Jaunā Gaita nr. 196, marts 1994

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JG 196

This issue contains a cross-section of current Latvian ideas and imagery: a play that deals with the present yet takes place in the past, impressions of the Pope's visit to Aglona in 1993, an economist's ideas about the problems of developing a consumer-oriented market economy in a society where self-sufficiency, frugality and fairness are cardinal virtues.

Playwright and poet Māra Zālīte has contributed a two-act play, The Hedgehog's Coat, for this issue. Zālīte often uses folklore in her plays and poetry, and in this play she retells the folk tale of the hedgehog, born to the barren farmer's wife, who wins the hand and heart of the king's daughter through his courage and cunning. Zālīte has added several characters from her own imagination to the story: Amaryllis, "an extravagant indoor plant", the Cricket, who "is from time immemorial and who is simply always around", and the Clock with the broken heart. These characters serve as a chorus in the action of the play and are Hedgehog's saviours when all seems lost. Four obnoxious and greedy Pigs also appear in the story to torment the Hedgehog. As seems to be the usual case in Zālīte's plays, most of the characters and the action of the play symbolize larger entities - certain groups in society, folklore, aspects of recent Latvian history. The play can be enjoyed on several levels: as a wonderful old story and as a satirical yet affectionate commentary on Latvia today and in the recent past.

Playwright and actor Uldis Siliņš spent the summer of 1993 in Latvia. Travelling about his native country, he observed a great deal, both good and bad, including the fact that solutions to problems seem to be sought in alcohol more than ever. Siliņš spent a large portion of his time in Latgale, and vividly describes the visit of Pope John Paul II to Aglona.

We have two reviews of the same novel - Ingrīda Vīksna's The House on the Edge of the Hill - by Valija Ruņģe and Mārtiņš Lasmanis. The novel describes the development of the Latvian community in Toronto, one of the largest outside Latvia, after the Second World War. This is Vīksna's first novel in over forty years; in the meantime she has been a highly-regarded poet, editor and journalist. Gundars Ķeniņš, economist and Fulbright professor at the Riga Technical University, reviews Nikolajs Balabkins' and Manfreds Šneps' book When Latvia Becomes a Welfare State: Economist Kārlis Balodis about a prominent economist of the first half of this century. Ķeniņš ends his review with some insights of his own into the current problems of Latvia's economy.

The problems of language and translation, which were the central theme of our previous issue, are brought into focus in the translations by Alant Vils (Sweden) of poems by Swedish poets Helmer Grundstrom and Cornelis Vreeswijk into the northwest Latvian Ventini dialect. Alant Vils, whose real name is Fricis Forstmanis, grew up in this part of Latvia where the dialect still flourished before World War II. Forstmanis is also known as Fricis Dziesma, whose poetry in standard literary Latvian is quite different from the humourous poetry he writes under his Alant Vils persona.

Our poetry section also has a selection of poems by the Irish poet Seamus Heaney, translated by Ilze Raudsepa (USA). As well as her translations, Raudsepa contributes her interview with Seamus Heaney while he was visiting Harvard University. Heaney and Raudsepa discussed the evolution of Heaney's work, his concern for the blighted lives and poverty of rural Irish life, the historical burden of British rule in Ireland and the tragedy of Ulster. While Heaney is fascinated by language as such, he argues that a poet must come to terms with his literary heritage in order to discover his own voice. When shown an early draft of Raudsepa's translations of his work, Heaney wondered how a key word such as "dream bower" translates into Latvian, and generally encouraged a freer, less literal translation. Raudsepa sees parallels between Heaney's difficulties in rendering traditional Gaelic poetry into English (Sweeney Astray) and the translation of Latvian folk songs, because of the frequent use of diminutives.

Fridrichs Milts (1907-1993) was a graduate of the Latvian Academy of Art in the 1930s, but lived and painted in New York City after World War II. He was a central figure in the "Hell's Kitchen" group of Latvian poets and artists that also included poets Linards Tauns, Gunars Saliņš, Roberts Mūks, Aina Kraujiete, Rita Gāle and Baiba Bičole. Nikolajs Bulmanis describes some of the occasions when he met Milts in America.

Dagmāra Vallena describes the late president of the Latvian Writers' Association Viktors Neimanis as a born communicator with an elegant style in his many articles and programmes prepared for Radio Liberty and Radio Free Europe. We are printing the first part of J. Torgāne's article on actress Anta Klints in this issue.

Žanis Epners opposes Arturs Silgailis' viewpoint (JG 193) that the Latvian Legion helped save Latvian lives in World War II. Epners argues that poorly-trained conscripts, the ambitions of the Latvian military commanders and Hitler's policies in the Baltic cost thousands of Latvian lives both during the war and afterward in Siberia. Imants Zilberts has contributed two cartoons on recent political events in Latvia. The cover is by Ilmārs Rumpēters, and the frontispiece is a drawing by Fridrichs Milts.


I.V., J.Z., L.Z

Jaunā Gaita