in his own write

Market research.

I’m half way through João Lopes Marques’ Estonia: Paradise Without Palm Trees. Or maybe I am a third of the way through. Or 55 percent. The Portuguese-born writer has assembled for me a collection of his work, a collection that does not proceed chronologically in terms of when the pieces were written, so I have taken the liberty of starting the book at the end and working backward to the beginning, with some guilty pleasure reading about wife carrying contests and provincial girls along the way.

João is one of Estonia’s resident expatriate writers. There are many of us — how many I do not know. Vello Vikerkaar certainly counts as an expat writer. And Abdul Turay’s got a new book out this week called Väike Valge Riik (“The Little White Country”) about Estonian political culture. I’ll get that one for Christmas maybe and read it too. I jest that it’s market research for the next Minu Eesti book. But based on what I have read from Vello, João, and Abdul, I can see that we are all very different writers, and that our similarlity begins and ends with the fact that we are foreigners living in and writing about Estonia.

Vello is the recluse. Nobody knows who he really is or if that’s even his real name. Plus he’s got a bit of a mean streak.”Life isn’t fair,” seems to be a recurring theme. Yet he’s affable too, he can turn the charm on and off. If he were one of the actors who have played James Bond, he’d easily be Sean Connery.

João is Portuguese, but beyond that, he is a European. I can sense it in his well thought out dissections of everyday life in the capital city. There is a measured cadence to his manner of writing, and yet there is also coolness to it too, a euro reservation that frustrates me at times. I want João to get angry, maybe rob a bank. But he doesn’t. He’s just too cool. If he were a Bond actor, he’d probably be Timothy Dalton, sliding down a hill in a cello case.

Abdul is British, which means he can say pretty much anything and, as long as he’s got his spectacles on, people will revere it as the words of an Oxford professor. Plus he’s got gravitas. It’s like he got off the plane at Tallinn one day, and the next he’s on primetime TV talking about economic policy. Some balls. So he has a way of carrying himself, but he’s no empty suit. If he was, he would have been devoured by tabloid wolves long ago. Because of this bold brashness, I’d have to call him Daniel Craig, whether he likes it or not.

And me? I am unintentionally funny. My wife calls me “Mr. Bean” because I can’t walk across a room without knocking a lamp over. I worked hard on a novel last year called Montreal Demons. It has its humorous parts too, but it is also has some darker themes of sex and religion. It’s gotten positive reviews, and some who have read the English version say it’s better than the Estonian one. one reader even said it was like Gonzo with some Raymond Chandler and a hint of Hemingway, which made me feel really good.

Yet people in Estonia don’t want Hemingway from Giustino. They want comedy. They want oozing floods of meat jelly and exploding blood sausages. It’s like I’m Peter Sellers in Casino Royale. Even if I tried to play the role straight, people would still think I was joking.

Sometimes I wonder if every European country has its local purveyors of English-language literature. I would think it fine and good if they do. And I think it is fine and good that Estonia has Vello, João, Abdul, and even that clown who wrote My Estonia to kick around. Why, it’s like having Sean Connery, Timothy Dalton, Daniel Craig, and Peter Sellers in the same movie.


18 thoughts on “in his own write”

  1. No I don't expect comedy from you, I expect you to honestly record what you see and experience. I think many of your readers also come back for the unconditional love, which is a rare thing.
    Hemingway looks like a poser to me – sorry for the harsh words.


  2. I like Giuostinos blog because its lighthearted. We are living at the age of information overload, thus he makes a good read. Even on difficult subjects his commentaries remain neutral or at least end on a positive note.

    Whereas Abdul's writing is good, but a bit too technical and serious. Way too academic to attract your average commoner, like myself;).


  3. When you write something, tell a story, sing a song ,,, you cannot help to be a “poser”.

    The only time I can imagine a story teller not being a poser is either on a witness stand (doubtful) or in a psychiatrist's chair (or your money is wasted).

    Everywhere else, we all pose, writers on not.

    See, I just posed like I have some gravitas or know something …


  4. Thank God no one ended up being Roger Moore. That would get really annoying.

    For the record, I think you're more of a George Lazenby – kind of cool around the edges, but oddly maladroit.


  5. Disappointed is to put it mildly. I am panicked. I was really hoping that I will not have to do Christmas shopping this year. Now with the apocalypse cancelled, I need to get something under the tree real quick.

    I could gift wrap all these Campbell soups and candles, to save myself from the crazed crowds of shoppers out there. Don't wanna get shot for a parking spot out there … That would be real bummer.


  6. I like Giustino as a writer not because he is a cheerleader for Eesti, as Vello once put it, but precisely because he can see through the nice and show the condition in which we “new immigrants” (i.e., post 2000) live here. That's why I recognize myself when he very truthfully writes about feeling Helsinki to be great, and at the same time drain your money like your blood down a toilet drain. Also why I can identify when he rants against Reformierakond, who make me despair given that Estonians cannot see that their government is destroying their country and their people's lives, or are not willing or able to do anything about it.

    The only sad thing I note about this blog is that many of the people who write comments don't live in Estonia anymore. Perhaps that's inevitable seing that many of the best people are leaving, family and all, given that wages in Estonia are miserable. Like someone once said, there's nothing left in the Eastern European countries. All the best people (educated, of working age, and with children) have already moved to the West.

    All I can think about is how to survive, remain sane and in not too many shambles a man, father and husband. But it's not easy.

    The last one to leave turns the lights off.


  7. @Giustino

    I like your take on Estonia /and the world at large, just because you're not living in Tallinn, and so I beleve this fair advantage gives you more pause to reflect than any other of your co-expats in Estonia.

    I've read alot of the mellow you. What about this?


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