Wednesday, 6 May 2009

Tartu book festival and Umberto Eco

On 6th May 2009, semioticist Umberto Eco will receive an honorary doctorate from the University of Tartu, Estonia. He is, of course, better known for his novel "The Name of the Rose", but is also an academic in a field shared by, for instance, the late Yuri Lotman, one of the founders of the Moscow-Tartu School of Semiotics.

The visit by Eco coïncides with the Tartu book festival, called the Prima Vista, which will be in Tartu from 7th-9th May, then spend a day in nearby Viljandi, and a day in Pärnu, hosted by poet Doris Kareva. This year's patron in Tartu itself will be the poet Andres Ehin, whose daughter Kristiina's poetry has been translated into English.

Unfortunately, they haven't really developed the English-language part of the Prima Vista website, so that there is a chatty article about vowels, but no programme. For it to become truly international, the organisers must see to it that there are more contacts with abroad in future years. A flying visit by Umberto Eco, plus one by the "Russian Agatha Christie" Alexandra Marinina are not yet enough to put this Tartu book festival on the map. There is some simultaneous interpretation between Estonian and Russian, as a number of Estonia-Russian poets will read their works. And there is a bit of a Finnish presence too. But all the events described still remain very much ones by Estonians for Estonians. A good deal of reaching out and coordination will be needed in future years if this festival is to become truly international. But maybe the Estonians are happy to keep it the way it is.


David McDuff said...

I guess there's no reason why the festival should be truly international - after all, Estonia is entitled to an "Estonian Umberto Eco", just as Britain has its own domestic versions of foreign authors. And it's probably also important for Estonian writers to establish links with Finnish ones.

The days when Estonia had to go all out for wide international recognition are hopefully over.

Eric Dickens said...

The problem is that the festival falls slightly between two stools. The Estonian press calls it the biggest festival in the Northern Countries, implying that Estonia is doing something big. Yet it is very much for local consumption. I would not, of course, advocate a return to the phoney internationalism of Soviet times. And as long as the Estonians are clear who they are aiming at, as their audience, then fine. But I did wonder whether the result was more a result of organisational shortcomings rather than a genuine wish to remain small and local.