In the Winds of Blue Heights


Sinikõrguste tuultes

In the Winds of Blue Heights (Novels, Estonian)
Published by Varrak, 2000, pp. 117

The novel In the Winds of Blue Heights was first published in the literary journal Looming, and was awarded the Annual Prose Prize in 1999. Mari Saat (1947)  admitted that the writing of this novel has been a new kind of an experience for her, as it was the first time she had written in first person singular and it felt like writing a poem. Saat has been a part of the Estonian literary scene for about 30 years, and she has written only prose so far. Her first book, the short novel Catastrophe, in which being was contrasted with possessing, brought her acclaim. The opposition of being and possessing is one of the main themes of the whole of Saat’s work, and is particularly  focused on in her novels A Hazel Hen (Laanepüü), An Apple in the Light and the Shade (Õun valguses ja varjus), and Charm and Spirit (Võlu ja vaim). The latter was published in 1990 as the first part of a larger work. The book received high praise, but the author, who holds a Doctorate in Economics, has been busy teaching business ethics at Tallinn Technical University, and with this latest work, broke a nearly ten-year silence.

We could state that the main subject of In the Winds of Blue Heights is a shipwreck, the influence of the sinking of the Estonia on people’s consciousness. But this statement would be an oversimplification. We could say that death itself is Saat’s subject: all her works are full of tensions created by the secret of being and non-being. Her characters long for something elusive, for an existential unity. They often slightly resemble sleepwalkers, who gaze in amazement at others and cling to possessions and power. They resist by withdrawal, by keeping their distance, by escaping. Withdrawing from power, they also keep away from everything that is connected with corporeality – a body is a stranger, it causes sufferings and alienation.

The narrator of the novel is an artist who lives in Tallinn. Her friend, a Swede named Emil, left her on that fateful evening and boarded the ship that sank in the Baltic Sea with hundreds of other people. But the narrator is not deeply moved by the tragedy of the shipwreck or by the loss of her lover, with whom she has a daughter Emilia, but rather perceives the events through the close experience of being and non-being. She analyses her relations with Emil, but she also analyses her relations with the world, trying to find some reason for her life, which has seemed to her to be rather unconscious. She has believed that beauty is truth, but suddenly she does not know whether this holds true. She does not know her inner feelings. She feels fear, and recognises that being means suffering, and suffering makes you think about being a stranger. The antagonistic character of a stranger is very common in Saat’s work, and sometimes this stranger is strangely attractive. In this novel, the stranger is the heroine’s father, a Russian military officer, who embodies a strange power. Her mother has taken her father’s side, while her mother’s relatives resent her father. Her grandmother ignores her father, saying that they do not have a common language (although the language itself could be Russian, which both of them do speak.) The heroine draws a picture of her father, in an effort to get to know him, trying to learn more about strangers. Her feeling that all things are related deepens after her father has died, and Emil has been lost at sea.

The world of Mari Saat seems to be devoid of events even when it actually is full of them. More than events she wants to study their traces in consciousness, which causes her eventless world to be very tense. Her heroine declares that she hates Freud. She resents unique solutions and examines the depths of consciousness and is amazed at her findings.

Text by by Janika Kronberg

Estonian Literary Magazine No 12, Spring 2001

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