Monday, 1 August 2016

Toomas Karmo: Surprising Mum-and-Dad Discovery in Tammsaare "Tõde ja Õigus", Volume V

Here are a few things of joy, one of them a thing of distinctive joy. 

On the left are two postcards, such as were sold to the touring public up until 2007 or 2008  from the front counter in the David Dunlap Observatory lobby here in Ontario. 

The mechanical pencil is from my dear relative Markel near Tallinn, from my emergency journey from Canada to a family funeral in Tartu in 2010. 

The thing that looks like a teaspoon is in reality a spoon for eating fruit, probably of sterling silver, with what looks like gold plating over its concavity. This spoon is one of the few things my paternal grandmother was able to stuff into a handbag, or into similar light luggage, in the escape of 1944, as the front collapsed and the 1944-through-1991 Soviet occupation began. 

The ashtray and stubby spoon are souvenirs of Mum's and Dad's refugee (technically, "Displaced Persons") days in Copenhagen, probably from 1945 or 1946. Depicted on the spoon handle is the obligatory Viking ship. Depicted on the ashtray is the obligatory Copenhagen City Hall -   Rådhus in Dansk, raatus in Estonian, Rathaus in Deutsch.  

Underneath everything is my trusty, and heavily marked-up, main Estonian-to-English dictionary, compiled by Prof. Paul F. Saagpakk (1910-1996), and published at Yale in the 1980s. 

The thing of special joy, however, is the fifth and final volume of our National Embarrassment, the novel Tõde ja Õigus ("Truth and Justice") by Anton Hansen Tammsaare (1878-1940). 

Many readers these days, having started Tammsaare's massive work, will simply not have finished it. Others - like me as of yesterday - will indeed have finished it, and will have found things at which to marvel, and will at some points have literally laughed aloud, and will at other points literally have had tears welling from their eyes, but all the same will have found much at which to cringe. 

One must reluctantly concede that Tõde ja Õigus is indeed a masterpiece, and that its critics erred in sniffing, at the time of its publication, suur teos, kuid ammugi mitte suurteos ("a big book, and yet by no means a great one"). 

Nevertheless: what self-indulgence, what melodrama! If Tammsaare had got the Nobel Prize for Literature which the Committee were in the interwar era thinking he might merit, it would have been depressing. It would, in fact, have been kinda-sorta like the 2009 award of the Nobel Peace Prize to President Obama. 

Someday I will have to parody that exasperating author, perhaps here on this blog, both in Estonian and in English.  

For the moment, however, I want to note why my inherited Tammsaare turned out, suddenly, this July, to be a thing of joy. Inscribed on its flyleaf I unexpectedly found words, in the familiar hand, in the predictable strong and clear and black fountain-pen ink, from my then-young Dad, addressing his then-young bride, five years later to become my Mum: Parimale sõbrale ja kaaslasele meie  ühise elutee alguseks. 15. III 48 Endel  ("For my best friend and companion, for the beginning of our journey together through life"). It is odd, and yet at the same time it is joyous, to picture one's parents being young.  

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