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Brecht at Night
     

Brecht at Night

by Mati Unt, Eric Dickens (Translator)
 

This "documentary novel," the latest of Estonian author Mati Unt's deadpan and playful works to be translated into English, is about a little-known period in the life of the great Bertolt Brecht, when the writer--having fled Nazi Germany-- became stuck in Finland awaiting the visa that would allow him to leave Europe for the United States. As BB, the avowed

Overview

This "documentary novel," the latest of Estonian author Mati Unt's deadpan and playful works to be translated into English, is about a little-known period in the life of the great Bertolt Brecht, when the writer--having fled Nazi Germany-- became stuck in Finland awaiting the visa that would allow him to leave Europe for the United States. As BB, the avowed communist, continues enjoying the bourgeois pleasures of pre-war life with his wife and tubercular mistress, the Soviet Union is not-so-quietly annexing Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia; and the gulf between Brecht's preferred lifestyle and his inflammatory polemics grows larger and larger. Both affectionate and irreverent, this portrait of one of the twentieth century's great authors mixes together a variety of comic styles, excerpts from contemporaneous documents, and Unt's trademark digressions, producing a kind of historical novel as interested in interrogating the past as simply recreating it.

Editorial Reviews

The Times [London]
“Mati Unt was one of Estonia's most influential writers . . . [He] had a splendid detachment and a rampant imagination.”
From the Publisher

"One of the most influential modernist, and latterly postmodernist, authors in Estonia."--Context

Dalkey Archive Press

Publishers Weekly
The late Estonian novelist is notable for his irrepressibly playful and idiosyncratic writing style, and Dickens's translation of this slim novel is a perfect example of it. Unt offers a sort of tragic origin myth of Estonia, peopled by Bertolt Brecht and his entourage as they flee from Nazi Germany to Finland in 1940. The author's license with his material is apparent from the very first sentence, which isn't even completed before Unt interrupts it to offer an italicized gloss on the novel's premise. Brecht takes up residence in a hotel in Helsinki, befriending Hella Wuolijoki, an Estonian writer who regales Brecht with her life story, while Unt, in interspersed italicized paragraphs, provides scraps of Estonia's tragic history. Brecht, meanwhile, remains supremely obsessed with himself and chews over his pet subject: dialectics. Dismissing standard conventions of plot and structure, this is a startling document in its own right—of irony, of Unt's experimental style and of the terrible (and mostly unknown to the rest of the world) hardships of Estonia during most of the 20th century. (Sept.)
CONTEXT
One of the most influential modernist, and latterly postmodernist, authors in Estonia.
Kate Saunders
Mati Unt was one of Estonia's most influential writers . . . [He] had a splendid detachment and a rampant imagination.
The Times
Library Journal
Unt (1944–2005) was one of the most esteemed writers in his native Estonia. This work was his last and most political novel, according to translator Dickens, who provides a helpful introduction. In 1940, Bertolt Brecht spent some time in Finland while fleeing Hitler and waiting for a visa to the United States, but this is not a dramatic war story. With Brecht in Finland are his wife, Helene, and his children, along with a couple of his mistresses. Brecht is shown here as living in his own world, regardless of family pressures or the ongoing war. The author frequently interrupts the narrative with his own digressions on Estonian history and politics. Unt concludes his "documentary novel" by alternating a selection of Brecht's poems with various chilling wartime documents issued by the Soviet government. VERDICT This cerebral book is better suited to academic audiences than to lay readers and will appeal mainly to more scholarly readers who have an interest in Eastern European history and literature.—Leslie Patterson, Brown Univ. Lib., Providence, RI

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781564785329
Publisher:
Dalkey Archive Press
Publication date:
07/14/2009
Series:
Baltic Literature Series
Pages:
209
Product dimensions:
5.90(w) x 8.90(h) x 0.80(d)
Age Range:
18 Years

What People are Saying About This

Mihkel Mutt
There are people . . . whose role in their domestic culture is nothing less than unique, which makes it difficult to draw any parallels when trying to introduce them. In Estonia, Mati Unt belongs among such people. He is simultaneously a first-class writer, theatre director, critic and columnist, scenographer and ideologue . . . Unt's unique role in Estonia has been that of the 'conveyer of ideas.'

Meet the Author

Mati Unt (1944-2005) was an Estonian writer who began his writing career at the age of nineteen, with a "naive novel" entitled Good-bye, Yellow Cat. From this early beginning, Unt established a broad reputation in the artistic and intellectual circles of Estonia as a writer of fiction, plays, and criticism. His novels The Debt, On the Existence of Life in Outer Space, Murder in a Hotel, The Autumn Ball, and Things in the Night, among others, established Unt as one of the most prolific and well-regarded novelists in Estonia. In addition to his own writing, he was instrumental in bringing avant-garde theater to post-Soviet Estonia, and was well known as a director.

Eric Dickens is a translator and reviewer of Estonian and Finnish-Swedish literature. He is currently translating work by the novelists Toomas Vint and Hannele Mikaela Taivassalo.

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