Friday, March 16, 2012

The forbidden national flag (or some words on Betti Alver)

I have been enjoying Juhani Salokannel's excellent Letters part of Jaan Kross' Life and Letters. The author himself took care of the life in his exceedingly interesting, crafty and quite odd memoirs, which led Salokannel to concentrate on literary analysis with very fortunate results. He does breach also some broader subjects and makes very fascinating comparisons between Estonia and Finland and their literary traditions.

Of course one massive difference is the cultural wasteland created by the Soviet system: so many people fled, were deported, died, and those that survived were not able to write, or publish. After Stalin things admittedly became easier, even as pure an artist as Kross could write, but with a careful balancing act in what at heart remained a terror system. This reality is very hard for us to comprehend having comfortably lived in an unoccupied Nordic welfare state. We have no real idea of that national tragedy, of how comprehensive the disaster was.

Betti Alver stood out in Salokannel's text - I had heard her name, but had not known her substantial influence on Kross, or even her distinctive poetic approach. She wasn't a nationalist writer, but she surely was a national writer, one that would have been undoubtedly quite productive and much celebrated (and later rebelled against) in a Finnish type post-war Estonia. That never happened: Heiti Talvik died (in effect was murdered) in Siberia, Betti Alver was silent for five decades. That's quite a difference indeed, something that is not easily communicated accross national experiences - but Salokannel does impressive work in this regard.

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