    I had never actually heard before of Lyudmila [Ljudmilla] Simagina. The only woman translator of Estonian literature I have met is Elvira Mikhailova [Mihhailova]. (Transliteration is always a problem when Googling.) But it's interesting to see that Simagina is translating Ristikivi. While "Double Game" is perhaps one of Ristikivi's lighter works, his "Roman Diary" is, as you suggest, his grand finale, of his life's work in fact, as he died the same year it appeared.

    *

    I will have to again start sending excepts of "Night of Souls" to publishers.

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    Default Re: Karl Ristikivi

    P.S. to Eva. I bought a copy of the Russian translation some time back of (in one book) "Lohe hambad" / "Zuby drakona" and "R??mulaul" / "Pesn' radosti". The translator on this occasion is Ol'ga Nael. The book came out in 1997.

    As my Russian isn't really good enough, I only really bought it for fun. But I do note that there is an afterword by the same Reet Neithal whom I mentioned previously, giving a brief account of what Ristikivi actally published. I've only read "Lohe hambad", not "R??mulaul".

    On the front page of this paperback there is a photo of the author and the short text:

    Karl Ristikivi (1912-1977) sformirovalsya kak pisatel' v Estonskoi Respublike 1930-x godov v period tsarivshego togda dukhovnogo pod"?ma
    As the book was published by the Aleksandra publishing house in Tallinn itself, I imagine that more Russian-speakers resident in Estonia will read it than people in Russia itself, but I do hope that it is available in Saint Petersburg, Pskov and other nearby cities.

    I wrote a letter to the Swedish Academy yesterday, asking why Sweden has totally ignored Karl Ristikivi and his works. It will be interesting to see whether they bother to reply. Sometimes, when a controversial issue is raised, Swedish academics and journalists simply fail to reply at all.

    By the way, Eva, do you know Igor Kotyukh? He was kind enough to send me a selection of literature written by himself and other Baltic-Russian authors living in the Baltic countries, Kaliningrad, Saint Petersburg and Helsinki. I'm still not sure whether my Russian is good enough to translate some poetry and prose poetry from what he sent me, or whether I will have to find someone else to do so. My Russian is always hovering on the brink of being able to do something with it, but I must put more work into getting a respectable reading knowledge, as I have of the Estonian language.
    Last edited by Eric; 08-Feb-2009 at 14:48.

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    Default Re: Karl Ristikivi

    Thank You, Eric!

    I took this Russian translation book by Ol'ga Nael from the library - wanted to read Reet Neithal's afterword and find out how Ristikivi "tastes" in Russian. "Tastes" good, I think. I'm not very used to reading belles lettres in Russian (though I do work quite a lot with Russian texts concerning literary theory) but it seems to me that the translator has captured the right feeling.

    I'm not personally acquainted with Igor Kotyukh but i've read his interviews and some texts by him.

    I think it would be a real wonder if You get any answer to your letter to the Swedish Academy. I couldn't agree more with You on the "swedish matter" concerning Ristikivi's life and work.

    More on translations.
    I cannot find more information about Ljudmila Simagina except that she has translated “The House of the Just” as well, “Жилище праведника” appeared in 2001 already.

    Checked the library catalogue. First translations of Ristikivi’s novels were in Finnish by Kerttu and Liisa Mustonen. “Yrttitarha” (“The Herb Garden”) and “Oikeamielisen miehen talo” (“The House of the Just”) were published in Porvoo in 1945 and 1953, respectively. Kerttu Mustonen-Hukki (1899-1992 Helsinki) has translated many Estonian novels (by August M?lk, August Gailit, Gert Helbem?e, Valev Uibopuu).

    Ristikivi’s diary from 1957-1968 will be published soon. I’ve had the opportunity to read it. Ristikivi mentions there that Onni Pekka Uotinen has completed the Finnish translation of the “Last City” (in 1965). However, the book never appeared. Finland was very afraid of his big neighbour and publishing Baltic exile writers was considered provoking the bear. I'd like to know what happened to the manuscript.



    Have You read a little but nice summary of Ristikivi’s cycle by another Estonian exile writer Jyri Kork? The only “fault” of Kork’s essay is that it is written shortly after the “Gates of Sigtuna” and therefore does not describe the last trilogy and “Roman Diary”.
    The essay was published in “Lituanus” and can also be found in web:
    Karl Ristikivi's Historical Novels - a Panorama of Shadow and Light - Jyri Kork

    Endel Nirk’s book deals in great length with Ristikivi’s earlier works. Only one third (roughly) of his book remains for the historical cycle. Being a fan of the latter (and writing my thesis about it) I think this is not fair;-)
    On the other hand, Nirk was born in 1925 and educated in post-war and freshly sovietized Tartu University, so the almost-Tammsaare-type realism of Ristikivi’s first novels aka the Tallinn-trilogy is clearly closer to him. Nevertheless, Nirk’s book is worth reading. For example, he should be credited for making the first attempt to analyze the notorious “problem of the “Art of the Fugue” as the scheme of Ristikivi’s historical cycle”.

