Saint Mama

Short stories

Püha Maama

Saint Mama (Short stories, Estonian)
Published by Tuum, 2008, pp. 144

Elo Viiding (also Elo Vee, (1974), see ELM 20, Spring 2005 ) published her début collection of poetry in 1990. Saint Mama is her ninth book and her second collection of short stories.

Viiding is from a literary family: her father was the poet and actor Juhan Viiding, her grandfather was the poet and prose author Paul Viiding, her grandmother was the translator Linda Viiding, etc. She has been immersed in literature and theatre since her very first breath. 

Elo Viiding has been called a defiant and enigmatic person with a protesting spirit, and people are surprised that this young woman is prepared to present voices oppressed by society. Her texts are characterised by a feminist viewpoint and critical social attitude. Her interviews in the press very often try to explain her uncompromising texts and comment on her disdain and resistance. Her word is like a knife that she uses to scrape and scratch at our modern times. Still, Viiding does not fight on barricades; rather, she is an observer, more of a hermit and ascetic, and she prefers to continue to search than to be content with things already found. Her books seem to be composed of fragments; with talent and promise, she moves her texts on the borders of poetry and prose. Viiding’s prose and poetry remain close together: pieces of her prose carry on the themes started in her verse. Her text flows; she has even confirmed that associative writing is her method. Many of her works look like slices of a whole, characterised by a quality of being unfinished, conveying the sense of being on the road, in an irresistible search for something.
Viiding is reluctant to give in to any kind of pressure or the opinions of the crowd. In an interview in Postimees (31.05.2008) she says, “Fortunately, I am not under pressure and, for this, I am very grateful to the environment that I live in. Right now, I am a person who believes that the only right way of living is the way that one lives, and that one always has to have an enthusiastic and positive outlook on life; ceaseless activity is an ultimate value. Besides, I have received from my environment such a reflective and silent introversion and a certain amount of meditative pessimism, or pessimistic meditativeness, essential for creative work”.

Saint Mama opens with reminiscences, where the main role is played by the author’s father. The stories that follow, depicting the present day, are partly based on reality and partly on abstract fantasy images; the plot is often dream-like. Quite often, Viiding includes some kind of psychoanalytical key for the reader in her stories. She does not hide this key, but encourages her readers to find it. Such a key can also be found at the beginning of the book, in the novelette “Pietro”, written on Freud’s birthday. Viiding's stories are usually written from a woman’s standpoint, or tell about women. In the story “Toomas and Elsa”, only Elsa’s voice can be heard, “since the only thing that Elsa fully and completely understands in this world, and somehow she understands only this, is stubborn and defiant selfishness”. The selfish voice of her short stories despises general curiosity and gossip, uniformity and the all-devouring mainstream. Opposition to the pressure applied by society on individuals can especially be seen in her attitude towards reproduction. “Who would need these traumatised people”, reflects Elsa in “Toomas and Elsa”, because society requires only obedient servants of the state.
Like a neophyte who has to live fully each moment, Viiding opposes herself, in meditative protest, to the pressure of society and moving along with the masses. A woman with a child is seen as a victim of everyday routine, but also as a product of society who is unable to reflect it, as well as the symbol of the same society. Saint Mama is, just as Elo Viiding states in the above-mentioned interview, a woman saint of the present day /---/: she is special through and through. Already the fact that she exists makes her special. She is a mystified being who delivers humankind from its stupidity, evil and other vices. Saint Mama, together with her mother Ljuda and her little boy, is as natural as nature, genuine in her vulgarity and her attempts to overcome vulgarity through vulgarity. She is the most ordinary woman, for example, a suburban working woman, a woman who raises her children alone, not a virginal Mary, but a sinful Mary Magdalene. Irony pales before her; she is to be admired, but only from afar, because it is worthwhile to love, both inside oneself and through oneself,  only a child, not the future of the child deviating into parenthood. 

Rutt Hinrikus

First published in Estonian Literary Magazine

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