Discovering Estonia

  • 2013-12-19
  • Reviewed by TBT Staff

Boyle begins his journal wondering whether Estonia is “no more real than Narnia.” He imagines a fictitious land, created by his Estonian mother from the maps and stories of her youth. He arrives to Tallinn with this supposition, as a whole-hearted outsider - though, not entirely conscious of his own alienation. Why? With the intention of “doing more than merely encountering Estonia and Estonians.”

His starting point, his bridge to the people and the land, is a short poem by the Estonian writer Juhan Liiv, You Are So Little, Little (Sa Oled Vaikene, Vaike). The poem is a prompt for the conversations he hopes will draw him nearer the essence of the people and the place; it is the “leitmotif” for his journey.
Equally, Boyle’s travelogue is closure on what he describes as an “unhappy liason” with a sales assistant in Tallinn, who “embodied the stereotype of the introspective, uncommunicative Estonian.”

Boyle’s stereotypes break down as he encounters newer, florid ones. “Estonians have a hard time feeling sympathy for themselves.” What reads like a throwaway remark between literary types - Boyle and local author - over lunch, becomes a seminal pillar of revelation in the book. Moreover, Boyle’s newly uncovered Estonian stereotypes are no more meaningful or illuminating than he recognizes hisoriginal suppositions were.

The Indrawn Heart: An Estonian Journey is a deeply personal and exploratory journal of travels through the Estonian countryside. We find Boyle taken with interactions - in rural hostels and around campfires - that defy his preconceived notions, and then enthused to find others that steer him back to his initial ideas of the nation’s identity and Estonian character.

Boyle is an educator and writer, English-born of part Estonian origin. The Indrawn Heart: An Estonian Journey is his second novel.

The Indrawn Heart: An Estonian Journey, Max Boyle (Lakeshore Press, 2013)