    My favourite treatise about Ristikivi is Jaan Undusk’s “R??tel, eksistentsialist ja humanist: sisseminek “Hingede ??sse”” (“Knight, existentialist and humanist: introduction to “Night of Souls””) from the Ristikivi’s 75th anniversary conference papers collection. You referred to that collection in your introductory essay. Jaan Undusk’s oeuvre (which needs to be republished as these conference-materials were sold out two decades ago) is about the intertextual bonds between Ristikivi and Dante, Bunyan, Lewis Carroll and chivalric romances. Undusk also shows the connections between “Night of Souls” and the historical cycle, the recurring motifs and themes.

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    Estonia Re: Karl Ristikivi

    Thanks, Eva, there were a lot of interesting things in your reply. I'll take things in the order you wrote them.

    It would not surprise me if the Russians get on quite well with Ristikivi. He never wrote embittered things about the Soviet occupation of Estonia in his fiction, being more interested in psychological and existentialist aspects of exile, loneliness, etc. Something burned out in Ristikivi, once he'd recovered from his own "hingede ??" in the early 1950s. He never touched the subject of Estonia again in his works of fiction. It must have been too painful. It is strange that his mind roved all over Europe and the Middle East, as that map on pages 30-31 of Neithal's little book shows, but Russia, Scandinavia and the Baltics were left out.

    The Estonian Ambassador in the Netherlands quite recently urged me to take another look at Ristikivi's poetry. Although he only published one book of poems, there are some gems among them there. I'm slowly translating the poems, but I've not done anything for several weeks. The first time I translated them, my Estonian wasn't so good and I made clumsy mistakes. This time, I'll be more careful.

    I've not met Igor Kotjuh either; merely corresponded with him.

    As for the Swedish Academy, I sent my letter as what the Russians call a "provokatsiya". Whilst the Swedes have totally ignored one of their "invandrarf?rfattare", i.e. Ristikivi, for the past half-century or so, Horace Engdahl, an important figure in the Nobel committee which gives a million dollars to a writer every year, had the cheek to say that the United States is insular. There may be some truth in what he says, but this subtle Swedish gentleman said it in public a few days before the 2008 Nobel Prize for Literature was going to be announced. So this made me think: there was a man living in the Swedish capital and nearby for about 33 years of his life, who wrote 14 novels in Sweden, and the insular Swedes have never even translated one of those novels into Swedish. Now, that is what I call insular. As you point out, even the Finns, and now the Russians, have made an attempt to translate Ristikivi - but there is only one short-story in Swedish.

    I see that Kerttu Mustonen-Hukki specialised in Estonian exile authors. This is interesting, because, as you mention, Finland has been cringingly afraid of upsetting the Bear in the East. But I am glad, nowadays, that there are brave people in Finland, such as the (half-Estonian) author Sofi Oksanen, who are opening up the debate about the Soviet occupation of Estonia, divided loyalties, etc. Oksanen's novel "Puhdistus" sold about 102,000 copies. So there are Finns who want to read about Estonia.

    Do you know which publishing house is publishing the Ristikivi diaries? I'd like to get hold of a copy when the book appears.

    I've never read the Kork essay. I'll look at it.

    I understand your comments about Nirk (what a funny surname - weasel!). Soviet, and yet. I am confronted with the same paradoxes now I'm reading Eduard Vilde's biography. In those days, biographers had to make ritual bows to the dictatorship of the proletariat and so on, but some of their findings are worth reading, nevertheless.

    I've got the Undusk essay in front of me now. I'm ashamed to say that I have never read it, although I have both volumes of the Karl Ristikivi 75 symposium papers from two decades ago. But now I shall read it. I have met Undusk and his wife a few times and have, of course, translated one of his late father-in-law's novels.

