Jaunā Gaita nr. 91, 1972

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JG 91

The biennial Jānis Jaunsudrabiņ Prize for Prose (named in honor of the late dean of modern Latvian novelists) was established in 1962, in association with Jaunā Gaita. Its purpose is to recognize young writers whose work - on the basis of literary quality as well as stylistic and thematic innovations - marks new directions in Latvian prose fiction. The current award is shared by Jānis Gorsvāns (for his collection of short fiction, A Rich and Full Life) and Eglons Spēks (for his collection of sea stories, I Viewed the Sea). This issue featured an interview with Spēks as well as an excerpt from his forthcoming novel, Oiltanker Victoria, while the layout and illustrations of the literature section are by Gorsvāns.

Spēks is a seaman by profession, and, as he states in the interview, most of his writing is done at sea, "on diverse longitudes and latitudes of the world's oceans and seas." "Sea literature" inevitably invites comparison with many illustrious predecessors; but, unlike such chroniclers of sea adventure as Conrad or Melville, Spēks is not primarily concerned with the intricate probing of strange, obsessive psyches or complex metaphysical problems. In language at once classically simple and colloquially alive, he vividly portrays the daily life at sea, experiences in exotic ports, and a colorful gallery of sea-dog types. The current excerpt juxtaposes harsh, ironic vignettes of death and burial at sea with memories of romance, missed opportunities, and poetic dreams. Death, dream, and memory also figure as themes in Laima Kalniņa's story "Cat's Paw"; here, however, the author 'is concerned with Jungian "Racial memory", "collective unconscious" - or visions of a dimly remembered, submerged, ancient past.

The poetry section includes works by Gunars Saliņ, Juris Zommers, and Irma Bērziņa, as well as a selection from contemporary Swiss poets (translated by Irma Bērziņa, Kln, Germany). Notable among the Swiss poets are Erika Burkart, "First Lady" of Swiss poetry, for her almost mystical concentration on man's inner life; Rainer Brambach, with his sense of organic unity with nature and his surroundings; and Eugen Gomringer, Switzerland's chief theoretician and practitioner of concrete poetry, with its emphasis on words and structure apart from meaning. Bērziņa also contributes an informative and sensitive essay on the intellectual background and aesthetic trends of Swiss literature. Bērziņa feels that, considering the problems of a writer living in a linguistically pluralistic society, in a geographically stifling country less interested in cultural achievements than in national security and economic pragress - as well as in a world where rapid change and contemporary emphasis on contetmpt for language often lead to a sense of lack of direction, insecurity and skepticism in literature - the achievements of modern Swiss writers are remarkable for variety, quantity, and quality.

Rolfs Ekmanis (Arizona State U.) continues his analysis of Soviet Latvian literature during 1971. Ekmanis deplores, above all, the continuing hostility regarding publication of Latvian writers living in exile, the sporadic and badly chosen translations of Latvian literature in foreign languages, and the difficulties that young authors have to encounter in getting their work published. The dearth of literary journāls is inexcusable, and Latvia is apparently alone among the Soviet republics not to have a literary magazine in Russian. Such a publication would make Latvian literature accessible to a wider international audience, and is therefore highly desirable. Pāvils Klāns (Denmark), in "The Silent Counterrevolution", continues to analyze the historical as well as current social background of the ideological clashes and problems relating to cultural exchange and contact with Soviet Latvia. Unfortunately, because of a lack of space, Jaunā Gaita was forced to abbreviate Ekmanis' and Klāns' articles.

Among the books reviewed and discussed in this issue, one might note Kurbad, the Mare's Son, authored by Jānis Turbads. Excerpts from this "satire on everything Latvian and sacred" originally appeared in JG during 1959, immediately becoming a succčs de scandale. Olģerts Puravs analyzes the dangers and difficulties involved in fictional treatments of the uses of the past in a comparison of recent works by Irma Grebzde and Valentīns Pelēcis. Puravs feels that Grebzde's portrayal of the healing power that a hypothetical recreation of the ancient past can exert on drug-ridden, lost flower children smacks of romantic primitivism; Pelēcis recreation of the actual past, with all its bitter ironies, eschews facile solutions to complicated problems. Also included are analyses of three World War II novels published in Soviet Latvia; a novel by Teodors Zeltiņ; and the works' of Johannes Bobrowski (East Germany) and Theodor Kallifatides (Greek).

The reproductions of paintings by Voldemārs Avens are accompanied by comments of his fellow artists regarding Avens' spring '72 exhibition in New York, which impressed and surprised all spectators because of Avens' unexpected, striking change of style. Included also are reproductions of paintings by Ida Kerkovius, whose Latvian landscapes were discovered at the Stuttgart museum. Gvīdo Augusts, editor in charge of qrt criticism, contributes some little-known, frequently ironic gems of information about Latvian Art history. It is almost too painful to read his account of how the Latvian government in the '30's, obsessed with "monumental architecture", ordered the destruction of numerous medieval landmark buildings in Old Riga. Augusts' illustrations of a recent edition of Goethe's notebooks in English are reviewed by Inta Ezergaile.

Finally, included are some marginalia on the rigidity (and potential flexibility) of the Latvian Press.

The cover is by Ilmārs Rumpēters.

 

I. .-L.


Jaunā Gaita