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The Autumn Ball by Mati Unt
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The Autumn Ball (1979)

by Mati Unt

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Having read and reviewed a lot of early Soviet literature this year (The Foundation Pit and The White Guard to name but two), it's quite a thrill to read this late-Soviet work and get my mind spinning around the differences. Of course, if I had read this novel in 1985, not knowing how near we were to the end of the Communist-era, would I have given this book the same read? Interestingly, I think so. Having lived for a few months in this part of the world at that time, you could feel the fraying at the edges of Communism, a sense that some kind of end was in sight, but the form it would take was anyone's guess. But Mati Unt saw the writing on the wall. Perhaps it was his Baltic perspective, poised as he was at the edge of the Soviet empire, that gave him a clear-eyed view. Yes, this narrative is full of dead-of-night encounters with militia and vodka being sold from the back of taxi cabs, but in the tradtion of Tolstoy, Unt kept his eye on the soul of his characters and it was clear the souls were suffering.

In terms of story, drop your western-reader expectations of a plot. This is first and foremost a character-driven novel. Its structure alternates viewpoints between the lives of a poet, an architect, a barber, a doorman (bouncer, actually), a divorced mother and her son who all live in the same district in the city of Tallin, capital of Estonia. There are some tenuous threads which ultimately connect these characters, but truly it is the little details of their thoughts and lives which propel the drama of this book. ( )
1 vote kvanuska | Aug 27, 2009 |
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Original title: Sügisball
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