Best Estonian Books in Translation in 2022 | News

“Oskar and Things”
Children’s book by Andrus Kivirähk (Emma press, 2022)
Translated by Adam Cullen

Andrus Kivirähk, Estonia’s leading children’s writer, has written ‘Oskar and the Things’, a fascinating book about imagination and friendship which is now available in lively translation by Adam Cullen and with original illustrations by Anne Pikkov. The story tells of young Oskar, who is spending the summer with his grandmother when he realizes he has left his cell phone at home. Oskar, who is lonely and bored, builds a telephone out of wood he finds in the shed and pretends to telephone with things around him. He talks to a tough talking iron, a poetic bin, a bloodthirsty wardrobe and a slew of other characters, all of which ultimately help him connect with his grandmother.

“Tiibade hääl/The Sound of Wings”
Collection of poems by Emily Brontë, Cesare Pavese and Doris Kareva (Verb, 2022)
Translated by Doris Kareva and Miriam McIlfatrick-Ksenofontov

The three poetic sections of this trilingual poetry collection (Estonian, English and Italian) are inspired by the Estonian composer Tõnu Kõrvits. Estonian poet and author Doris Kareva compiled, arranged and translated Estonian poetry by Emely Brontë and Cesare Paves in a collaborative effort with composer Kõrvits, who set the words to music. For the final part of the triptych, published in 2022, Kareva wrote original poems, which Miriam McIlfatrick-Ksenofontov translated into English. The third part, entitled “Tiibade hääl/The Sound of Wings”, is based on the life and work of the legendary American aviator Amelia Earhart (1908-1950). Kareva told ERR that this is the lightest point of the trilogy. “The first part is darker, Emily Brontë is a bit wild and mystical, Pavese is very sensitively vibrant and a bit fragile and volatile, also a dark poet, Amelia is perhaps the most complete and luminous character among them.”

“Panga-Rehe Stories”
Artist Book by Jüri Arrak (50 Watts Books, 2022)
Translated by Adam Cullen

The first English-language edition of a surreal 1975 book by Estonian artist Jüri Arrak. “Panga-Rehe Stories” is an illustrated collection of dream-stories inspired by the author’s summer holidays with his family in a farmhouse. “The days went by as wonderful summer days always do: we sunbathed, swam in the sea, hiked in the forest and we all helped cook in the big kitchen. But every night I had strange dreams. I still had a few, and that’s why I wrote this book,” writes Arrak in the introduction. The stories and graphics are consistent with the distinctive style of Arrak, perhaps best known in the United States for his work on the legendary animation “Suur Tõll”. Jüri Arrak died in 2022; he was a beloved Estonian painter and graphic artist. His works are exhibited at the Estonian Museum of Art, the New York Museum of Modern Art, the New Orleans Museum of Art and the Ludwig Art Museum in Cologne, Germany.

“Sinine missa / The blue mass”
Travelogue of Kärt Hellerma (EKSA, 2022)
Translated by Adam Cullen

Kärt Hellerma has published novels, poetry and short stories in many genres since the release of his debut novel, ‘Alchemy’, in 1997. His recent book ‘The Blue Mass’ includes both an English translation by Adam Cullen and a reprint of the Hellerma’s novel of the same name, which first appeared in 2008. Eret Talviste writes in an article for Estonian Literary Magazine that Hellerma’s style is “almost surreal, like blue waters and blue skies”. The narrator reflects on the nature of love and what it means to be a woman in a particular place and time. Her setting is a small Swedish island and her time is our contemporary reality, where she reflects on a friendship with a Catholic priest.” Hellerma’s works have been translated into Swedish, Finnish, Czech and Russian.

