Jaunā Gaita nr. 79, 1970

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JG 79

Rīga 1969: Restoration of St. Peters Church

This issue again is devoted to life and arts in Soviet Latvia. Over the last year the emigré attitude towards Soviet Latvia has become more ambiguous and divided than ever before. Lively debate, to which Jaunā Gaita has contributed, has sprung up about the very basic conceptualizations that we hold about Latvians in Latvia and the Soviet order. For example, it is questioned whether Soviet Latvia or Occupied Latvia should be the correct nomenclature, and whether these terms designate a social or a political order. The question of tourism to Soviet Latvia has also been widely discussed: a very significant portion of exiled Latvians answer the question in the negative because, in their view, tourism may impart some measure of legitimacy to the Soviets. A somewhat more sophisticated and quiet debate that is close to the concerns of Jaunā Gaita touches upon the treatment of Soviet Latvian artists - especially their poets in the emigré press. „By writing about Latvian poets and reprinting their works do we or don't we contribute to their actual and potential persecution? " The intellectuals with artistic temperament and literary training seem to think that we do.

Last year our editor Rolfs Ekmanis predicted that neo-Stalinism is about to cast a chilly pall over arts in Latvia. To some degree that seems to have occurred. Especially during the second half of the year the literary journals showed more restraint in printing bold and innovative works in comparison to 1968. The exiling of the 87-year old Social Democratic leader and theorist Fricis Menders was perhaps the most bizarre aspect of life in Soviet Latvia in 1969.

The issue is introduced by the distinguished Latvian poet Imants Ziedonis: „Berry-picking and the Popularity of Poetry" where the poet comes to grips not only with the desirability or undesirability of large printings of poetic works (an issue of 30,000 is his suggested upper limit , but also the question of communication between poets and their public. He argues that the natural poetical evolution will lead towards the sophistication of poetry which is desirable, but it will also lead towards esoteric writing which is not. On the part of the readers the dangers to be avoided are resistance to innovations in style and ideas, the craving for sensationalism, and the accumulation of books for purposes of display alone.

Next follows a pictorial essay illustrating various aspects df life and arts in Latvia during 1969, including sports, religion, films, and town planning. A. Ezergailis' comments on Latvian historical and contemporary relations with the Russians conclude the first section of the issue.

The next item is a short-short by Andris Jakubāns, a Latvian master of the genre whose stories have already with some justice been compared with those of the early Chekhov. Here Jakubāns takes the archetypal prodigal son and his old and sick mother who lives in a dilapidated house on the outskirts of the city. The son's return on the eve of the mother's death more than fulfills her final wish because for the farewell the son brings along a whole circus in which he has become the ringmaster. This short-short has the makings of a sob story, but Jakubāns with his sense of the jocular and his economy of words transcends it.

The themes of Eros and Thanatos, love and death, weave through the story "The Third One" by Viktors Lagzdinš. The discovery of a human skull on a desolated forest beach suddenly interrupts a light-hearted and frivolous summer affair between two youngsters. The war, which they do not recall, their early life, and thoughts of death begin to impinge upon their minds which amounts to an experience that makes for a difference in their love affair and their future expectations.

In the poetry section several Soviet Latvian poets are represented. An interesting feature is the poetical exchange between Vizma Belševica representing the new wave and Mirdza Ķempe, one of the upholders of traditional themes. Ķempe berates her colleague in a poem „Riga is Never Silent" for having written the line „The winds rage. The winds howl. Riga remains silent."

In the review section four Soviet Latvian books are reviewed. The Latvian Ethnography, ed. H. Strods, reviewed by A. Skreija (Omaha, Nebr.). Two books on graphic reproductions by G. Krollis and Z. Zuze reviewed by T. Ķiķauka (Hamilton, Ont.). A book of poems "The Voice of Leaves" by M. Čaklais reviewed by G. Grava (Stockholm).

The issue also contains the continuation of U. Ģērmanis' (Stockholm) monograph about J. Vācietis and book reviews by G. Pļavkalns (Australia), Hamilkars Lejiņš (Denton, Texas), A. Ezergailis (Ithaca, N.Y.), and a review of W.S. Kuniczak's book A Thousand Hour Day which the reviewer Olģerts Rūsis compares with Günter Grass' treatment of Polish themes.

Jaunā Gaita