Events in the novel There by Kristīne Ulberga unfold in Latvia during the eighties when a degree of change can be felt in the air yet the Soviet regime is still working against the population. There is still no right to freedom of assembly, including the right to associate with any religious group or anything else close to one’s heart yet not coinciding with Soviet ideology. The events described in the novel are based on true stories.
One of the protagonists in the novel – a teenage boy named Pāvels - gets himself lost in the forest, his aim that of hiding from his own life, and his terrible secret. In the depths of the forest, he comes across a house inhabited by an enigmatic group of people. He has nowhere else to go so decides to stay with these weird, long-haired people who, other than their appearance, also think very differently from anyone else he has ever met. Whilst there, and in order to prove the existence of these people once he gets out of the forest, Pāvels starts keeping a diary.
The text has several parallel plot lines and time merges into a single coil while still following a single thread. While Pāvels is living in the mysterious house in the eighties, his forest mates in the present day have found his diary and return to the forest house which they find in a good state of repair and inhabited. While the person living there is absent, three of the friends make themselves at home in front of the fire and, while discussing Pāvels’ diary, also plunge into a discussion of their memories from the past. In his notes, the boy recalls not only the events which took place in the forest but also the tragic fate of his own family. Many years have passed since they lived together in the house but it is only now, in the present, that the forest housemates gain an understanding of the motives and sufferings of the young man back in the day. They learn of the secret which had originally driven Pāvels into the forest. They learn that his father, a creative person, a writer, living under the Soviet regime, had been forced by circumstances to become an informer while his brother, since his earliest days, had dreamt of one day becoming not merely the President of the Soviet Union but of the whole world. He was working on his elocution and speech-giving skills and Pāvels’ deed, his terrible secret, had put an end to all his ambitions. Reading his diary, the friends also come to realize how they had appeared to Pāvels back then and the impact their engagement with various esoteric practices, of which they had actually understood very little, had had on Pāvels.
The small commune living in the forest back in Soviet times, when everything was outlawed, also studied theories of a mystic, esoteric nature. They probably didn’t really gain a true understanding what they studied and yet these theories made them feel different and added a valuable dimension to their lives. The group is led by the Master, trusted and obeyed by his followers who are mostly in their twenties and thirties.
This peaceful, quiet forest life is shaken by the explosion of the nuclear power plant in Chernobyl in 1986. Other people start seeking refuge in the forest house so as to avoid being dragged in to rescue efforts in Pripyat, one of the towns affected by exposure to radiation.
Besides Pāvels and his housemates, a black man named Džīma lives somewhere in the vicinity. This is quite absurd, given the circumstances. Džīma is thought to have ended up in Latvia on some kind of mystical mission, wishing to see how white people live. Pāvels wants to meet Džīma as there is something rather fantastical about him – who knows, his housemates might even have made him up. Many stories circulate about him but no one, apart from the mysterious Master, has ever actually met him.
As the end of the novel approaches, Pāvels’ secret is finally revealed. By spraying a can of hairspray into his cruel, power-thirsty brother’s eyes, he has blinded him. This is the reason why Pāvels has sought refuge in the forest – he is unable to bear his family’s reproach and the pain of his own conscience. As time passes, in Pāvels’ eyes, the forest and its environs gradually assume a spiritual, even magical quality and he resolves in good faith to bring his brother there in the hope he will be cured of his blindness. Despite knowing the rules - namely never to bring anyone to the forest house who might betray its whereabouts to the powers that be – and never actually fully believing in esotericism, Pāvels decides to take the risk, figuring it to be lessened due to his brother’s condition. In so doing, he gains the most precious reward in the world.
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