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Book 6 Completed

January 19, 2010

I’ll be honest, the only thing I ever really associated with Estonia was an “Encino Man” reference. Brendan Fraser’s caveman is from the Stone Age…so Pauly Shore and Sean Astin  lie and tell all their friends that he’s from Estonia. Get the joke? STONE age. eSTONia. Right.

The Estonia in Things in the Night by Mati Unt is just as unfamiliar to me as a caveman from the Stone Age. Now that I think about it, I’m a little shocked that this book didn’t have cavemen. While I respect this book (and I do respect it tremendously), it took a lot out of me to try to follow what was happening and what it was about. I mean there are cannibals, a man trying to write a novel, 1o pages dedicated to holography, stream-of-consciousness mushroom hunting, cognitive cacti. The thread that ties the whole thing together is electricity — a metaphor for power that creates and destroys.

In short, I think this book is a commentary on Soviet occupied Estonia. There is a grim and stark reminder that this is the work of an oppressed person — someone whose country was stifled by years of being governed by the Germans, then Russia, then the Germans again, then Russia again (and at various times by Sweden, Denmark, Poland). All of the Estonian culture references were far too obscure for me and I felt like there really must have been something lost in translation.

It isn’t that I didn’t get the novel. Certainly there are elements I don’t fully understand, but I read it with a stack of Post-Its and a keen desire to actually understand what Unt wanted to teach me about Estonia. It’s just that this isn’t a book that is enjoyed. There are no characters to root for, no linear plot to follow. Within the book, however, if you can read it like I tried to read it, is a clear image of the real beauty and deep despair in the Estonian people. And that’s what resonates with me the most — there is deep and fascinating insight in this book.

So, do I recommend it? I’m not sure. I think if you are already in the mood for postmodern Estonian literature, then fantastic. Maybe for college students studying the literature of Eastern Europe under Soviet rule? Maybe if you want to challenge yourself and read something experimental. All in all, Mati Unt is a magnificent writer — I’m glad I read this. I am just ready now for something lighter and easier. As beautiful as Things in the Night was, it made my brain hurt a little.

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