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10 Latvian Writers Name Their Favorite Latvian Books

2019, October 1

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“One of my favorite books of Latvian literature is Anna Auziņa’s very first collection of poems “Atšķirtie dārzi” (“Detached Gardens”, 1995) – an exceptionally gentle and sensitive book that taught me as a young author that poetry does not have to be distant and difficult to penetrate. Every summer I remember the poem from this collection about eating unripe currants which remind one about the ripe and juicy berries, which in turn resemble kisses. I often recall her beautiful texts on carefree youth: “when all three of us fall asleep in a huge bed / us with colorful beads for eyes / uncombed with mouths full of candy.” The humble red book is long since become a bibliographic rarity, but I think contemporary Latvian poetry would be different if it wasn’t for Anna’s collection.



“Throughout all the stages of my life Jānis Jaunsudrabiņš’ “Baltā grāmata” (“The White Book”) has remained my favorite book by a Latvian author. This book is like a map on a journey to your childhood even nowadays. Being written in the very beginning of the 20th century in a small village in Nereta and in the Mīlgrāvis neighborhood, The White Book is like a blank canvas on which the author has painted “A Hundred Depictions in Words and Lines”. It never seems alien or distant, your heart and your eyes become wide open; he paints with light, mud, and pollen. The canvas itself is linen – handmade, locally grown, retted, scutched, spun and woven. The picture frame is made out of wood from a tree that was once your childhood friend. Such a world where everything is real and bound by the ties of love is a great example of how we should look at our lives. Jaunsudrabiņš is undoubtedly a writer of high caliber and knows how to tighten and loosen these ties by contrasting life and death, walking the edge. The clear, scenic and vivid reality of Latvian language in “The White Book” is as tangible as the landscapes where we can recognize our own childhood days threaded through.”



“When I was eleven, browsing the bookshelves I stumbled upon an exciting work. It felt like I had discovered a secret for this book was known by very few. I wanted both to keep it a secret and tell all my friends about it. It was Andris Puriņš’ novel “Bezrūpīgie ceļotāji” (“The Carefree Travelers”). Incidentally, the travelers were not free from cares in the slightest. The road seemed endless, full of punks, dwarves and truth seekers. It is the most genuine Latvian road story and my first coming-of-age book. Twenty years later I learned that it had in fact been rather popular and had inspired plenty of teenagers to at least consider running away from home. Now the book is almost forgotten, so I am again allowed to consider it my secret. The road goes on meandering. Just like with first love, I am not sure if I loved it because it was beautiful or because I just did. When I behold highways or paths, they often seem to me first encountered in the book. It might be either because Puriņš described them so realistically, or because I still see the world through the eyes of the careless travelers.



“Between thirteen and sixteen years of age, you see everything around you in heightened colors, you dive, and draw breath the deepest. That’s when your all-penetrating vision allows you to unveil the darkest corners of the grown-up world, and it appears to you that the inexplicably sad moments in your life are the only real ones. You don’t call for someone to tell you “it’s alright, pull yourself together”; you need someone to simply understand you. The young (her life lasted for twenty years) poet Ieva Roze, with her hippie long hair and thick glasses, wrote poetry that feels like your skin is flipped inside out, exposing raw flesh: it is sensitive to everything, deeply painful it understands and unmasks. I used to read Ieva Roze’s poetry daily like a mantra, and my diary has an entry that reflects that: “What I’ve scribbled here is such rubbish. If I ever see it as something great in the future, my spiritual and intellectual life can be considered a failure. I ought to get wiser than my current self.” Wise words indeed. Poetry of #failure, worth listening to even when you’re no longer a teenager – Ieva Roze’s collection “No vienas tumsības otrā” (“From Darkness into Another”).”



“If I am to pick a book that has always been dear to me and has stuck with me, a book to come back to over and over, I should pick “The White Book”. Most of the stories I know by heart, and from time to time I reference them in my thoughts, conversations, or articles, and yet I still keep returning to its pages to refresh my memory. Latvians have plenty of books about childhood, but I believe “The White Book” is the best at vividly depicting the world full of unknowing, discovery, fear and unforgettable joy out of which an adult is supposed to hatch. One could argue that Jancis’ childhood reflects the dark ages when people were divided into owners and serfs or ramblers, and your daily bread was to be earned with backbreaking work from dusk till dawn in the fields. Such a reality of the time has, of course, been described in other works, but only Jaunsudrabiņš through his character was able to depict childhood so vividly.



"I don’t think I can pick one favorite out of all texts in Latvian literature. It would be like asking for a favorite letter in the alphabet. I can, however, name you an author I see as one of my kin – Regīna Ezera. She is my kin because when I read “Zemdegas”, “Aka”, “Pati ar savu vēju”, I feel that I am allowed to understand and see at least a tiny bit more. “Prose hag,” – that is how her witchiness in prose, referring to Ezera’s own writing, is described by Guntis Berelis (Regīna Ezera. Raksti, Nordik, 2000). It is impossible to describe her better than this, so I will just nod in agreement and quote Berelis’ hypothesis about the deep imprint Ezera has left in the Latvian reader’s mind and heart. “For years she thought about nothing but the best ways to write what needs to be written so desperately that it cannot be allowed to be written. In this relentless attentive process, some special wisdom must have been born, something akin to the wisdom of a witch, sorceress or oracle.



