Carrying Linda’s Stones: An Anthology of Estonian Women’s Life Stories
Archived Articles 08 Dec 2006 K. Linda KiviEWR
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?G, £{¬rs: Suzanne Stiver Lie, Lynda Malik, Ilvi Jõe-Cannon, Rutt Hinrikus. Tallinn University Press, Tallinn, 2006. ISBN-10 9985-58-422-8[/B]

With a name like mine, I couldn’t help but be excited about cracking open this book of Estonian women’s life stories, Carrying Linda’s Stones. Being a “proper” reader, I started at the beginning with the academic chapters that introduce the subject of Estonian women’s experiences over the past 80 years. I caught myself skimming these well-written essays, eager to get to the heart of the subject — the stories themselves.

Those more sociologically inclined or less familiar with Esto history will find these essays quite compelling. As a lifelong feminist, I was happy to learn about Estonian feminism and early feminists, a subject never touched upon during my nine years at Esto school or during my ten years as an Estonian girl guide. (Do I dare ask: why not?)

When I reached the stories themselves, they exceeded my expectations. Here were a series of narratives that were diverse beyond my imaginings. How satisfying to read about the full spectrum of Estonian experience without judgements of which stories are more historically valid. A Russian-born Estonian recounts her experience as a woman tractorist who was fully engaged in the Soviet system next to a historian’s account of having to proceed with caution through the morass of Soviet revisionist influences. One exile’s return and moving back to Estonia in the 1990s is juxtaposed next to another’s who finds nothing alive for her in her homeland. And how satisfying to finally read about an Estonian-Jew’s experience — I had always wondered how those commatriots of ours experienced that war.

Most painful and moving to read were the tales of those deported to Siberia. These are the stories I am the least familiar with. Many of them were from farming families labelled as “kulaks” by virtue of their talents for tilling the Earth. The chaos, deprivation, death and uncertainty they lived through is almost beyond my comprehension, but the fortitude they mustered in order to survive is truly inspirational. Poignant too, were the struggles they faced when they finally returned to Eesti.

As I devoured this book, I worried that I might not be able to put it down. Just how long does it take to read a 600 page book all the way through? Sleep got the better of me that first night and I ended up savouring the book over many weeks, reading the stories individually. I let the full import of each narrative touch me. The cumulative weight of these multiple personal tragedies and triumphs in the face of adversity cast a sharp light on the recent injustices Estonians have experienced as a people.

Though I was born in Canada, 17 years after the end of WWII, this book nevertheless describes my psychic inheritance. Even before I finished it, I was thinking of all the friends and family I wanted to read it — Esto and non-Esto alike. Non-Estonian friends often puzzle over my strong allegiance to my culture and country of origin. The stories in this book point so brilliantly to the reasons. Behind all the terror my parents’ generation lived through was the intent to disperse Estonians and weaken the bonds that bind us to the land and each other. Our allegiance was often the only act of resistance we were left with. I caught myself wondering, once again, is there a correct response to the end of that terror? Or just a series of personal responses?

This week, I sang at the funeral of one of the few Estonians of my parents’ generation who have lived in my home town of Nelson, BC — Daisy Aesma. Her story was not dissimilar to those of the exiles in Carrying Linda’s Stones. I felt privileged to be able to mark the passing of her life, to honour loss and grief as well as survival and joy. My friend Annely Arrak and I sang “Kodu” (Home), holding each and every Estonian woman who has yearned for a simpler, more beautiful life our hearts. As the generation that lived through the war years dies off, Linda’s burden of “stones” are being passed on to us to carry in the form of stories like those in this book. May our inherited fortitude help us carry them with the tenderness they deserve. May our inherited determination help my generation of women thrive as well as survive.

While the stories engaged my heart, the final summary chapter allowed me to step back and bring my mind to bear on the subject as well. This conclusion set the stories in an historical context and provided a succinct and well considered overview of Estonian gender roles over time. I leave this book feeling both touched and better informed. Thank you to the four editors and Tallinn University Press for this inspired publication.

(Carrying Linda's Stones will soon again be available at the estore in Toronto. Place your order by email or by phone 416 465-2219)
 
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