Literature Review: Latvija - tik un tā / It's Latvia - anyway

Līga Horgana is back with a literature review of Latvija - tik un tā / It's Latvia - anyway, a bilingual collection of prose poetry written by Aivars Eipurs and illustrated by Petra Derkins.

The first outcome of cooperation between Latvian poet Aivars Eipurs and Swiss artist Petra Derkins was a 2020 exhibition of short prose works accompanied by assemblage and collage art pieces. This was followed by the bilingual book Latvija – tik un tā / It’s Latvia – anyway in 2021, a compilation of the original art by Derkins and texts by Eipurs. 

Many Latvians' first associations with the title Latvija – tik un tā are likely with the popular song “Tik un tā” by Uldis Stabulnieks (lyrics by Māra Zālīte) that contemplates the beauty of Latvia as autumn approaches. In this case, the familiar title is a bit of a play on words, as the collected works portray Latvia as beautiful, of course, but also as unique, real, and complicated. 

Derkin’s artworks that are created using newspapers and magazines from the pre-war and Soviet eras and Eipur’s short prose works based on his personal experiences will likely cause readers familiar with Latvia to have associations with people, places, and happenings from their own everyday lives and memories. For example – everyone has probably observed how the opening of a new shopping centre changed the environment and character of a neighbourhood. Eipurs has described it like this: 

“The Latvian national birth-rate is low. People appear only when a supermarket is opened. Before that the spot was empty, only a few people walked around there each day. Then a supermarket is built and the masses appear! From where? From the Holy Spirit? Born as adults with rather primitive tendencies.”(70.) 

Eipurs reflects on nowadays reality — the COVID restrictions, financial crisis and, poor quality of local roads — as well as mentioning some important aspects of Latvian culture such as the writers Rainis and Aspazija, "Ligo" midsummer festival, the Monument of Freedom, and song and dance festivals. He looks back to his early years – the overheated childhood room where “the heat turned dreams into nightmares” (78.), a second grade PhysEd lesson with a teacher who “wore round glasses in black frames fixed to his ears with elastic” (55), an interaction with the KGB during his time at university where he was offered “'interesting work with people' in one of Latvia’s towns after finishing university” (37.), and the exclusive opportunity to drive in a “Volga” – the most expensive Soviet car “in which only big bosses drove.”(31.) 

In noticing some unusual peculiarities significant to Latvians such as mushroom picking in the forests, love for good bacon, the hate of the film on top of milk soup, and dedication to ice fishing until the very last piece of ice over the rivers and lakes has melted, Derkins and Eipurs give an interesting and humorous summary of what Latvia is and what a Latvian is. 

The introduction of this work says: “For guests this will be an introduction to Latvia in an easy and quick way, but for the locals – a chronicle, somewhat like a cinema journal about yesterday and today, an overview of an era.”(7.)  I am sure that not all of Derkins’s collages and Eipurs’s texts will speak to every reader; however, this is an altogether interesting work that itself already from the beginning is created as a result of cooperation of artists from two different cultures and lets us look to our country from a new perspective.

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