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    Yes, Eric,
    You have touched several interesting problems too. Ristikivi never wrote about Estonia again in his novels, that’s true. But in “Gates of Sigtuna” there is a story called “Truu sulane” (”Faithful Servant”?). The protagonist of the story is Mats Matsipoeg from old Livonia. He goes to Moscow with his master Odo von Pichelstein, knight of the Livonian Order. Their diplomatic mission ends with disaster as the Livonian knights are dying of some horrible disease. Mats Matsipoeg has to bring his master’s body back to the land of Mary. The story is quite noir and grotesque.
    If we omit this little joke, we must still remember, that the hero of “Roman Diary” - Kaspar von Schmerzburg - is born in Tuivere manor, West-Estonia. Tuivere is a fictional place but has its history: it is mentioned in Ristikivi’s first successful novel “Tuli ja raud”, in the beginning of 5th chapter. Tuivere must be located somewhere near the home village of J?ri S??vel and his bride, so the birthplace of Kaspar von Schmerzburg marks the start and the end of Ristikivi’s journey.

    Ristikivi’s poems have been translated into Russian, Finnish, French and Udmurt. The english version would be really nice.

    I am waiting for the Estonian translation of Sofi Oksanen’s “Puhdistus” because my knowledge of Finnish is rather poor.

    Ristikivi’s diaries will be published by Varrak:
    Varrak / P?EVIKUD (1956?1968)
    The publishing house’s introduction says that the book is meant to celebrate Ristikivi’s 95th birthday. 95 years had passed since Ristikivi’s birth on October 16th in 2007. I remember that day – nothing happened, to paraphrase Ristikivi. No symposium, absolutely nothing. I was sad and angry. A friend of mine comforted me by telling me that the estonian fishing company Ookean had, in 1993, among their ships a freezer trawler called “Karl Ristikivi”. This made me laugh because I recalled the famous dedication poem by Vladimir Mayakovsky “Товарищу Нетте - пароходу и человеку”.
    I still haven’t seen the diaries in any bookstores. I don’t know what is taking them so long.

    Endel Nirk’s book luckily appeared when he needed to bow no longer. But his method of analysis is a bit old-fashioned – if You compare his work with Undusk’s essay, for example. But it’s still the best monograph we have.

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    Thank-you for more interesting comments, Eva (with one "e"). You are certainly re-kindling my interest in Ristikivi, something that has been somewhat fallow for several years. I've immediately gone to my bookshelves and found "Sigtuna v?ravad", which you mentioned as including the story "A Faithful Servant". As I live in the Netherlands, I probably have a slightly bigger collection of Ristikiviana than even Groningen University Library (the only Dutch library which would have books by him, as German professor and translator Cornelius Hasselblatt works at that university). So along with the Undusk essay, I shall now read the story that begins:

    When Johann von Mengede was Livonian Master, and Silvester Stodewescher Archbishop of Riga, an old dispute re-erupted between the Order and the Church, so that the Archbishop sought support from the Polish King. The Master then sent his emissaries to Grand Duke Ivan in Moscow, who had recently inherited the throne from his father. Since both leaders had ancient scores to settle with the Poles and Lithuanians, the Master hoped to gain much advantage, as right from the start he struck up friendly relations with the young Duke, about whom little had been known previously, except for the fact that he was his father's son and the first creditor [?] of the Khan of the Tartars.

    For this vital task, the Master picked three fearless knights of unblemished reputation: Odo von Pichelstein, Hans von Zotenrei?er and Lutz von Scharn. These were all equals with regard to merit, but as Odo was the oldest, he was to become the head of the embassy and it was to him that the master entrusted his word.
    Und so weiter. The word "maksun?udja" is unknown to me, and neither Saagpakk nor Silvet, and not even the yellow "vihiks" of the big Estonian dictionary, give any clear answer. No matter. I'm sure that that detail is not essential to the story (which I have not yet read!). In diplomatic language, the word "embassy", now used for a building, can mean a historical team of emissaries or ambassadors.

    Google and the Wikipedia are of great help. What used to involve masses of research and trips to university libraries can now be done fairly effortlessly at your computer.

    I shall now read the whole story, and see what happens to Mats Matsipoeg.

    *

    My Finnish is also rather poor. I have the Finnish original of "Puhdistus", but would find "Puhastus" easier to read. The English version would be even easier!

    I'll have a look at the Varrak website, and see where I can obtain a copy from. I can write to them to ask what's going on. I've had some contact with Krista Kaer in the past.

    By 2012, the 100th anniversary of his birth, I hope that even the Swedes can be got on board to do something with Ristikivi. If the Swedish Academy remains indifferent, there are many Swedish journalists and academics, and maybe the Swedish PEN Club, that can perhaps be persuaded to do something. But this will mean agitatsiya i propaganda from Estonia itself. One refrigerator ship is not enough. What is needed is a second conference, like the one in 1988. But this time, an international one. Although there's not very much time to get significant numbers of his novels translated into English, French, German and... Swedish.
    Last edited by Eric; 09-Feb-2009 at 14:23.

