Literature Review: The Kiosk

Līga Horgana is back with a literature review of The Kiosk written and illustrated by Anete Melece and translated by Elīna Brasliņa.

The Kiosk by Anete Melece, a real success story in Latvian literature, has been translated into more than 15 languages since being written in 2019. It has received various local and international awards and has even been made into a children opera in Düsseldorf Germany. The English translation by Elīna Brasliņa was published in 2020 by Gecko Press.

The beginnings of this story go back to 2013 when Melece’s short film called The Kiosk came out. It was a 7-minute-long movie about an unusual turn in kiosk keeper Olga’s life, and won over 20 different awards including the Swiss Film Award for best animation. It was an incredible success for the young artist, who back then had just graduated the Lucerne University of Applied Sciences and Art and was very new in this field. She honestly admits that The Kiosk is a story based on her own experience. After spending a few years in a big packaging design company, she started to get tired of this business that always asked for the simplest solutions and didn’t allow her to express any creativity. All enthusiasm for work had left her, and she was just like Olga — the main character of The Kiosk who was stuck in the city centre selling newspapers and snacks to the customers she knew so well. Feeling a great inner need for a change, Melece decided to quit and started studying animation

Both the short film and the book take place in the centre of Riga at an actual historic kiosk built in 1927 on the corner of Krišjāņa Barona iela and Asazijas bulvāris. The kiosk keeper Olga has been working there for a very long time. Every day, “she greets her regular customers kindly and knows exactly what each one needs,” but at nights Olga, “reads about faraway places,” and “dreams of distant seas with splendid sunsets” she has never seen in person. Olga is stuck in the kiosk because she has become too fat to get through its door. Just like in any good fairytale, marvellous, unexpected and life-changing things happen and help Olga to fulfil her dreams.

It is a very simple though inspiring and encouraging story that shows the reader that very often happiness does not require going anywhere far, doing extreme things, or changing their physical appearance or personality. All it takes is a positive attitude and a little bit of action. It can also be a perfect pandemic time story when the whole world is trapped in their homes, because although Olga’s whole life changes, she actually never leaves her kiosk.

Personally, my favourite part of The Kiosk was its original characters. “It’s not possible to invent such colourful characters as those that walk the streets!” Melece has said, which leads me believe that all the ones she has put into this story are based on real people. I loved the man in sunglasses who seems to make a cameo in Melece’s second movie Analysis Paralysis. I think the lady who was unhappy in love and searched women magazines for advice was a great character too. However, perhaps in order to avoid coming off as sexist or overly stereotypical, this women is simply known as “the sad woman searching magazines for advice” in the English version.

I can understand why The Kiosk has been so popular, as it has become one of my favourite children’s books. After owning it for about a month it still hasn’t gotten boring; I am always happy to open it, read it each night with my three-year-old, and look through the funny and colourful illustrations together with my daughter, coming up with side stories about Olga and all the other characters we see there.

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