The Mutable



The Mutable (Novels, Estonian)
Published by Tuum, 2010, pp. 336

Jaak Jõerüüt (b. 1947), the current Estonian ambassador in Sweden, debuted as a poet and prose writer in the 1970s. After Estonia regained its independence he held an ambassador’s post in Finland, at the UN in New York, in Italy and in Latvia, and was briefly the Estonian Minister of Defence. Besides his diplomatic work, he has managed to enrich Estonian literature with several remarkable collections of poetry, prose books, essays and memoirs. In 2010
he published a poetry collection and the autobiographical essay-novel Muutlik (The Mutable), both of which were well received by critics.

On the one hand, The Mutable constitutes notes in the form of a diary, which does not always follow the precise progress of time through 2009, when the book was written. On the other, the author wrote: “This is not a diary. I write letters to myself and reply to myself. There are several me’s, more than I initially thought. I am different on different days. But I have nothing against that, nothing at all.” The obviously self-centred book therefore tackles the author’s self when he changes and when he remains himself, his origin, past and present in everyday existence and on holidays. The background to all this is his experience as a diplomat and the economic crisis that was deeper in Latvia than in Estonia. He draws comparisons with his homeland, which he could visit quite frequently  because of the closeness of the two countries. In addition, there is the author’s other world experience from the diplomatic perspective, rather unusual at times: besides neat trouser creases and white shirts, much attention is paid to the books he has read (primarily by Mika Waltari, Pentti Saarikoski and J. D. Salinger: classical authors of Weltschmerz and resignation). Along with armchair reflections, the book contains observations on bicycling in Riga and in Manhattan. Jõerüüt smoothly joins the creative, free artistic sphere with diplomacy, which is restricted by etiquette, not bothering too much with political correctness, and remaining a moderately ironic or distanced intellectual in every situation. He says that the city where he has lived is a city of texts, and calls it “Words”. He also quotes Saarikoski’s sentence about a hapless jester who does not know the name of the king or country he is serving.

Normally, an intellectual’s long-term involvement in politics and diplomacy makes him blasé and bored, and curtails the wings of his creativity. In Jõerüüt’s case, the opposite is true: The Mutable contains a lot of intensity, mystery and youthful curiosity. The author seems to go through a rejuvenation treatment, looking deep into his inner landscapes, which contain traces of teenage anxiety, as well as a mature man’s perception of eternity. After all, what really matters in the book is not the description of external situations and events, but a journey into the author’s own multilayered self. The reader finds the key to the book in the motif of the pilgrimage that runs through the entire book: “At some point, for several years running, I planned to go on a camino, the old road of pilgrims, which leads to the WESTERN EDGE, Santiago de Compostela. /—/ One day it struck me. I do not have to go on a camino. I can turn my everyday life into a camino.”

The Mutable shows man as temporal and at the same time timeless. This is a journey, simultaneously a coming and a going, an arrival and a departure, in the knowledge that everything inside and around us is in constant change, and that only by being mutable can we hope to be unchanged.

Text by Janika Kronberg

Estonian Literary Magazine No 2, 2011

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