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01 January 2019
The Tip of the Iceberg

A new readers' club had a kick-off meeting on 30 December 2018 - The Tip of the Iceberg. It unites book lovers who aim to discover the national literature and culture of smaller nations beyond the mainstream reading lists.

The name of the club refers to the image and nature of the iceberg which has one eighth above the water and seven eighth deep down in the ocean. In the same way, most readers commonly opt for books that are well-advertised, well-known and are written in major world languages. The authors we read make up only the tip of the iceberg of global literature in its cultural diversity and unique national colouring.

The club meetings will focus not on individual authors, but move geographically from country to country, immersing into the inimitable national and literary reality, adapting to it, trying to understand the local life-force and find oneself there.

This year, the club members decided to dedicate their meetings to the classic and contemporary authors writing in Estonian, Finnish, and Hungarian and translated into Russian. This choice is motivated by the desire to explore the foreign literature in Finno-Ugric languages related to the Komi language. As ‘brothers’ in languages, Estonian, Hungarian, Finnish and Komi literary worlds are almost unknown to the mass reader and are out there to explore.

The club members agreed to exchange reading recommendations, compile a common reading list, read poets and novelists of one nation together to discuss the cultural reality as interpreted in their works. Also, one part of every meeting will be devoted to getting to know the cultural and historic background, focusing on past and present trivia, events, and personalities. The ambitious goal of such team work is placing the national literature into the historic and cultural context, getting a deeper insight into the life of a friendly nation, and enjoying intercultural experiences.

The first country for literary and cultural exploration was chosen to be Estonia. With the turbulent and ambiguous past, the area of Russian-Estonian relations is still a minefield of sensitive topics. From 1940 to 1991, Estonia was forced to become one of the 15 Soviet Socialist republics within the Soviet Union, after the invasion by the Soviet Army in 1940. The years of Stalin’s terror, repressions and deportations have produced severe repercussions in the country’s present. For the period of almost 50 years Estonian people felt they were living under the occupation, on the one hand, questioning the legitimacy of the annexation and struggling for their national identity, and on the other hand, ripping the benefits of the Kremlin’s investments into science and economy. With the shared past and shared language roots, Estonia appears to be one of the most interesting neighbours to look at.

With the above said, the club members agreed to stay away from political debates and remain within the realm of culture and literature.

For the upcoming meeting of the club three Estonian novels were picked up for the discussion:

  • Jaan Kross, The Czar’s Madman
  • Ahto Levi, Notes of the Grey Wolf
  • Maimu Berg, The Fashion House

All the books are available in the library.

The quote that was chosen as an opening slogan for the first meeting is about the essence of the reading process: according to Estonian researcher, writer and journalist Rein Veidemann, “reading is preaching directed to oneself”. To elaborate, whatever we read, whether the book is from a familiar or unfamiliar cultural background, in the end of the day, we are engaged in spiritual self-discovery and self-formation.

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