The novel of a beloved author combines two aspects characteristic of Estonians: the love of loneliness and the abandonment of ideas

Tõnu Õnnepalu’s twin work reflects on everyday life and news from both Hiiumaa and London.


Tõnu Õnnepalu: The Catalog of Lies – The English Garden (Valede Catalog / English Garden). Jouko Väisänen, Finland. Book cover. 342 s.

Hiiumaa Tõnu Õnnepalu is a special case in Estonian literature. He is even more special in Finnish translation literature.

The new two-part translation of Õnnepalu represents the exceptional uniqueness of its author as a narrator.

Catalog of Lies – English Garden there is literature that could be described as Estonian meditation: no arguments, no emotionality. Some kind of soundscape that resembles a diary. Not a plot.

The parts of the consortium originally published in the same volume are bound together. Still, they are separate.

In the catalog of lies Everyday chores with Saaremaa’s yard work and swan watching overlap with the day’s news offering and read literature.

“To be rich, you have to be slaves,” Õnnepalu writes.

He is not the flower boy of Hiiumaa, but the text pushes the tones of indifference, the ironic distancing from emotions that is typical of Estonians.

In the English Garden he continues the same storytelling from an English upper class house. The house smells of mold, smoke, detergents and old relatives just right.

Just like the volume that started A catalog of lies impressions would increase English garden heavier essays.

Queenly the former gardener, Estonian Mark, has invited the I-narrator to visit, but the village is nothing if you don’t do a little work at the same time. Õnnepaluk also ponders the importance of work when burning branches in an English garden or stacking trees for huge fireplaces:

“If you do the work the way you do it, you shouldn’t do it like you would at home, in your own garden, in your own forest. Don’t get too excited. ”

The still life is both Perieuropean and Estonian. The sarcastic indulgence in the experimentation of the English is accompanied by an analysis of how non-Soviets do not understand Soviet reality. In England, the upper class has read Marxinsa well and therefore know how to take advantage of it.

Marx is surprisingly the key to the holiday. English class society is still in full force. The narrator himself receives three times less than he imagined.

But Marx still gets a ride. Perhaps the Eastern European experiment of Marx was just that, and we saw the end result as it is.

“Without Marx’s saving works, capitalism might have died long ago,” Õnnepalu writes at Marx’s tomb at Highgate Cemetery. For him, Marx was only part of the capitalist machinery.

“But not just a nut,” he notes.

Congratulations the twin is not a collection of essays, but it is reminiscent Leif Salménin essay works: everyday remarks combined with reading a newspaper.

Even calling the book autofiction feels wrong, so the obvious personality of Õnnepalu is together with the novel. There is no name for the person who is away.

In Estonian thinking, doing is more important than planning. Õnnepalu seems to manifest this for better or worse.

The essence of the work is fragmented. It flutters open in every direction, not categorizing itself. The book feels formless, but in a strange way fits the aesthetics of Õnnepalu’s indifference.

Jouko Väisänen The translation of Õnnepalu has reached a pleasant, sometimes even fun monologue.

“The perfect English garden is a secluded bench in the landscape. Seemingly random, ”the author writes. There is not a single useless word in the sentence to ruin a powerful image.

Õnnepalu’s books combine two aspects characteristic of Estonians: the love of silence and solitude, and the abandonment of ideas. Estonians are a factor of people for whom moving forward is more important than orthodoxy. Maybe it’s a survival code for a small nation.

And maybe that’s why Õnnepalu’s books are loved in Estonia.

By Editor

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