Jaunā Gaita nr. 97, 1974

JG 97

In the autumn 1973 issue of Books Abroad, which features "A look at Baltic letters today" editor Ivar Ivask writes: "The ideological struggle between East and West has not permitted the full integration of the émigré literary achievements into the literature back home, where most books by émigrés are not openly available. Although interested émigrés can easily obtain most works published in the Soviet Baltic Republics, they have been reluctant to acknowledge the existence of worthwhile literary accomplishments there. Nevertheless the two temporarily divergent literary traditions are bound eventually to unite again in one single literature in each of the Baltic languages." Whether or not that should ever come true, Jaunā Gaita has, for a number of years now, tried to further mutual understanding by reviewing and reprinting some of the literature published in Soviet Latvia. This issue includes Rolfs Ekmanis' annual survey of the Soviet Latvian literary scene, "The Year 1972;" Laimonis Mieriņš' analysis of recent developments in Soviet Latvian art (as well as an interview with Mieriņš subsequent to his visiting Riga); numerous reviews of individual books; and selections from two of Soviet Latvia's leading prose writers, Alberts Bels and Aivars Kalve.

Both Mieriņš and Ekmanis are convinced that artistic creativity in Soviet Latvia is still hampered by censorship or, worse, self-censorship - and the strictures of socialist realism. Mieriņš quotes a claim by the president of the artists' union that the most important aspect of art is its content; art is a weapon against bourgeois ideology and a means for testifying to the noble reality of socialism and Leninist ideals.

However, there is innovation in the decorative arts, especially interior and textile design; and one can see hope for the future in the outstanding success of an exhibition by Jānis Anmanis, in which the artist combined his paintings with setting, music, and poetry into an organic, multi-media fantasy event, transcending the barriers between various arts.

Ekmanis sees little progress in literary criticism, scholarship, or the preservation of literary heritage, although some good work has been done in philology. Hostility toward the work of émigré authors has intensified, and also too few Latvian works are being translated. Translations from foreign languages, however, have been fairly plentiful, and Dzintars Freimanis' review of a collection of modern French verse edited by Maija Silmale accords it high praise. In poetry, a period of stagnation seems to have set in; the vitality, passion and technical experimentation of the sixties have been replaced by smooth phrases and hackneyed themes. Ekmanis finds only three collections worthy of commendation: the philosophical and stylistic complexity of Māris Čaklais; the laconic yet multi-faceted unity of theme and form in Imants Auziņš; and the classical purity and harmony in the verse of venerable Elza Stērste. Gundars Pļavkalns' review of seven new collections finds some striking, unusual qualities in the poems of Otomārs Rikmanis and Nora Kalna, but the others exhibit, at best, potential, at worst, triviality. Kaldupe, Whose Dragonhead is reviewed by Hamilkars Lejiņš, is praised for her skillful use of myth and fairy tale, and some novels with historical themes also exhibit interesting features - such as Marģers Zariņš' Hamlet, prince of Autine, a satiric juxtaposition of modern times and the Crusades. Another historical novel which has aroused considerable interest in both East and West is Bels' Voice in the Wilderness; excerpts from it, as well as a review by Andrievs Ezergailis, are included in this issue.

Bels' novel depicts, on the surface, the brutal events following the czarist suppression of the 1905 revolution in Latvia; the central figure is based on an actual revolutionist. However, the author tries to extend the relevance of his work by using the events and the philosophical reflections of his protagonist as a symbolic expression of the fate of the Latvian nation. Marxist terminology and apocalyptic biblical metaphors blend; the voice in the wilderness is not only a prophecy of doom and existential absurdity, but also a revolutionist's call for knowledge and enlightenment. Soviet Latvian reviewers praised the novel for its admirable synthesis of history, psychological analysis, and ideological reflections; Ezergailis, however, believes that it falls short of epic significance as metaphor for a nation's fate. For one, it is an over-simplification to view Latvians only as victimized; also, the ideological emphasis detracts from aesthetic values, and the use of irony and ambiguity, while an honorable literary device and perhaps Bels' means of circumventing censorship, is nevertheless puzzling in this particular context.

In contrast to Bels' philosophical convolutions, Kalve's "Frost Came on Sunday" seems to have a crystalline clarity and simplicity. Kalve's work, of course, is far from simple; with admirable economy, in a few words or sentences, he can lay bare the psyches or reveal the entire life histories of his characters, and with understatement emphasize the dramatic intensity and significance of situations.

Not all of this issue is concerned with Soviet Latvia; in addition to the regular sections, two new ones are included - "Theatre" edited by Kārlis Freimanis and Spodris Klauverts, and "Journeys - a Diary", by Juris Mazutis.

The cover is by Laimonis Mieriņš.


I. Š.-L.

Jaunā Gaita