The Iceland Summer

Short stories

Islandi suvi

The Iceland Summer (Short stories, Estonian)
Published by Ilmamaa, 2003, pp. 184

Mats Traat (b. 1936) is a classic of Estonian literature, who has been on the scene for forty years. During this time he has published a large number of novels, short stories and poems. Traat is predominantly a realistic writer, a polyphonic narrator with a remarkable skill for generalisation, a creator of exact images, who mostly delves into the history of the Estonian nation.

The Iceland Summer continues the portrayal of remarkable men and women in Estonian history, initiated in his previous collection of short stories Carthago Express (see Elm 7), to offer, through a sketch depicting some turning point in history, insight into the topical questions and the way of thinking of a certain era. Traat attempts to restore the past, its spirit and also its morals, beliefs, dreams and disappointments. This collection contains seven short stories, the longest of which is the title story. Most of the stories are set in the last quarter of the 19th century, the period of national awakening; although some of the stories are set in the early 20th century. The story “The Ancestors’ Shadows” features three characters – the author’s grandfather, Alexander von Middendorf and Jakob Hurt. The future collector of folklore, Jakob Hurt, was a tutor for the family of the scientist A. V. Middendorf. But the plot develops, not in a classroom, but in the kitchen of the manor, and the above-mentioned trio only help to specify the time and place of the story. The action is centred on a violent cook, suffering from toothache, who hits a groom with a crowbar and almost kills him. A still more exact insight into the way of thinking (and spiritual life) of the peasants can be found in the best story of the book, “Court Mirror”. It is probably based on old documents of a court of justice, which results in a very deep, exact and true-to-life story with a well-composed structure and a clear theme. The most skilful stories of the collection reveal scenes from the peasants’ life, centring on some episodes that differ from the everyday routine. The stories written about intellectuals or Baltic-German nobility are full of factual material, with the author aspiring to reflect many problems of the period through the inner monologues of the characters. The title story “The Iceland Summer” introduces the granddaughter of Jakob Hurt, the pianist Helmi Viitol, who recalls episodes and people of Hurt’s family, but also expresses a sensitive person’s yearning for unimaginable experience. Traat’s short stories, besides being a real literary success, help us feel the course of history and our place in it.

First published in ELM

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