Country Focus: Latvia (Latvija in Latvian)
By Inga Ābele
Translated by Kaija Straumanis
Originally published in Latvia as Paisums by Dienas Grāmata, 2008.
My edition: Open Letter, 2013
Time period: 2000s-1970s
Notes: High Tide won Inga Ābele the 2008 Latvian Literature Award for prose. Her plays, poems and short stories can be found in notable anthologies like Best European Fiction 2010.
World Lit Up Rating:
(On a scale of 1-5, with 1 book = turned off and 5 books = lit up)
High Tide, indeed. I was in over my head from the start, nearly drowning in the existentialist rambling that fills the first twenty pages. Then I was saved, kinda. The story got going. In reverse. Thirty years worth.
See, God strikes the following bargain with a woman named Ieva: “If you agree to live your life in reverse, you’ll have the power to give life back to your lover, who died young. Just don’t get your hopes up—your meeting at that crossroads will last about twenty minutes, no more. Then he’ll continue on toward old age, but you, back to childhood.”
Ieva’s acceptance of the deal means that the beginning of the end of High Tide starts with Andrejs, a 39-year-old ex-con who served time for killing Aksels, his wife’s (the aforementioned Ieva’s) lover. As the story recedes into the past, the reason for Andrejs’ murder of Aksels turns out to be far less banal than expected. By then, I needed a surprise. This pensive, unhappy trio’s obsession with each other was not contagious. Their angst gave the author too much of an excuse to hold forth on religion, happiness, destiny, existence, and love. Yes, Ābele took on all the Big Ideas, and she even did it…backwards.
“See, it’s as if I’m always somewhere outside myself. Watching myself from the sidelines. Take love, for example. Watch how love takes over your body. It kisses, hugs, makes others happy, makes them sad. Your body changes shape, you’ll have a kid, then more kids, or maybe none at all. You’ll have a home somewhere, warm nights under a melting sky. Arguments, fear, gentleness. But none of it happens to you—it happens to a body you call yourself. The body you’re watching from the sidelines.”
Latvian writers need to be translated!