It was first published in the spring of this year by Oval books (of London, UK) and was snapped up by the Estonians, quickly translated (a great job by Mati Soomre) and brought out as Sellised nad on … eestlased. The book has three authors – Hilary Bird, Ulvi Mustmaa and Lembit Öpik. As is typical of so many situations involving Estonians, the trio is a good representation of our recent fate. Hilary’s name was originally Anneliis Meikar - her mother was a refugee from Käsmu, Lääne Virumaa, but Anneliis was adopted (in 1948) as a baby in the UK after her mother was decanted from the DP camps in Germany. Anneliis-Hilary has tracked down the Meikars (still living in Käsmu) and now lives in Tartu. Lembit’s grandfather, a famous astronomer, was also a refugee but Lembit enjoys a whacky reputation in the UK (as a one time MP and for his saucy love life) in his own right. Ulvi, meanwhile, was stuck in the USSR but now works for the travel industry – her book on the Latvians, refuting the popular belief that they have six toes, was popular.
The English version sold well here and Sellised looks to be a hit in Estonia. Consequently, Apollo– a major bookstore chain here - asked the local authors, Ulvi and Hilary, to do a presentation at Lõunakeskus, the big shopping mall in Tartu. After some nervous twittering the pair met their public (about a dozen friends and relations!) in a cosy corner on Saturday, 16th October, and the reception could not have been better. Friends and the shop bought flowers and a bottle of the fizzy stuff and took snaps of the great occasion as the authors signed books (in English and Estonian) and answered questions.
As always, three Estonians, five opinions, held sway but the general opinion was that the writers had done a good job in depicting the real Estonians and in helping the world to understand our odd little part of the world. One fan, for example, asked was it altogether accurate to say that Estonians did not wear leather? Hilary explained that we stretched a point as many from the “west” think we are leather-clad Russian KGB and many from the “east” think we are leather-clad German Gestapo so an image of an Estonian in a linen cap sweltering away in a thick woolly jumper at a 35-degree-plus song festival was a good way of scotching those particular myths!
The reviews here have been good. Heinz Valk, the artist, caricaturist and politician (he is credited for coining the phrase “Singing Revolution” and its slogan "One day, we will win, come what may!" – “Ükskord me võidame niikuinii!” ) is quoted at the beginning of Sellised as saying “ This book holds up a magic mirror to the Estonian people, getting under the shiny fur of the national-heroic pussy cat. Some will hate this but most of us will probably chuckle and giggle at the pleasant, spicy self-irony whilst the perceptive analysis beats any we are getting about the advent of the Euro.”
Peeter Oja, presenter of the of the very long-running satirical popular TV programme Ärapanija (best translated as “the one who puts away”!) comments that “Estonians can say that “This book is, more, or less, normal” … we are pleased that the Estonians have been included in this series … I particularly recommend it to those who like to get their teeth into a good chunk of criticism and come out with a good whine. This, of course, is completely, normal.
The Xenophobes guide to the Estonians is now going international! (1)