“A Book of Falsehood. Between Three Plagues. Volume III”
Historical Novel by Jaan Kross (MacLehose Press, 2022)
Translated and introduced by Merike Lepasaar Beecher

The final part of the “Between Three Plagues” trilogy is about a man and a book he wrote, “a book of falsehoods”. The first part introduced Balthasar Russow, one of the most famous Livonian and Estonian chroniclers of the 16th century, and the second part detailed the emergence of his “Livonian Chronicle”. The story of the third book begins in 1578, when the first printed copy arrives in Tallinn on a ship from Rostock. While it’s an instant hit in Tallinn, Rostock and Bremen, not everyone is happy about it. In Toompea, a group of local aristocracy send furious letters to the Tallinn city council calling the book “a collection of the most heinous falsehoods” and urging Balthasar to resign as pastor of the Holy Spirit church in Reval (Tallinn). One of these letters gave the title to this volume. Jaan Kross’ trilogy portrays Livonia as it is ravaged by severe storms, famine and conflict, as well as meticulously detailing and mapping the city of Tallinn.

“The lion”
Radio drama by Martin Algus (ERR Estonian Public Broadcasting, 2022)
Adapted by Andres Noormets and translated into English by Adam Cullen

In his first short story collection, “Tagamaa” (Hinterland), screenwriter and playwright Martin Algus places his characters in difficult situations that they have to solve against the backdrop of momentous historical events. These stories are also “really private and intimate,” Algus told “AK.” ERR Estonian Public Broadcasting made one of the stories, ‘Gandhi’, into a radio drama ‘The Lion’, which won the BBC Audio Drama Award for Best European Drama in 2022. The events of the show take place in a small Estonian town during the early 1990s, at the beginning of the newly independent Republic of Estonia. A lion from a traveling circus has escaped from his cage. The police officer declares a state of emergency and warns the locals about the predator. Naturally panic ensues, but there is a good deal of absurdity in the situation. The transient inertia of time is wittily reflected in the vocabulary and behavior of the characters. It is “a gripping and inspiring story about a community’s response to the unknown. With beautiful music and sound design, this drama made us laugh, made us think, and made us want to keep listening,” said the radio drama prize jury .

“Indrek: Volume II of the pentalogy ‘Truth and Justice’
Anton Hansen Tammsaare’s Classic Novel (Vagabond Voices, 2022)
Translated by Christopher Moseley and Matthew Hyde

“Truth and Justice” (Tõde ja õigus), a pentalogy written by AH Tammsaare between 1926 and 1933, is widely regarded as his greatest literary achievement and a milestone of Estonian literature. The social epic of Tammsaare describes the transformation of Estonia from a province of the Russian Empire into an independent nation. In the second volume Indrek, the protagonist, moves to the city to continue his studies. “This new environment is a maelstrom of national prejudices and rivalries, yet held together by a strange and very humane tolerance. Russians, Germans, Poles, Latvians and Caucasians mix with the Estonian majority, and somehow compromises are almost always reached” , the translator states.

“Lydia”
Children’s book by Kätlin Kaldmaa (Baobab, 2022)
Translated in German by Maximilian Murmann with original illustrations by Jaan Rõõmus

Kaldmaa’s “Lydia”, first published in Estonian in 2021, is the story of a little girl who grows up to be an esteemed poet. The author undertook the daring task of writing a children’s and educational book about the most revered female historical figure in Estonia: Lydia Koidula, born Lydia Emilie Florentine Jannsen (1843–1886), who is a symbol of the Estonian national awakening. Literally every child in Estonia knows Lydia: poems by author Lydia Koidula are part of the country’s school curriculum, but the life story of the writer, born in 1843, is so remarkable that it absolutely deserves to be told as well. “Kaldmaa has composed a fantastic introduction to a piece of Estonian culture,” writes Loone Ots in a review published in the Estonian Literary Magazine.

“Between Two Sounds”
Graphic novels by Joonas Sildre (Aukso žuvys, 2022)
Translated in Lithuanian by Viltare Mickevičiene (Urbaite)

Joonas Sildre’s graphic novel “Kahe heli vahel” (Between Two Sounds), first published in Estonian in 2018, tells the story of Arvo Pärt’s musical explorations from his childhood until 1980, when the composer’s family was forced to leave Estonia. In this period Tintinnabuli was also born, a new compositional technique. Joonas Sildre’s comic is the result of years of work: the author studied archival sources, delved into the composer’s life and work, received advice and assistance from Arvo and Nora Pärt. “As I gathered information for this story, listening and reading the recollections of the people involved and putting the information together piece by piece, I realized that history is always subjective. So is my perspective on Arvo Pärt’s music and life” , he wrote. .

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