Saturday, May 27, 2006

Treading Air

A lot of my favorite books are the kind that span two generations. By the end of the book, you feel as though the events that occurred in the beginning are as distant as your own earliest memories. The span of time that goes from pre to post-soviet rule in Estonia provides a great setting for this kind of story because of the contrast of those years.

This book describes the German and then subsequent Soviet take over of Estonia well. The main character is in the midst of many of these events and historical personalities. The book is written about, and around Estonian history, but that does not detract from the universal aspects of the story – such as all of the things that can conspire to thwart potential ranging from asshole family members to geopolitical events. At the same time though, the characters do not seem to be in the position to dwell on their fate. That probably would have ruined the story. A lesser writer probably would have driven the point home ad nauseum. The further away from the black and white take on reality the closer you get to literature.


“He was dosing off on Charlotte’s couch, when the thought had suddenly struck him: God could simply be playing a trick on me! He could exist after all – but will refrain from punishing me for my theft and lies until I am no longer able to associate the punishment with my deeds!
I asked: “And how did you get out of that one?”
He said: “On that occasion – simply by forgetting.”
p. 27

Instead of offering them oral and financial support, which he undoubtedly could have afforded, Uncle Joonas announced (and there were always ears to hear, and mouths to discuss such information) that his sister in law and her son were themselves to blame for their misfortune, well, not chiefly to blame, but certainly in part. But he, Dr. Berends, was said to treat them on the same premise as he did his patients. He would not treat alcoholics since they were largely to blame for their own misfortune.

p. 106

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