“From my childhood, I remember Margarita Stāraste’s heartwarming illustrations, especially Little Acorn and his adventures. Meybe because of my surname. When I was a teenager, the Latvian books to leave the strongest impression were Andrievs Niedra’s “Līduma dūmos” (“In Smoke from the Assart”), Albert Bels’ “Cilvēki laivās” (“People in Boats”) and Ēriks Ādamsons’ “Abakuka krišana” (“The Fall of Habakkuk”). I also deeply empathized with characters created by Rūdolfs Blaumanis – everyone in “Nāves ēnā” (“In The Shadow of Death”), his Andriksons, and people in his plays. I believe Blaumanis’ talent and skill cannot leave a single reader indifferent.



“My favorite book is Edvīns Raups’ “Uzvāri man kaut ko pārejošu” ("Cook up something transitory for me"). I was 17 when it came out. At that age, most of my time was spent studying alcohol, cigarettes and girls’ eyes, and looking for new poetry to read was not the first thing on my mind. Being young and arrogant, I believed that I had already read everything worth reading and there was nothing surprising to expect from poetry. But during one of my rare visits to Riga, I picked Raups’ book from the shelf where they had the latest editions, and I saw my naive horizon immediately crumble. I would open the book from time to time on my way back to Talsi, read a poem and was struck by his ability to approach language from such a curious angle. The words were familiar, but the appeared in a new way, woven into new meanings. I was completely bewildered. I understood almost nothing, but it felt like I had stumbled upon some secret message which would become clear to me if I only continue to read it. I was now under a spell of some psychedelic substance whose effect was irreversible. In my first stage of reading Raups’ works, I did not even want to write, and everything I did seemed shallow and naive. Next came a stage of fervent copying which lasted for several years. The final stage was a voice in my head that sometimes still sounds like Raups saying: “You will never get rid of me.”  This, of course, should be taken into consideration when using such unregulated psychoactive collections of poetry.”



”I can say with confidence that Svens Kuzmin’s work “Hohma” (“Chokhmah‎”) is now my  “favorite book by a Latvian author”. From the very first chapter, it captivated me. The rich language and multilayered way of expression made me follow each chapter carefully not knowing what to expect from this surprising writer – will it be a curious or surreal event, some description that will make you cry with laughter, or a surprising plot twist. But do not expect to be able to predict anything, and that’s what makes it even more exciting! While reading the book I knew exatcly what makes me love it so much – with its humorous adventures it reminded me of my favorite book from childhood which was “Alfonso Wobble-Cheeks” by Gerhard Holtz-Baumert, and the wonderfully delicious language was not unlike language in Pavel Sanaev’s “Bury Me Behind the Baseboard”. Simply delicious!



"Since my subject is such that it has the waters of change rush through it like a glacier disturbed by a falling meteor, I will not be able to choose one work only and will use the word count allowed to name some of the works whose sediment is still in me long after the catastrophe is over and the waters are still. Inga Ābele, “Sniega laika piezīmes” (“Notes from the Snow Time”). Ojārs Vācietis, “Klavierkoncerts” (“Piano Concert”). Gunārs Priede, plays. Regīna Ezera, “Pati ar savu vēju” (“Me and My Own Winds”). Andra Neiburga, “Izbāzti putni un putni būros” (“Stuffed Birds and Birds in Cages”). Anna Auziņa, “Annas pūra govs” (“Anna’s Dowry Cow”) and poems from other collections. Rihards Bargais, “Tenkas” (“Gossip”). Dace Sparāne’s long poem about love from her book “Zīdpapīra vējdzirnavas” (“Tissue Paper Windmill”). Anda Baklāne’s unpublished poem “Zēns, kurš izlasīja grāmatu ātri kā vējš” (“The Boy who read the book like the wind”). Kārlis Vērdiņš, “Ledlauži” (“Icebreakers”). Artis Ostups, “Žesti” (“Gestures”). Marts Pujāts, “Nāk gaismā pati lampa” (“The lamp itself comes to light”), Elīna Bākule-Veira, “Zilonis okeāns” (“Elephant ocean”). Aspazija, “Sidraba šķidrauts” (“The Silver Veil”), and poetry. Rainis, “Jāzeps un viņa brāļi” (“Joseph and His Brothers”). Egils Plaudis, poetry. Juris Kunnoss, poetry. Edvīns Raups, poetry. Rūdolfs Blaumanis, plays. Pēteris Ērmanis, poetry. Austra Skujiņa, poetry. Jānis Ziemeļnieks, poetry. And many, many others.



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