Estonia Hardcover – 27 Oct 2011
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...Estonia bristles with fascinating detail. --Ian Thompson
...Mr. Theroux largely uses Estonia as a space for his own purposes, transforming this admirable country into a grotesque but clever caricature perfect for use as... a stage for Mr. Theroux's verbal pyrotechnics and some fine jokes... I laughed a lot, but guiltily. --Andrew Stuttaford
Catch the wit and the venom, the depth and the breadth, of this honest account of 'a strange, unlooked-for place at the back of beyond' where 'the fascination of its strangeness' renders it a fitting subject for a curious report by a memorably talented, ever off-kilter, chronicler of oddity. [Rating] 8/10 --John L. Murphy"
Mr. Theroux largely uses Estonia as a space for his own purposes, transforming this admirable country into a grotesque but clever caricature perfect for use as... a stage for Mr. Theroux's verbal pyrotechnics and some fine jokes... I laughed a lot, but guiltily. --Andrew Stuttaford"
Estonia bristles with fascinating detail. --Ian Thompson"
Some of the most interesting travel books happen by accident. .... Despite all [his] genuine delight in the quaint, not merely linguistic but extending also to Estonian architecture, what Mr. Theroux mostly shows us about the country and its people is exasperation, irritation, furious rage. . . He takes endless potshots at their food . . .but by the time you . . . find a section titled 'What did I hate about Estonia, ' it s no surprise. --Martin Rubin"
The best travel writing is uncomfortable and, perversely, obviates the need to see the place yourself. I've begun reading Alexander Theroux on Estonia from Fantagraphics and it is the god d@mned best. "
About the Author
Alexander Theroux is an award-winning novelist, poet, and teacher whose prose works include Laura Warholic or, The Sexual Intellectual, Estonia, and the two artist monographs The Strange Case of Edward Gorey and The Enigma of Al Capp. His novel Darconville s Cat was chosen by Anthony Burgess as one of the 99 greatest post-war novels. He lives in Massachusetts with his wife and children.
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Top Customer Reviews
I moved to Estonia this year and my experience has been fantastic: friendly people, lovely conversations, creative projects and inspiring ideas. It's interesting! It's inhabitable! It's just a normal place, a place like (and unlike) any other.
This book should not have been published. Ever. Ever.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
It is one of the most hateful books I've ever read. There is even an entire chapter called "Why I hate Estonia", and almost every sentence starts with "I hate..." Here's how that chapter starts: "I hate the pointless cold. I hated the fact that most people are sour but consider that normal. I hated the ungrammatical '5,2 litre' alcohol content comma, when it should be a period '5.2' liter!"
The author is badly uninformed about the region. Sentences like "I have heard similar things about Latvia". Riga, Latvia is a 4 hour bus ride away...
Many of the authors complaints are about how unfriendly the people are. In my experience it's the exact opposite and Estonians are noticeably friendlier than Americans.
At one point in the book he mentions "There is a disconcerting amount of graffiti in Estonia". Again, badly misinformed about the region. There is significantly more graffiti in cities such as Berlin, Prague, and Kiev.
There is maybe a third of a good book here- some interesting and outre sidelights on an interesting and outre country. The problem is that- as the author admits himself- this book, ostensibly about Estonia, ends up being about the author and his own prejudices. Too many of his comments are rather banal: several pages on "Estonia has pretty women", "Estonian winter weather is rather cold and dark", "George Bush is an unintelligent frat boy", or "Saku beer is rather good"- a debatable proposition in any event.
Theroux doesn't much like Estonia, but there is some secret pleasure to be had in his Pooteresque lack of self awareness as the Estonians visibly back away from him. It is soon quite clear what they are doing so. Theroux aspires to witty malevolence, but achieves cranky obnoxiousness. He is the school teacher you most hated abusing the fat boy at the back of the class. He loses his temper and behaves with astonishing rudeness when a fellow American makes what he believes to be a grammatical mistake: he must be the Grand Wizard in the 666 imperial chapter of the Grammar Nazis. His acerbic pen portraits of the (American)fellow scholars in his wife's Fulbright group reveal little. Lesbians are, well Lesbian, no wait, they are also unattractive, and they clearly don't much like Alexander Theroux, so may be safely dismissed. An American Estophile is clearly a booby, by definition, since he -shock- actually likes Estonia, and may be equally dismissed. His several page rants on the evils of Bush or the wickedness of the State of Israel end up sounding like the mumbles of a bag lady. The obligatory ratchet-jaw of the unreconstructed American leftist combines with the inflexible bigotry of the unreconstructed Catholic to make this author balls-achingly charmless. Estonians, generally Libertarian and amongst the most secular peoples in the world, are highly unlikely to warm to such a bigot- as they surely did not.
And in the end neither do we.
The book also has so many literary faults. After a while you end up asking where on Earth this guy's editor- or at least fact checker- was. Mistakes of fact are not really forgivable in the Internet era- and I found seven in the first eleven pages, after that they come thick and fast, but I gave up counting. As for the style... The irrelevant quotes, with non-English ones only translated in the notes, the leaden learning, heavily worn, are not signs of a good literary stylist: they are little more than pretentious. So Estonia is not mentioned in Hamlet? So what, neither is Vegas, particle physics or Theroux's own home town of Boston. His dismissal of Estonia as peripheral is not a function of Estonia's own lack of virtue or interest, but simply of the author's ego.
So, if you fancy several wasted hours learning a little about Estonia and a lot- much of it inadvertently revealed- about an elderly American leftist bore (and boor), then maybe this book might be for you. Alexander Theroux carries all the faults of his brother, Paul, yet with less inquisitiveness and infinitely less charm.
In the end, though, come to Estonia and see for your self what a great place it truly is... do it in the summer, and you may end up enjoying it as much as Alexander Theroux's wife, Sarah, clearly did- after her curmudgeonly husband was safely out of the way.
It should be called "A Peripheral Ramble Through the Periphery" to emphasise how little he knows about Estonia or its people. No sense emerges of his engagement with the people or with the culture as we know it; his principal viewpoint seems to be that neither is like America and its people and culture and, therefore, not worthy of careful examination or analysis.
My only recommendation is to Mrs Theroux ,PLEASE next time when you are traveling,leave your husband at home!