This is the part of our radio broadcast where we interrupt your usual programming to bring you the following message from our sponsors: Epp Petrone’s debut novel in English, Around the Heart in Eleven Years, available now at an online store near you.
Officially, and personally, this is my favorite book from our publishing firm Petrone Print, but it was a bittersweet, sometimes bruising experience for me as an individual, because it is Epp’s story, and Epp’s story obviously has hooked me in a way that no one else’s story ever did or could. I’m an addict, in other words, a junkie husband.
Its most terrifying moment? For me, it’s when Jura, the Russian sailor, leads his kidnappee to a hotel and lays some currency down at the reception desk. “A room for two please.”
Its most sensual moment? The sands of Gran Canaria blowing through the windows with the morning breeze. The island, that island, the volcanic magnet, bringing you in and blowing you out. It stays wih you.
Its most ridiculous moment? The voice of our young heroine as she tells the Slovenian arms dealer at a hotel in Minsk that she doesn’t feel well, and won’t be accompanying him to lunch.
Its most brainwashing moment? Listening to Harri Hommik, the itinerant peddler, as he explains the intricacies of fish breeding and how wars are good for genetics. If you listen long enough, you’ll start to believe him, and if you listen even longer, you’ll start thinking like him.
In the end, it all comes back to Eve Kivi, the Estonian sixties sex kitten. She recently gave an interview where she calmly informed the journalist that fresh sperm is her beauty secret. Other than some obvious questions — where does a 70-year-old woman obtain regular access to fresh sperm — I felt pangs of deep respect for Eve Kivi, because she was brave, brave enough to say the things that most people don’t say, to tell, in her own way the truth.
I respect the truth, because we all live the truth but often conceal it from one another. And so I respect and encouraged this book, even if some of it is rough going, because to me, Epp’s story is not just her story, it is the story, in different ways, of many people, and it needs telling. We, at least we writers, need to tell the truth. Only through these coded texts called books can we reach other humans in need. Books are like life preservers. I feel as though Epp, with this book, has crafted a whole lifeboat of a book. From her jagged wanderlust brought on by a tormented loneliness, she has finally assembled something sturdy, something that cannot sink.
But, speaking of the truth, is it all really true? Names and details have been changed, sure, and I have to squint at my own lines in the book for them to appear to be wholly mine. Officially, it is a travel novel: fiction. For me, this novel is the truth as reflected in a funhouse mirror of memory, and this book is at its core about memory. What is true and what is remembered falsely and what is just fiction? People want so badly to put everything in little boxes, but life is unfortunately one big oozing, slithering, gelatinous mess of sensations.
The Estonian title of the book is Kas Süda on Ümmargune? – “Is the Heart Round”. We played with many English-language titles for the book and none seemed to fit, but Epp liked this title, a play on the classic Jules Verne adventure novel. I think the reference to Verne, and an earlier era of continent hopping, suits it perfectly.