I was quite surprised to learn that there are not many books translated to the English from Latvian. I also realized I’ve never read anything written by a Latvian author. Usually it seems easy to get books from countries close by, but I’ve now learned the sad truth. Some internationally acclaimed authors, for example Henning Mankell, have written books set in Latvia. For my trip around the world through books I ended up reading the first play.
Jasmine by Inga Abele feels to me like as Latvian as a Latvian story can be. A lot of people, several generations of a family, as well as strangers, are cramped up in a not-so-fancy apartment. Three generations of women, Jasmine, the youngest, her mother who comes back to Latvia after being years abroad, and Jasmine’s grandmother, who suffers from dementia.
Jasmine is running the business, the house with its tenants, as well as the family affairs. Her husband is in debt to loan sharks, which is just one of the problems the family encounters during this one day of their lives, but it is a remarkable problem, because it sets everything in emotion, and sets the tone of the story.
There are many underlying feelings, disappointments, and expectations towards different family members, just like in any other family pretty much anywhere and everywhere in the world. This makes the characters in the book very human, yet predictable. To be honest, it all felt a bit agonizing. A lot of stories I’ve read lately have made me feels this way, and I really long for more upliiting stories and destinies, but this is besides the point of this blog post.
The story itself did not really give me much. I wonder if it would be better as a live play. Probably. Somehow the cramped apartment house with all these miserable people struggling to get by and on with their lives just did not do it for me. Too many post-Soviet writings remind me of this story, which means that it is a real struggle, and life was and is like this, but to me it feels like there is a lack of motion, movement. It is simply not going anywhere.
I hope there will be more authors translated into the English from Latvian in the future. I would be intrigued to read books about Riga old town during the days of the Hanseatic League. Somehow that time in the history of the Baltic Sea area is to my liking.