“Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe” by Benjamin Alire Sáenz

“I got to thinking that poems were like people. Some people you got right off the bat. Some people you just didn’t get – and never would get.”

If one one would take this book as a person or as a poem in the way the hero understood in the quote, then it is a book easy to “get”, but sometimes the teenage frustration with the change from child to an adult can be hard to bear.

I do not want to give away what happens, so this makes the book impossible to review, rather I would like to talk with people, who , have already read it: what worked for them? What was hard to take, irritating? What did they think the writer did best?



“The Saviour of Lasnamäe” by Mari Saat



August is Women in Translation Month, so a book originally written in Estonian by a woman writer fits right in.

For me this book was a fast easy read, but I felt a bit squeamish about the way the heroine has made to earn her living for time.

I worry that the point the random reader takes out of the book will be the hardening of their prejudices about Eastern European women.

May-be I am unfair, yet what the writer made Natalya to do makes me uneasy.

I like Sofia, but I also wonder is she an hopeful ideal rather than any true Russian teenager?

What I really would like would be to get the opinion of Russians living in Estonia – how this story makes them feel.

I would recommend this book for foreigners, yet for myself I found it thought provoking, a reason to question my own beliefs, attitudes and actions.

TRB Dare

When James Chester from James Reads Books announced The TBR Dare, it happened right after we had agreed with my older son that he gives me a gift of new bookcase and I will try to make it happen that all the books will stay in the bookcase, not taking over all the room they had lately done.

At first I planned to do just one month and, to not make it too hard, to keep reading some books also from the local library. But – no new purchases of books.

January was not very successful, though – I read 15 book and 9 of them were from library. So I decided to keep doing the dare, baby step by baby step, and from the 9 books read so far in February, 5 have been from TBR pile.

My favorite has been Ice by Ulla-Lena Lundberg – lately I just love to read details of everyday life and in this case these details are also exotic enough to be thought provoking. Also, somehow I have been reading a lot about the II World War, so it feels satisfying when details from more than one place fall into place like pieces of enormous puzzle that is the World at that moment of time.

A book I often think back to is also a library book – Naoko by Keigo Higashino – creepy, but thought provoking.

Has any of my readers also encountered these two book? Did you like them

“Lots of Candles, Plenty of Cake” by Anna Quindlen


A book I will not finish – too uncomfortably alien for me. I will read one of her novels next, as I do enjoy her writing.

It is just that the differences I could easily find amusing while reading about experiences of a camel herd in desert, can feel jarring when one kind of feels one should have, somehow, had similar ones but one has failed.

The irony, of course, is that the leitmotif of the book seems to be “at our age we have stopped attempting to be who we think we should be, we can be ourselves!”

Well, this might be the problem – it can be uncomfortable, like visiting a church as an atheist, to be an outsider during activity that is supposed to give the comfort of company for the similarly- minded.

But lets end with a quote I did find truthful to my experiences, too:
“People do confuse alone and lonely, but when you’ve made the choice to be by yourself, the first has no shadow of the second. Inevitably, age is a time of solitude, not only because at a certain point your friends begin to die – “Last man standing,” my father said one day after the news of another passing – but because they, too, become less interested in frantic roundelays of socializing.”

Choosing a book to read


Who is your favorite translator of fiction?

Mine is Riina Jesmin.

I must confess, though, that I do not generally check and remember who is the translator of the books I read in Estonian translation.

But “Mrs. Dalloway” by Virginia Woolf was such a pleasure when I read it first time! I had read it in Estonian translation, but I looked up the original after enjoying translation so much. And something strange happened, something that had not happened to me before (and has not happened later): I did not enjoy the original words by Virginia Woolf as much, they flowed differently. So I learned my main pleasure had come from the Estonian words by Riina Jesmin.

And, to my surprise, I found that while I had thought I was fan of Robertson Davies (and in this case I DID enjoy the other books by same author in original also), what had got me initially hooked was Estonian translation of “What’s Bred in the Bone” by Riina Jesmin; while I enjoyed so much “Around the Globe in 20 Years : An Artist at Large in the Diplomatic World” by Irena Wiley, the translator was once again Riina Jesmin.

So, this time I just searched for books translated by Riina Jesmin and picked up “Wild” by Cheryl Strayed neither for the author nor for the topic, but simply for the reason that it has been translated to Estonian by Riina Jesmin.*

I do not regret so far. Even if reading about another mother dying from cancer so soon after death of my own mother from the same disease might have been tricky … As in such cases even “being lucky” can hurt – yes, Cheryl Strayed lost her mother at age 22, when I lost mine two weeks before turning 50; yes, my mother had less pain – something to be grateful for, but still …

Also, just as a random titbit to mention, in one place Cheryl Strayed wonders about someone describing her mother as “having crossed the river”. And this reminded me the story my aunt told at my mothers wake.

“As a child I asked my mother what happened to people, who had died. ‘They have crossed the Toonela** river,’ my mother told me. And her answer made sense to me, as I grew up next to the Pärnu river and so the idea of having to cross a river to leave was something I could imagine and accept.”


