by Mati Unt
Courtesy of a special order from Auntie’s Bookstore
This novel is supposed to be a re-telling of Bram Stoker’s Dracula, but I had trouble following it. It isn’t a linear narrative. Parts of it are–and I enjoyed them–and then it’s interspersed with stream-of-consciousness bits about nameless people that don’t seem important to the main story. A woman makes blood dumplings while waiting for her philandering husband, for example.
There is blood, and mysterious attacks, and characters named Minna (Mina) and Lussi (Lucy) and Joonathan Hark (Jonathan Harker)…There is a section toward the end about bats and magic and vampires in Estonian folklore. And yet I kept getting the feeling that something was being implied, something hidden behind a veil of postmodernism, something I would understand were I Estonian or even Finnish or Russian, but which without context I was left floundering in a gulf of seemingly meaningless nonsense.
“N., comfortable in his armchair, took a long drag from his pipe and began to talk…
I’d been thinking of changing the wallpaper for a while anyway, but the shops had no paper. By the time the paper became available, they were out of glue. When I decided to boil my own glue, starch had disappeared, because the starch factories, due to the gas shortage, had no potatoes. And by the time starch reappeared, the wallpaper factory was bankrupt. So I called the supplier and was told the wallpaper would be in tomorrow. I’ll go again and take a look, but I expect to be told that the wallpaper will be in the day after tomorrow.”
The Dead Poet
Much of the non-vampiric action centers around Lydia Koidula (1843-1886) and her patriotic Estonian fervor. One of the scenes in the novel is of Estonian and Soviet soldiers in 1946, in St Petersburg (aka Leningrad), digging up her body and repatriating it to Estonia. They did not, however, take her husband, a Baltic German gynecologist deemed not Estonian enough. So his grave is still in Petersburg!
“With his aching tooth, [Joosip] spoke of Koidula’s mission. What as her mission? Certainly patriotic. Her father was an educator in the broadest sense. At home they spoke German and wrote in German, but they disapproved of the Baltic Barons. Her brothers were drunks. One fell out of a window, the other one died of typhus. Not a suitable theme for a eulogy. It’s not a good idea to cover up the truth–but then, truth can be debilitating The history of the Estonian people has many dismal and evil pages, but why dwell on the obvious? All our numerous invaders have made us a touchy people. We’d rather hear what is uplifting and good…”
I was rather taken with the author’s idea that the subconscious of a people, of a nation, can create a living being. In this case, the vampire. (In the case of Tibetans, a tulpa.) I shudder to think what the subconscious of an America capable of electing Donald Trump would create. UGH.
The Realities of Estonian Life
In the beginning of the book, the author has received a mysterious letter asking him to travel to Leningrad and meet the sender on the ship Aurora on a certain date. The Aurora, we learn, is the same cruiser that fired the first shot at the Winter Palace in 1917, leading to the Russian revolution. After WWI, the Estonians fought for their freedom and earned it. It was sadly short-lived as the Soviet Union absorbed them (plus their southern neighbors Latvia and Lithuania) during World War II. After the fall of the Berlin War, Estonia freed itself from its “liberators” once again.
I was surprised to see that the Estonian language seems to have so many similarities to Finnish, but I shouldn’t have been, given its geography. Estonia sits at the top of the Gulf of Finland, just across the Baltic Sea from…Finland. The author enjoys coffee and sugar sent to him by his Finnish publisher…items which are rationed or non-existent in Estonia.
In the novel, there is one proper name, Euruut, with two umlauts over the double “u”s. If the umlauts are shorthand for a silent “e” as in German, then this name with all its vowels would be Eureueut. That’s a LOT of vowels. (Euruut is one of the characters that I have no idea of why he is even in the novel.)
But. This is definitely a book that’s worth reading. I’d suggest Googling it either first or last, so you can discover what the book is all about. If you’re an American like me and do not enjoy non-linear novels, hang in there. This narrative has a lot to offer, even as it is making you uncomfortable.
Rating: Four squawking seagulls.