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    Default Re: Karl Ristikivi

    Wow, Eric,
    that runs lovely. "Maksun?udja" is something like tax-collector.
    Google and Wikipedia are my friends too;-) But, of course, when I have to write something "serious" I go to the library...

    You are right about the 100th anniversary.

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    Default Re: Karl Ristikivi

    Talking of libraries, I've had to build up my own Estonian libraryette here in the Netherlands. So I've got, for instance, three Estonian encyclop?dias: the one from the 1930s, the orangey brown ENE (which I bought once in Helsinki) and the black one that changed its name half way through, as the word "N?ukogude" was deemed redundant. [For the rest of you: this word means "Soviet" and the Soviet Union fell to bits halfway through the issue of the volumes. So the first four are ENE like the previous one, the rest simply EE - Eesti Ents?klopeedia.]

    And I have a rather mixed bag of general reference books and dictionaries. But quite a lot of novels and poetry. Hence my Ristikivi collection, which includes things from Sweden, plus Soviet and later Estonian reprints.

  18. #18
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    Estonia Re: Karl Ristikivi

    I've now read the story "Truu sulane" / "A Faithful Servant" and find it wrily amusing. The ending was different to what the course of the story led you to expect. It belongs to a genre of, shall we say, morbid stories set in medi?val times, one that I have come across before, with the writings of the Flemish author Felix Timmermans and the Dutch one Simon Vestdijk. I'm sure that people such as Werner Bergengruen also wrote things like that. It seems a sort of German genre, somehow.

    Next, I shall tackle the Undusk (ebaloojang?) essay which I presume will be more complex.

    If I can get my translation of "Night of Souls" published before 2012 (maybe this is too much to expect) and there are already translations in Russian, French and Finnish, then the two other important languages for Ristikivi translations would be German and Swedish. There are one or two Swedish translators, such as Peeter Puide and Ene Melberg, who could perhaps do "Hingede ??" or another of his novels, such as "Rooma p?evik", "Lohe hambad", etc. The languages that Ristikivi really ought to be translated into are Catalonian, Welsh and the Flemish version of Dutch, given the fact that characters from these countries feature in various of Ristikivi's novels.

  19. #19
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    Default Re: Karl Ristikivi

    Eric,
    I haven't read the first two authors You mention but Werner Bergengruen's collection "Surm Tallinnas" ("Death in Tallinn") I remember. "Truu sulane" is quite similar.

    Every story in "Gates of Sigtuna" has its individual style and character. "Faithful servant" is grotesque, "Koivuneeme s?da"/"War in Koivuneeme" is dealing with palimpsest motif. Palimpsest theme glimpses also in the first novella of the collection, "Filosoof, kes ei ?ppinudki vaikima", which can be interpreted as a bitterly ironical autobiography.

    "Hingede ??" in Swedish would be ironical at the same degree...
    Weird, I thought today afternoon about the languages Ristikivi's novels should be translated to, quite with similar ideas;-)
    "Imede saar" in Greek...

  20. #20
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    Default Re: Karl Ristikivi

    I just read a charming little anecdote by Ristikivi when reading an essay or two in one of his books:

    It was only after having completed my novel "The Last Stronghold" that I visited the place where this novel was set: Akkon. And I had a slightly strange feeling - how familiar it seemed, especially the environs of the city. But this could well have been on account of the fact that I had done a lot of background research into the city, from city plans and maps. And I also had another experience there. When I was walking around, looking for the place of the Temple [where the Knights Templar lived] stood, a small girl came up to me and greeted me unexpectedly: "Shalom". Only then did I think of the irony of this greeting. In my book, Christians and Moslems are fighting to the death over the city. And now the city belongs to the Jews, who played no part in those historical struggles.


    I had to look up Akkon on the Wikipedia, and indeed, nowadays the last bastion of the Christian knights is a port in Israel. The photo above is of that bastion. Not the most thrilling looking building, but it was a military fortress, not a pleasure palace.

    An appropriate anecdote, I suppose, on the day that Israel is holding elections. Ristikivi travelled extensively, to places where his novels were set. Places included London, Paris, Copenhagen and Rome.

    *

    So maybe that novel should be translated into Arabic and Hebrew, following on Eva's idea of languages in her previous posting. This will probably happen before Ristikivi appears in Swedish...

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