Shadow Theatre



Shadow Theatre (Novels, Estonian)
Published by Eesti Keele Sihtasutus, 2010, pp. 312

Viivi Luik is one of those Estonian writers whose touch turns everything to gold. Her poetry is deep within the common cultural memory of the Estonian people, as are her novels Seitsmes rahukevad (The Seventh Spring of Peace, 1985) and Ajaloo ilu (The Beauty of History, 1991). Both novels have also gained international attention and have been widely translated.
Nineteen years passed between Viivi Luik’s last novel and the new one, Varjuteater (Shadow Theatre). For those 19 years Viivi Luik had been assembling what now appears before the reader in Shadow Theatre. It has been called a mosaic novel, whose pieces consist of the author’s experiences in Estonia, Helsinki, Berlin, Rome and elsewhere. These fragments are distinguished not by colours but by decades and places, and the fragments themselves are snatches of dialogues, accidental meetings and little observations taken from Luik’s memory. The most important pattern, however, is formed by the author-protagonist’s story of “how I came to be myself”.
The main thread running through the novel is the story of the author’s arrival in Rome, where she had been drawn by a longing ever since childhood. With a masterful hand, Viivi Luik joins up points in time that at first seem unconnected – the beginning of her yearning for Rome during the deportations of March 1949, Tallinn at the time of the coup of 1991, and Rome, the Eternal City, at the end of the twentieth century. As the critics have noted, Viivi Luik weaves a text in which time and space change places, moments take shape as things, people become images. In principle, everything in the narrative is present all the time; everything is possible. A book that opens on Rome, taking the place of a picture of the Colosseum found on the floor of some deportees’ home in 1949, is a window onto eternity. And Viivi Luik’s road to Rome, which begins there, is indeed a road to eternity. Arrival in Rome at the end of the 20th century as the wife of a diplomat is for Viivi Luik comparable to a lifelong pilgrimage.
Viivi Luik herself has said: “I didn’t write so that people would praise me but to express that one single human experience which only I could express.” Such honesty and individuality is the key to Viivi Luik’s creation. There is a character in the novel, an influential German critic, who says to the protagonist: “Always write what you are most ashamed of. /---/ Don’t lie.” One could say that in this book Viivi Luik has followed that recommendation. She does not lie.
Viivi Luik is an author who transcends periods and nations; her Shadow Theatre is not only a part of Estonian literature but a deeply European and human work. In her novel there is a measure of eternity, a rising above time and space, a sharp perception of the interrelationships of the world and the breath of a very great author.

Text by Piret Viires

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