Jaunā Gaita nr. 109, 1976

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JG 109

The recent publication of Arturs Baumanis' monumental „Herrnhut novel" (a trilogy in eight parts, totaling well over 2,000 pages) has been one of the most unusual events in the history of Latvian literature. The author -- who describes himself as „not very sociable" -- was hardly known in literary circles. Since the '20's, he had been associated with several notable Latvian publications, but his own literary output consisted of a few essays on historical and literary subjects; relatively few people vere even aware that he had been working for a long time on a historical novel about the beginnings of Herrnhut religion in 18th century Livonia. In an interview with Jānis Krēsliņš, Baumanis discusses his involvement with the subject (dating back to an essay published in 1930) and the slow genesis of his novel. His serious researches began in 1942, and have covered many archives on two continents. Baumanis describes his novel as one that lacks exciting adventures or intense love interests; his purpose was to trace national awakening and the background which accounted for the incredible popularity and influence that Count Zinzendorf's creed gained in Livonia. The scope of the material caused considerable difficulties with structure; the novel was not written chronologically, but when parts 'seemed ripe for the telling'. The resulting work, as Krēsliņš notes, shows not only profound knowledge of, but also an incredible empathy with, the period. The usual character stereotypes are avoided, and the 18th century panorama presented with great realism, objectivity, and complexity.

Uldis Ģērmanis continues his exploration of 20th century Latvian military history with an essay on the 5th Congress of Latvian Riflemen in Dec. 1917, shortly after the fall of Kerensky's government. Ģērmanis' knowledge of the complex political cross - currents and conflicts of the time - the Latvian riflemen's involvement in the Russian Revolution, and the clashes between social democrats, bolsheviks, mensheviks, reds, and nationalists, is unequalled today. The essay serves as another useful appendix to his monograph, „The Commander from Zemgale." (JG 76-90).

Osvalds Akmentiņš, in „1906 Depicted by a Latvian-American Artist," provides some interesting insights into the paintings and opinions of a relatively obscure artist, Georgs Āboltiņš. The tragic events of the uprising against Russian czarist tyranny in 1905 Latvia - and its bloody suppression - deeply moved Latvians who had emigrated to the U.S. in the early years of the century. Āboltiņš, then residing in Philadelphia, portrayed them in grim, melodramatic paintings. However, unlike most of the early Latvian émigrés, Āboltiņš was no leftist, but a thoroughly bourgeois anti-socialist. In the '20's, Āboltinš returned to Latvia and continued to write letters to friends and associates in the U.S., constantly criticizing social and artistic developments in Latvia as too liberal, leftist, and impractical. Even the establishment of an authoritarian regime in 1934 did not satisfy Āboltiņš, whose political opinions show a definite fascistic bent.

In honor of the Olympics this summer, and remembering the ancient Greek belief that mental and physical training must blend in developing full human potential, this issue devotes considerable space to athletics. Included are a fragment from Vilis Lācis' 1935 sports story, „Idol of the Crowd;" pictures of Soviet Latvian athletes who will be competing in Montreal; and an article by Jānis Doniņš, himself an outstanding athlete who was recently permitted to emigrate to the U.S. Doniņš writes: "The cultural level of each nations is 'determined not only by its achievements in the fields of science and art, but also by its attainments in athletics, which testify to harmony between physical health and creative spirit. In this area the small Latvian nation, amidst those whose number is in many millions, takes a prominent place."

The literature section includes portions of two long poem sequences, Roberts Mūks' „Transcendental Eroticism" and Richards Rīdzinieks' „Rīga Journey," Mūks keeps a delicate balance between metaphysics, intense romanticism, and a cynical bravado, constantly throwing in ironic references to specific places, persons, and events that counteract sentimentality. Space and time are traversed, the universe „rolled up into one ball", to conclude that „deepest calm" and „eternal love" / exist only in change / in the moment we don't try to mummify in our memories." Rīdzinieks (whose friend, poet Juris Kronbergs, visited Rīga in 1975), projects himself into Kronbergs' mind and, waiting in the exile of gloomy Swedish winter, follows him through once familiar streets now changed, through various encounters and emotional reactions. Momentary exhilaration mingles with depression and regret, familiarity with alienation; the overall mood seems gentle resignation. Aina Zemdega's poem „The Return" juxtaposes marginal exerpts from a letter describing her father's funeral far away with her own intense poetic recreation of the scene. The poem is not sad, but joyous; death, the end of life, is the beginning of eternity, a return to the earth cherished and the woman loved. Astrīde Ivaska, in „Iceland" and „Spring, Northern Italy," bridges some of the gap between poetry and prose. Her vivid, imagistic evocations of landscape, through emotional identification with it, become philosophical meditations. And Modris Zeberiņš, in „Does Love Exist?", throws, pell-mell, literary quotes, references and reflections on art, theatre, mythology, and particular places, like bits of broken mirror, into a confused but fascinating heapot prose.

The cover is by Voldemārs Avens. Frontispiece is by Edgars Krūmiņš.


Ilze Šedrika-Levis

Jaunā Gaita