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Viivi Luik. Varjuteater.

Viivi Luik. Varjuteater. Tallinn, Estonia.

Eesti Keele Sihtasutus. 2010. 309 pages. 18.21 [euro].

ISBN 978-9985-79-326-8

Viivi Luik (b. 1946) is a brilliant poet whose novels Seitsmes rahukevad (The seventh spring of peace) and Ajaloo ilu (1991; Eng. The Beauty of History, 2007) received much international acclaim. Her third novel, Varjuteater (The shadow play), was awarded the 2010 Cultural Award of the Republic of Estonia. The novel consists of thirteen memorial essays in which autobiographism is this time explicit. The work concentrates on Luik's Rome years (1998-2003), when she lived together with her husband, ambassador and writer Jaak Joeruut ("who has been my home in the world"), dodging now and again into the realities of her childhood in Berlin and Finland.

The composition originates from a deep deja-vu experience that lies at the heart of her identity, reveals itself in different manifestations, and amounts to a general state of mind. Luik feels that her entire life has been nothing but a voyage toward Rome. It started when she was only three and saw a picture of the Colosseum on the muddy and bloody floor of the house of deportees, and became clear in a flash of lightning in October 1998 when she finally arrived in the Eternal City. For half a century, the Almighty knew that this precocious child and that pensive grown-up were the same person who has spent her lifetime between the stones, scooters, and cafes of the Whore of Babylon.

The image of the shadow play divides reality in two: outside there is an everyday bustle of superficial masks, behind which glimmers a sense of unity of mankind. These two spaces are separated by a temple screen like a sheet of ice located in her inner self, between people, positions, and faiths, but which may also transform into an Iron Curtain. Luik has always tried to break through that wall to experience the glory of happiness "when the human masks disappear and all living beings turn into one breed." Still, despite her enduring passion to feel a common love, she has also learned to accept agnosticism: "In Rome you'll understand that you don't know what it is all about, even that you shouldn't know. Live."

The author follows the urgent recommendation of a German critic in her novel: "Write only about what you are most ashamed of--don't lie!" Thus the undertone of her work is shaped by the inevitability of facing death. The last chapter describes her father's funeral back home and a Jewish shadow show in Berlin, which appear as a quintessence of Rome: the candle is out, and while it seems that nothing more is expected, "the dead are rising again, stamp their feet on the floor, and sing a new brave song. And people are laughing."

The melancholy of eternity alternates with mild (self-)irony. Luik makes fun of the clumsy Estonians in contrast with elite Europeans. On the other hand, she mocks "the cultivated indifferent impudence" of Italians who prefer shallow entertainment to thoughtful communication. Forget shyness and offer your lonely neighbor a first flower of spring that has penetrated through the snow: "No way this earth and these muddy spades can ever harm you."

Arne Merilai

University of Tartu
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Author:Merilai, Arne
Publication:World Literature Today
Article Type:Book review
Date:May 1, 2011
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