Why are writers drawn to the past, and why do readers follow them there? What do historical novels tell us about the past, or the present? Which universal themes occur in any time period? Kristina Sabaliauskaitė, whose Silva Rerum saga – set in the years 1659-1795 across England, France, the Netherlands and Germany – is considered Lithuania’s most important literary event of the past decade, and Rein Raud, whose recently-translated novel The Death of the Perfect Sentence takes place in Soviet-occupied Estonia, discuss these questions.
Rein Raud, born in 1961, has written eight novels in addition to several collections of short stories, poetry, and numerous essays. He has won many awards and has been compared to Umberto Eco, as he combines prolific literary activities with a successful academic career as a cultural theorist and philosopher. Three of his novels have been translated into English, and his works have been published in seven other languages.
In his books, Raud traditionally combines a tense atmosphere with sudden plot twists and precise stylistic consciousness. Critics have remarked that he never returns to the same theme twice, even though recent historical events play a prominent part in several of his novels, including The Reconstruction (2012; 2017 in English) and The Death of the Perfect Sentence (2015; 2017 in English). The former describes the events leading up to a collective religious suicide committed by a group of young people, while the latter is a love/spy story that takes place during the final months of Soviet occupation in Estonia. Raud’s most recent book Bell and Hammer, his longest work to date, takes place in a remote manor on the Estonian coast. The book contains several different storylines, each told in its own voice and style. One of these is dedicated to the travels of a Baltic German aristocrat in the first half of the 19th century; another to the search for an orphaned child who vanishes without a trace in 1950; and two separate storylines observe a collection of disturbing events in 2016, when the same manor opens as a museum. Little by little, we learn how the human fates entangled in this location throughout different points in history are mysteriously tied to a game using cards and dice that has been played in the manor house for centuries.
Tuesday, 10 April
Rein Raud and Kristina Sabaliauskaitė
Writing History as Fiction: The Baltics and Beyond
Tuesday, 10 April
Rein Raud and David Szalay
Re-writing Europe: Rein Raud in conversation with David Szalay
Booker prize shortlisted novelist David Szalay joins us to talk to acclaimed Estonian writer Rein Raud. David Szalay’s 2016 book All That Man Is deals with European masculinity in crisis. In it, nine different men in scattered parts of Europe try to understand what it means to be alive. Rein Raud’s work engages, among other things, with Europe as a cultural and political ideal – and as a utopia. His most recent novel in English, The Death of the Perfect Sentence, speaks about “little people” caught in the wheels of history, during the fall of the Soviet power. They will discuss the ways how literature is shaping and reflecting the changes in Europe, and whether fiction can build bridges across the divides that history has created.
Wednesday, 11 April
Rein Raud, Andrei Ivanov, Sergejs Timofejevs and Menna Elfyn. Chaired by Sasha Dugdale
Interpreting Cultures through Language: Russia, Europe and the West
Estonian-born Andrei Ivanov grew up in a Russian proletarian family, and his novels, though set in Estonia, are written in Russian and focus on Russian characters. He has won several high-profile awards and been shortlisted for the Russian Booker Prize twice. Estonian writer Rein Raud combines prolific literary activities with a successful academic career as a cultural theorist and philosopher. Sergejs Timofejevs is a member of the Latvian Russian poetry collective Orbita. Orbita not only creates multimedia poetic work but actively seeks to create dialogues between Russian and Latvian speaking authors. Menna Elfyn’s poetry has been published in bilingual English and Welsh editions. In conversation with Sasha Dugdale, join us for a discussion on the opportunities and limitations of writing in-and-out of different languages.