The Cavemen Chronicle

Novels

Kooparahvas läheb ajalukku

The Cavemen Chronicle (Novels, Estonian)
Published by Fabian, 2012, pp. 464

 
Subtitled Fate Stories from Gossip Columns, the novel is a remarkable and monumental treatment of a rather long period, beginning with the decades after World War II and ending at the present. Amid the novel stands a pub known as The Cave – a meeting point of Tallinn’s cultural elite. Writers, artists, and musicians opposed to the oppressing power of Soviet rule come together in The Cave seemingly every evening of the year, except for some dull weeks in summer. (The prototype of this place, Tallinn’s famous Kuku Club, still exists today.) Throughout his works, Mutt’s protagonists have been cultural figures. The narrator in this novel is a rather modest man, who – first a translator (from Old Iranian), and later as a columnist at a tabloid – enjoys accompanying this fellowship. The man is likewise a keen observer.
The turning point of the novel is the change of power. In Rahvusvaheline mees (International Man, 1994), Mutt described the restoration of Estonian independence as an employee at the Estonian Foreign Ministry. This time, the event is reflected from a different point of view: as seen, participated in and even carried out metaphorically from The Cave. There are two important heroes among an entire gallery of cultural figures in the novel, whose lives since boyhood are detailed. One of them is a rebel, the other a collaborator with the Soviet order. Although one is expelled from university and the other follows “the right path”, both ways expose the pressure of the time. It is also a story of adjustment, and notes with sarcasm that those, who fit well in one system are also suited for another, and vice versa.
What becomes clear from the novel is that the Soviet period, although a mental prison, was paradoxically the Golden Age for writers and artists if they at least apparently seemed to fit into the system. These figures had to take censorship into consideration and write between the lines to conceal their attitudes; however, they were honoured royally without having to push themselves publically. This is the tragedy that the protagonist witnesses: he sees his mission in advertising his friends through photos taken for gossip columns.
Mutt’s sharp pen likewise exposes strange behaviour in a variety of social contexts: the novel consists partly of letters from a friend living in a village, who undisguisedly attacks everything foolish in every kind of system.

Text by Elle-Mari Talivee

10 Books fom Estonia, No 4, Autumn 2012


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