Paavo Matsin’s works are imbued with vivid, limitless fantasy; a toying with time, space, and history; as well as layers upon layers of added meaning and subtext. He exercises an incredibly dense prosaic language. However, irony and a warm sense of humor also burst forth in his somewhat absurd, tense, and grotesque texts.
Matsin was born in 1970 in Tallinn, and now lives in the countryside near Viljandi. He graduated from the Estonian Institute of Theology and has worked as a college- and school teacher, in addition to being a respected literary critic. Matsin is a member of the literary group 14NÜ and has belonged to the Estonian Writers’ Union since 2004.
Matsin’s first, self-published books were experimental in form and content, and released in small print runs. He has been the first to introduce a range of new or forgotten topics to Estonian literature: alchemy, soothsaying, mysticism and its parody. The author has always been fascinated by alchemy and ancient, secret teachings – a theme reflected in his first “proper” novel Doctor Schwarz. The 12 Keys to Alchemy (2011), which was nominated for the State Cultural Award in 2012.
Matsin’s second novel The Blue Guard (2013) is dedicated to Riga – Latvia’s capital and the largest city in the Baltic States. The first-person protagonist (a figure identical to the author) is a researcher at the home-museum of Latvia’s modernist urban-poetry classic Aleksandrs Čaks. The museum-worker’s gorgeous and elite café-Riga is unexpectedly beset by a terrible uprising: violent men in baggy trousers pour primarily out of the wild ghetto-district of Moskova, and take over the city. Riga’s braver denizens, including the narrator, launch a resistance movement. The nightmarish and fantastical novel was also a candidate for the Cultural Endowment of Estonia’s annual award.
The setting of Matsin’s most recent novel Gogol’s Disco (2015), which received both Estonia’s most prestigious annual prize for prose and the 2016 EU Prize for Literature, is his own nearby town of Viljandi at some point in the future. Estonia has been conquered by Imperial Russia and rid of ethnic Estonians after the war, and the town’s colorful new populace is exceptionally criminal in nature. One morning on the tram, the master pickpocket Konstantin Opiatovich robs a man who turns out to be the great Russian literary classic Gogol, woken from the dead. Matsin’s Viljandi – the spirit of which is astonishingly recognizable for readers familiar with the quaint environs – is full of new developments: an ostentatious “trophy” tram won in battles with Poland, the golden onion domes of Russian Orthodox churches, and towering khrushchyovka apartment blocks; all accompanied by thieves’ songs blaring from public megaphones. Matsin has remarked that while writing Gogol’s Disco, he experienced a kind of collective psychological fear of a similar future scenario; a feeling that swarmed with extremely odd Gogol-like phantoms and figures. The author even crafted his own language to properly convey the atmosphere, using a scattering of archetypal Russian and Jewish patterns and imagery.
Even the manner, in which Matsin himself is represented on the covers of his books hints at the bizarre cultural wealth that lies within: “Pāvs Matsins” for The Blue Guard and “Pasha Matshinov” for Gogol’s Disco.