At the End of the World. Scenes from the Lives of Good People

Novels

Maailma otsas. Pildikesi heade inimeste elust

At the End of the World. Scenes from the Lives of Good People (Novels, Estonian)
Published by Eesti Keele Sihtasutus, 2013, pp. 390

Andrus Kivirähk (b.1970) is the most productive and most popular contemporary author in Estonian literature. He tops the best-seller lists, but has also harvested more literary prizes and awards than any other author. He may not be the number one author for the whole Estonian population, but he at least places in the top ten. He has written in all genres except poetry, or at least he has not published poetry. Kivirähk debuted in the mid-1990s and he has, in two decades, published more than thirty books. He is an extraordinarily skilled and enjoyable narrator, and he uses natural and colloquial language and plenty of direct speech: his heroes are often characterised by their speech. The garrulous characters talk incessantly, without listening to or understanding others. Thus, their speech at times consists only of unrelated monologues. 

Kivirähk always writes about the same subject: average Estonians with their endless prejudices, common beliefs and patterns of behaviour, their deep distrust and general caution in dealing with the world. Book by book, he has built a small world, taking only rare excursions to other areas and among other types of characters, such as actors (Liblikas and Voldemar) and children (Lotte). Some of his books use more extravagant material and more noticeable colours (Rehepapp and Ussisõnad). His tumbling and fantastic world is funny and positive, and most of his characters are sure that life is fine. The darker side of life, the despair that settles into the core of being, does not become tragic or elevated in Kivirähk's treatment, but rather becomes more or less grotesque. The grotesque is Kivirähk's natural element; his grotesque is not horrible, dark or cruel, but usually funny. His world looks like ours, but it is slightly different, and inhabited by a species slightly different than us. We are shown their fussy and bustling (and sometimes incomprehensible and puzzling) everyday life. We truly believe that we are not like that. 

Maailma otsas is a book about “small people”. We meet a whole gallery of characters whom we may even have met in real life: the mother Malle with her various phobias, her middle-aged son Eevald, whom she bosses around in various ways, and many others. These people are connected by the old wooden house where they all reside, and by different small activities that fill their days and sometimes give rise to hopes or dreams, which need to be controlled with the help of the bottle. People meet and drift apart, they have common friends and acquaintances, and everything has already happened and is constantly repeated. 

One of the characters who plays a more central role, Ülo, owns a bar called Opossum, which offers only one course of food, which varies from day to day. The people who visit the bar and whose paths cross there are also one-course-per-day-people. They are not pretentious and only rarely do some of them wish for something unexpected, such as a trip to the end of the world. But maybe they all already are at the end of the world and they should try to find out how to escape from this end, where Madam Aino summarises her cultural thirst each time after having bathed her dog: “I like it when everything is done in a cultured way.” This and several other chapters of the book can be treated as independent short stories. (The jury of the Friedebert Tuglas short story award should pay close attention to them.) The story about Malle and Kalju's visit to the graveyard and their talk about the screen version of The Lord of the Rings particularly resembles a short story. 

Kalju is presented as nothing more than a very friendly simple-minded chap. But we need to be careful: Kivirähk's text is no innocent and straightforward description. When he tells us that such friendly chaps are very obedient, we cannot know whether somebody is going to give them the signal for action. And if such an opportunity turns up at the end of the world, we can only hope that we have correctly understood the point. 

Text by Rutt Hinrikus

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