Jaunā Gaita Nr. 219, decembris 1999

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JG 219

How can 1,300,000 Latvians integrate the 800,000 Russians living in Latvia, the legacy of 45 years of sovietization. Benita Veisberga records her impressions of the Latvian countryside, where each animal and plant is irreplaceable, and contrasts this with the consequences for Latvia of economic globalization and Russian imperialism. She concludes that foreign aid should be used to help Russians in Latvia to return to their homeland or to emigrate to the West. The basic requirements for Latvian citizenship must be the ability to speak Latvian and loyalty to the sovereign state of Latvia. The alternative, in her view, will lead to the destruction of the Latvian nation.

Gunars Bekmans also confronts this problem in his TV comedy script The Merry Widows, about a Latvian-American who arrives to teach English in a small village in eastern Latvia, whose inhabitants are now almost entirely Russians and know hardly a word of Latvian. Also in this issue is a hitherto unpublished story by Ernests Aistars, who died last year in the USA, about a small country boy in pre-war Latvia leaving for school and having to face the fact that he will only be able to come home on Sundays.

The poetry section of this issue features Imants Ziedonis, one of the most distinguished living Latvian writers. The seventeen loosely connected triolets published here blend colloquial and formal styles as they touch on eternal themes such as the sun, night and love of God and humanity.

Three leading Latvian cultural figures passed away in 1999. Velta Toma (b. 1912) was undoubtedly the most eminent Latvian poet living in Canada, who endured not only exile from her beloved homeland, but also estrangement from a large part of the exile community for her decision to maintain close contact with writers in Latvia. The president of Latvia, Vaira Vīķe-Freiberga, remembers Toma in this issue. Margarita Kovaļevska, who lived in the USA after the war, was a painter, illustrator and writer. Her paintings, which depicted folkloric themes in a piquant style all her own, are much loved by the Latvian public. Longings Apkalns, who settled in Germany after the war, was a composer of vocal and instrumental music.

Jānis Krēsliņš sr. analyzes historian Modris Ekšteins' acclaimed Walking Since Daybreak: a Story of Eastern Europe, World War II, and the Heart of Our Century. Ekšteins traces the story of his family during the tragic history of Latvia and Europe in the twentieth century. Krēsliņš finds the book a well-written and welcome addition to the scant historical material on the fate of Latvians driven to exile during World War II. However, Krēsliņš finds factual errors and is critical of Ekšteins' reliance on tainted sources.

Mārtiņš Lasmanis surveys the work of playwright and novelist Harijs Gulbis, especially his last two novels.

Irēne Avena discusses Inta Miške Ezergailis' fine collection of essays Nostalgia and Beyond: Eleven Latvian Women Writers (University Press of America, 1998). Ezergailis focuses on the writers' "double marginalization": their experience of exile, hence the "Nostalgia" of the title, and gender: as Ezergailis puts it, "In the differences imposed by gender, be they large or small, conscious or unconscious, there may be potential for dislodging the set ways of thinking about exile itself."

Contributing editor Juris Silenieks examines the problem of talented individuals who leave behind their identity as Latvians, such as eminent conductor Mariss Jansons and Sven Birkerts. who has been characterized as "the most interesting critic in America today" by David Foster Wallace.

Nora Kūla reports on Rūdolfs Blaumanis' beloved musical play Skroderdienas Silmačos (approx. "Tailors' Days at Silmači") staged outdoors at Garezers in Michigan this past summer. The cast included professional actors from Latvia, veterans Laimonis and Brigita Siliņš from the "Little Theatre" of San Francisco, and students and staff of the Latvian summer school at Garezers. Among the difficulties the actors faced was the heat wave (almost 40 C) during the week of rehearsals and the performance.

Painter Aija Zariņa describes a remarkable artistic happening ("Balasts") in June in a vacated army fort at the mouth of the river Daugava. Twenty rooms were filled with projects by 30 artists, including paintings, dance, and music. Laimonis Mieriņš gives his impressions of the magnificent Claude Monet exhibition in London, situating Monet among his Impressionist contemporaries, but missing some examples from Monet's earlier works.

Arnolds Kursis contributes an interesting discussion of the Latvian words for Christmas and Midsummer Night. The Kiberkambaris section includes items from a discussion on the Internet about women's rights, family and the Latvian birthrate. The book review section looks at work by Margita Gūtmane and Guntis Berelis, including a review by novelist Dzintars Sodums.

The frontispiece is by Imants Tillers and the cover is by Vitauts Sīmanis. Inta Ruka contributed the photograph on page 54.

Juris Zommers, Ilze Valdmanis

Jaunā Gaita