Meelis Friedenthal Wins EU Prize for Literature

Photo: Wikimedia Commons, Lauri Kulpsoo
9/27/2013 1:54 PM
Category: Culture

The Estonian laureate for this year's European Union Prize for Literature is Meelis Friedenthal, recognized for his book "Mesilased" (The Bees).

European Commissioner Androulla Vassiliou announced the laureates at the opening of the Göteborg Book Fair yesterday.

"The European Union Prize for Literature draws international attention to fantastic new or emerging authors, who might otherwise not gain the recognition they deserve outside their home country," Vassiliou said in a European Commission press release.

The prize is awarded to one author in each country, with one-third of 37 countries in the running on a rotating basis each year.

Friedenthal's latest novel, "The Bees," "depicts the end of the 17th century and is a bleak vision about the voyage and encounters of a student who has come from Leiden to Tartu," according to the prize's website.

Having written a doctoral thesis on a 13th century philosophical-theological treatise, Friedenthal has worked as lecturer at the University of Tartu and is currently a senior researcher at the university's library. His current research topic is the intellectual history of the 17th century.

The following is an excerpt from the book, translated by Adam Cullen:

It rained all the time. Rain had rotted the crops on the fields, had covered the wooden walls of the buildings with mold, had made ships' deck boards as sopping as seaweed. For already several months' time, Laurentius had been eating rotten bread, had been living in mildewed buildings, and in the last week, had also been sliding across the soggy deck of a ship. Black bile collected within him like sludge atop a stake driven into a riverbed. Now, he finally stepped from the lurching boat onto the harbor dock, onto the slippery boards nailed onto logs that were rammed into the mud beneath the water, and peered hesitatingly at his surroundings. The wind flung drizzle into his face in bursts from the low sky, and he strove to understand what sort of land it was, to which he had arrived by his own free choice. The bare, white sand and lone patches of reeds along the strip of shore, as well as the identical gray clouds very much resembled the harbor, from which he had set off. The mast of the post ship looked just the same against the gray sky, and the sheets that had been raised on it appeared just as gray and featureless as they had when he cast off. Next to the pier, which extended far out into the sea, a jetty buried halfway beneath the muddy water could be seen, and on top of it was an old watchman's house crouched down in the water, which no one had apparently used for already quite some time. These ruins could be found in every harbor, and despite their pitiful appearance, such an image rather instilled a sense of confidence in Laurentius for some reason. Here as well, the harbors had been rebuilt; here as well, they had been enlarged for new ships to dock, and the old watchmen's houses had been abandoned.

He sighed, and nervously adjusted the cover over the cage dripping with rainwater.

He had not been required to make all that much of an effort in bringing his paraphernalia along—one chest hammered together from oak planks fit what he had deemed necessary for bringing with him to school entirely. It was sent to customs together with the goods carried in the ship's hold, and he would apparently only receive it that evening. The ship's cargo—even its passengers' personal baggage—was looked through carefully, and anything at all that could be subject to a tax was written down. There was actually no real worry about that—Laurentius had nothing of great value in the chest; every one of his few personal books was also officially permitted, and he had taken along only the bare minimum of medicines. What posed a difficulty was actually the cage containing a rose-ringed parakeet.


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