* I was seeking for something in Estonian to send to my daughter, who works in Vietnam at the moment. But i wanted to read anything I send to her myself first

** Estonian equivalent of river Styx

“An Estonian Childhood: A Memoir” by Tania Alexander


First I want to say two things:

1) I read the Estonian translation of the book, but the original was written (and published) in English: “An Estonian Childhood” by Tania Alexander.

2) what I have to say may not be all positive, but I did like the book and would recommend it to people who like to read about life stories.

The title of the book is, at least from my viewpoint, a bit of a misnomer. As not only does the big part of the story deal with life and loves of mother of Tania Alexander, Moura Budberg, even the part that does take part in Estonia has very little Estonia in it. And Estonians slip into the memoirs only in role of servants. I guess it could be compared to the Brits writing about their life in India or Africa.

Tania Alexander was citizen of Estonia, but she writes: “From early childhood we spoke Russian, German and English at home, and learned both to read and to write in those languages. At that time Estonian was still a developing language. We spoke it mostly with villagers and servants. We learned by ear to speak it fluently, but never to write it”

In 1919 she was right, Estonian WAS a kitchen language and even educated Estonians in among themselves switched to German or Russian when talking about intellectual or scientific topics between themselves. But Tania Alexander grew up in Estonia and when she left it was possible to get university degrees in Estonian. Just that family of Tania Alexander used the cultural freedom Estonian state allowed for to schooling their children in German and not even having Estonian lessons in these schools. Why should they learn language of the aborigines more than was needed for talking to the servants?

Still, as I love reading family stories, I enjoyed the story and found it thought provoking.

I also looked around to find out more about the murder of Tania’s father. Officially the murderer was never found. The local lore, though, had a suspect, who might have liked to consider the murder political, but it looks like it might have been a petty grudge, revenge for humiliation the German manor owner caused for an Estonian laborer, who made a mistake in manners.

May-be this is place to, if not take back, then at least soften my words on failure of the former Baltic German nobility to fit in in the independent Estonia. As there was resentment from the Estonian side and unwillingness to forget the 700 years of slavery under the Baltic German yoke. Tania Alexander considered herself a Russian and was quite critical toward the Baltic Germans in her memoirs. She does write, though, that leaving Estonia for the Nazi Germany in 1939 was choosing between two evils. Tania’s school time sympathy Heinrich von Neff, who was among the very few, who refused to leave Estonia, was murdered in 1940 (again, the reason seems to be petty jealousy … but the result was politically welcome to the Soviet occupants).

To summarize – the memoirs are more fascinating when one is familiar with the history of former Baltic provinces of the Russian Empire and with the Russian history, but it is also a thought provoking family history on its own merit, even if told in fractured way.

“A Thousand Splendid Suns” by Khaled Hosseini

Read as part of the Around the World in 12 Books Challenge 2014.

I did like the book and found it interesting, even taking into consideration both the depressing fate of the main heroines Mariam and Laila and the bigger than life, soap opera like, turns the plot takes in some places.

At first I was going to shrug off a complaint I read in a review, that this book made Muslim Afghan women reading the book sad that their fate of happy Muslim women was not even glimpsed in the novel. But then I remembered how some Estonian women felt about the novel by Sofi Oksanen “Purge” – that it causes the English language readers to have VERY wrong idea about Estonian women and their lives. That a book about abuse and damage of PTSD and the maladaptive ways some victims may use is interesting as long as one knows other, more normal Estonian women, but when the ONLY image of who an Estonian woman is comes from such a story, it sure does make some Estonians uneasy. And, if you are a native English speaker, do tell me about how many Estonian women have you read in fiction?

“Learn this now and learn it well, my daughter: Like a compass needle that points north, a man’s accusing finger always finds a woman. Always.” That is the wisdom Mariams mother gives to her little daughter.

And the marriage of Mariam seems to prove this point, as her much older husband Rasheed certainly turns out to be fast to accuse and free with his fists to release tension.

Yet the abuse itself is nothing specifically Afghan, but widespread in traditional patriarchal world. Or, as it gets said out loud (regarding life in a Vietnamese village in middle of 20th century, quoting from “When Heaven and Earth Changed Places” by Le Ly Hayslip vith Jay Wurts) : “In fact, wife beating was so common it was accepted as a necessary way for men to blow off steam and, oddly enough, keep the family together – for we believed the main reason men abandoned their families was because of bad karma: they had lost all hope of living a happy life. Like the extremes single mothers sometimes went to for survival, we accepted wife abuse without condoning it – as an unfortunate but sometimes inescapable part of life, like hard work or disease.”

As conclusion – I did find the book thought provoking, as it made me ponder about more general questions of fates of women* and of what we seek in novels. Of how hard it may prove to be THE writer to introduce your country to English speaking readership at the moment.

* for me it is fascinating to compare the fate and the resulting actions of Mariam and Laila to fate and actions of Aliide and Zara. I would be very interested to discuss these similarities and differences with other people, who also have read both “A Thousand Splendid Suns” by Khaled Hosseini and Purge by Sofi Oksanen.