Mari Saat (b. 1947) is an author among the very best in Estonian letters. Her very first book Katastroof (Catastrophe, 1973) won the Friedebert Tuglas Short Story Award. Since then she has published short stories, novels and children’s books. She is very original and very serious, and unique against the background of Estonian prose, sharply analysing social issues in a suggestive, dreamlike manner: human fantasy and dream, even sleepwalking are unforgettable themes, and her very sensitive understanding of the mechanisms of the human psyche is remarkable.
As a writer Mari Saat (Mari Meel, born in 1947 in Tallinn) has a quite unusual background: she holds a Doctorate in Economics and teaches business ethics at Tallinn University of Technology. She is married to Raul Meel, an internationally acclaimed avant-garde artist.
In her psychological prose Saat goes deep into the mind in a profound, captivating way. It has been remarked that she writes a lot about the tension of being and non-being, existential thoughts and death, in exploring consciousness. Her fiction is a place reflecting the human way of perceiving things, the world. In Saat´s first novels Mida teha emaga (What to Do With Mother, 1978), Laanepüü (Hazel Grouse, 1980), and Õun valguses ja varjus (An Apple in Light and Shadow, 1985) one of the issues is the contrast of country and city inside a family circle. Saat often describes unusual, peculiar and very sensitive persons. In Võlu ja vaim (Charm and Spirit, 1990) a young girl from the countryside comes to town like a child of nature and tries to adapt, finding and making out herself at first. Often one of the characters is an artist with very touching, artless way of discovering the world. Saat writes about relationships, but asks wider questions about human existence in general. Saat has also written for children.
Love, life and death are the key questions in the poem-like novel Sinikõrguste tuultes … (In the Winds of Blue Heights…, 2000), in the background the tragedy of the ship Estonia, which sank in 1994, and here the question of nationality comes in as well: the protagonist, an artist, whose inner monologue the novel is, comes from a family of a Russian captain, is therefore only half Estonian and has a child with a Swedish man (he drowns in the catastrophe).
With the novel Lasnamäe lunastaja (The Saviour of Lasnamäe, 2008), one of the highlights of that year, Saat became unintentionally the spokesperson of the Estonian Russians.
Lasnamäe is a part of Tallinn, a dormitory suburb built in the nineteen-sixties and nineteen-seventies during the socialist era and was then mainly occupied by Russians, the immigrants from the other parts of the Soviet Union. The residents are now as well mostly Russian-speaking. Saat´s heroine Natalja Filippovna is a Russian woman in her forties, having once come to Tallinn as a wife of a Soviet Army officer. As a single mother she raises a daughter, Sofia, does not speak Estonian and works in a mobile phone factory. The little, fragile and smart Sofia needs expensive dental braces because of a bad dental anomaly. When Natalja Filippovna loses her job because of the economic crisis, she is almost forced to become a prostitute to pay for her daughter´s treatment. The questions of sacrificing and redeeming come up in several contexts and the novel does not give a final answer. A very interesting comparison between two Russian generations living in Estonia is given. It is a book of the modern world in Dostoyevsky´s tradition, altogether with its very captivating human empathy and delicacy in disconsolate conditions.
Saat is very intensive and subtle at the same time, often asking things that are bitter or biting, fascinated by existential issues. Her works have won many prestigious literary awards and have been translated into several languages.

Text by Elle-Mari Talivee


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