2018 is a special year for the Baltic countries, as they celebrate 100 years of independence. In light of this, the region’s creative enterprises are coming to the foreground, while the London Book Fair announced a special Baltic Cultural Programme for this year’s festival. To celebrate the most exciting writers from Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia, here are some of the region’s most notable books to look out for in 2018.
The Death of the Perfect Sentence by Rein Raud
The Death of the Perfect Sentence is set during the dying days of the Soviet Union, and follows a group of nationalist dissidents who plot to smuggle KGB files from out of the country. According to Estonian writer Peeter Helme, ‘Raud succeeds in demonstrating that all the characters are multidimensional and dynamic – even a scoundrel’s actions have a purpose, sometimes even a justification, and happiness can be destroyed by higher ideals just as easily as by the desire to preserve a comfortable status quo.’
Between Three Plagues; Volume 1 by Jaan Kross
Jaan Kross is widely regarded as the greatest Estonian author of the late 20th century. Between Three Plagues is the author’s longest novel, and since its publication in 1970 has been unavailable in English – until now. Dramatising the life of the renowned Livonian Chronicler Balthasar Russow, Kross’s masterpiece could be likened to Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall for its rich, historical storytelling.
Hanuman’s Journey to Lolland by Andrei Ivanov
Estonian-born author Andrei Ivanov first published his work Hanuman’s Journey to Lolland in Russia, enjoying great success. The book – part fiction, part autobiography – details the ‘writer’s experiences of life in a Danish refugee camp, where he spent a year or so just before and after the turn of the millennium’. Hanuman’s Journey to Lolland is the first in his Scandinavian trilogy and will be published by Vagabond Voices this year.
Days of Grace by Doris Kareva
Days of Grace is a collection of metaphysical poetry from one of Estonia’s leading poets, Doris Kareva. According to Canadian poet Marius Kociejowski: ‘McIlfatrick-Ksenofontov’s translations capture the barely capturable essence of Doris Kareva’s poems which, quite suddenly, make me think of snowflakes, crystalline, and yet on the cusp of disappearance.’
Green Crow by Kristīne Ulberga
Green Crow details the life of a woman in a psychiatric hospital who decides to note down her earliest memories. Her recordings include her ‘drunken and abusive father, the strange men her mother introduced to repair the family, the imaginary forest to which she would run to safety, and, of course, the enormous talking green crow who appeared when she most needed him’. Ulberga’s novel explores ideas around gender and freedom with originality and nuance.
Doom 94 by Jānis Joņevs
Originally published in Latvia, Jonevs’ debut Doom 94 was an immediate success and has since been translated into many different languages. Set in Jelgava, Latvia in the early 90s, the book explores the underground subculture of heavy metal music and will – perhaps fittingly – be published by Hull-based independent publisher, Wrecking Ball Press.
Soviet Milk by Nora Ikstena
Nora Ikstena’s bestselling novel Soviet Milk will be published for the first time in English this year, by London-based Peirene Press. Setting individual freedom against the oppressive Soviet state, the book explores the struggle for identity against the backdrop of political turmoil in 20th-century Latvia.
Nakedness by Zigmunds Skujiņš
One of the most celebrated names in Latvian literature, Skujiņš received the Cabinet of Ministers’ Award for Lifetime Contribution to Latvian Literature in 2007 and has been an Emeritus Member of the Latvian Academy of Sciences since 1998. His latest work Nakedness, will be published by Glasgow-based Vagabond Voices this year.
My Name is Maryte by Alvydas Šlepikas
One of the most translated Lithuanian books of recent times, My Name is Maryte by Alvydas Šlepikas ‘uncovers the little known story of the wolf children who escaped Prussia to forge new identities in Lithuania’.
The Fox on the Swing by Evelina Daciūtė and Aušra Kiudulaitė
The Fox on the Swing is a touching children’s book about a young boy and a fox, that explores the themes of love, friendship and loss, written by Lithuanian author Evelina Daciūtė. With beautiful illustrations by Aušra Kiudulaitė, The Fox on the Swing was selected as a finalist for the Nami International Picture Book Illustration Contest and to the Bologna Children’s Book Fair Illustrators Exhibition.
White Shroud by Antanas Škėma
Widely considered as ‘he most important work of modernist fiction in Lithuanian’, White Shroud is a psychological, stream of consciousness that tells the story of an émigré poet working as an elevator operator in a large New York hotel during the mid-1950s. White Shroud will be published by Vagabond Voices in March this year.
Darkness and Company by Sigitas Parulskis
Part of the Peter Owen Baltic Series, Darkness and Company is a ‘ground-breaking’ novel from Sigitas Parulskis, one of Lithuania’s most celebrated contemporary writers and the winner of the Person of Tolerance Award. Set in Lithuania during WWII, ‘Sigitas Parulskis lays bare the passivity and complicity of many of his countrymen in the darkest chapter of Lithuania’s recent history in which 94% of its Jewish population perished’.
Find out more about Baltic literature, authors and translators at www.balticbooks.eu.