My Very Sweet Life Or A Marzipan-maker

Novels

Minu väga magus elu ehk martsipanimeister

My Very Sweet Life Or A Marzipan-maker (Novels, Estonian)
Published by Tänapäev, 2002, pp. 206

Enn Vetemaa (1936) belongs, along with Paul-Eerik Rummo, Jaan Kaplinski, Andres Ehin, Viivi Luik and others, to the literary generation of the 1960s, having for a long time been a leading prose author of the period. A steady and prolific author, Vetemaa has always been present in Estonian literature, but recently he has become a kind of ‘forgotten classic’. His works discuss current topics. As always, they are full of brilliant esprit. Although in the past he has sometimes been accused of superficiality and loquacity, critics have found his latest novel Marzipan maker much more praiseworthy than several of his preceding works.

The novel has two titles. My Very Sweet Life receives top billing and is the first person narrator’s – the marzipan maker’s – appraisal of his life. Sweet life has usually been ambiguously understood as an easy life that is in fact often quite bitter. Vetemaa has added the word ‘very’, and the word ‘sweet’ seems to hide one of the keys to the book. The protagonist of the book takes everything very earnestly. The protagonist’s name – Ernst – which we learn only at the end of the novel reflects the protagonist’s serious attitude.

The marzipan-maker tells us about his life; he thinks that he has been a really lucky fellow and firmly believes that although little known to the public, he is an extremely outstanding artist. His profession is quite an unusual occupation and his life is extraordinary. He is fond of philosophising and teaching, and thinks that he is far above the masses. The story follows the model of a biography, written in the first person and explaining the descent of the protagonist, describing his youth, self-realisation, love life and work, and containing, like all spontaneous biographical narratives, numerous digressions. The claim voiced by Ernst the marzipan-maker that he is writing his artistic and philosophical autobiography, and integrating his life story into a whole without intending to make it into a chronological series of moments, is quite true to a real autobiography. Very often even serious autobiographists write more about what they think about this or that event rather than describing the actual events. Naturally, despite its format, Marzipan-maker has no more to do with autobiography than any other first person fictional narrative. The rather loosely composed Marzipan-maker mostly presents the so-called artistic and philosophical views of the protagonist. The marzipan-maker poses as a real patriot, an Estonian man of thoroughly right and righteous views, who approves of the market economy, believes that old age pensioners lead wonderful lives, praises the progressive cultural policy of the Estonian Republic, etc. He is pleased with his extraordinary ability to go along with the things considered right in society at just the right time. Naturally, the reader is able to sense the author’s irony. It seems that the marzipan-maker is a socially deaf self-admirer. On the other hand, he presents opinions that indicate social sensitivity. We could ask to what degree the novel is an analysis of adaptation and to what degree it is grotesque. Vetemaa seems to enjoy the creating of his marzipan-maker, leaving it to us to decide whether the man is really a simpleton or a cunning and sly type, an unfortunate autistic or a man of the world. In his earlier works, Vetemaa depicted, with great pleasure, good and simple-minded fellows caught in the treadmill or roasting on the spit of society. The marzipan-maker thinks that he turns the spit, rather than roasting on it. Seemingly, Vetemaa only offers us easy reading, but the marzipan-maker and his very sweet life represent a quite familiar social phenomenon. His profession may be unique, but his views on life are rather common to a certain class of people. The author’s ambivalent representation of such an attitude only lends additional charm to this novel.

Text by Rutt Hinrikus

First published in the Estonian Literary Magazine


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