Many Estonians and people of Estonian heritage are increasingly concerned about the Estonian- language books in their homes and in the community. In the past many felt secure in the knowledge that they could bring these books to the Estonian House or to Tartu College. In recent years, many have heard that there is no longer an interest in older books. People are scolded for leaving their books at the Estonian House. People are at a loss for what to do. Many now assume that our older books have minimal value and that there is no interest in these books here, in Estonia or abroad. However, there continue be many people interested in our older books here in Toronto, in Estonia and all around the world. We are intensifying efforts to get these books out to new owners realizing the potential value of each and every book published in the Estonian language and about Estonia.
The archive at Tartu College has been working to ensure that at least two copies of each item published in exile is preserved for future generations. A small library does exist at Tartu College, but has a selection of books published after Estonia regained its independence, What we are lacking is an effective system to ensure that copies of our most valuable older books are available to members of our own community. We also need to ensure that these books are available for academic and scholarly work. This requires increased co-operation with our local Estonian school community and the Estonian Studies department the University of Toronto. In the past few years, rare books of historic interest and value have been set aside for these purposes. Work has been quietly done to create knowledge and interest in Estonian authors from the past.
The Estonian Arts and Letters Society was established in Toronto by Estonian writers living in exile and by literary enthusiasts. Lectures and events were held to promote Estonian literature and to create interest in our culture and our Estonian language. When Estonia finally regained independence, attention was quickly drawn to Estonia, its people and its culture. Many of our cultural leaders were distracted from organizing informative events locally by their personal interactions with Estonia and work to help rebuild the economy and infrastructure of Estonia, This has led to our present situation where we are no longer knowledgeable about our cultural heritage. We are too eager to dismiss our Canadian-Estonian written cultural heritage. This project addresses the critical need for attention to be placed on our books. We need to know more about the authors and about the works. We need to all be more informed about our heritage so that we may all ensure that as much as possible is preserved for ourselves and for future generations.
One of the main publishing companies was Orto. It´s owner was Andres Laur who was already a successful businessman in Estonia. Laur was among the first larger shareholders of our Estonian House here in Toronto and central fundraisers of the project. Orto played a valuable role in our Estonian community by publishing major works by Scandinavian authors of the time, such as Knut Hamsun, Mika Waltari, and others. Mika Waltari´s books continue to be popular in Estonia, with long waiting lists at major libraries. Many works were translated by Johannes Aavik to whom we owe a debt of gratitude for modernizing the Estonian language. Many in our community may be unaware that our translations from other languages have been found to be superior to translations in the English language. There are also books which are not readily available in English.
Our community in Toronto is working ahead to commemorate 75 years from the largest and most tragic displacement of Estonians from their homeland. As we approach this important time in our history it is an opportune moment to reflect on our unique Estonian cultural history here in Canada. Our organization is now regrouping to focus our attention on the books which were published by Estonians in exile. Many of our country´s most celebrated authors and scholars were able to escape to the west from Estonia. Understanding the role of language in maintaining the Estonian culture and community, they quickly regrouped to start publishing books, journals, newspapers and newsletters. Many of these works are now coming out of people´s homes as our oldest members are downsizing or passing away. It is important that we know which of these items are of value and which items should be salvaged. This work is critical as we work to ensure that the most valuable items are salvaged and preserved for our present community members, our academics, our future generations, Estonia and Canada.
We must first ensure that there are two copies of each book in the archives at Tartu College. Then we must ensure that there are additional copies for members of our own community who continue to value our distinct Estonian cultural heritage.
Keep in mind that we also have relatives, colleagues, scholars and close friends of authors who are interested in the Estonian language books in our homes. There are museums, communities and others who continue to be interested in some of these books. There are even non-Estonians who collect books in other languages. A few have embarked on translating some of these books. Others simply see the value of using these books to improve their language skills.
We are asking our community support for this project and we are asking for the involvement of our community to ensure that as many of our books reach new homes as possible. Financing for our project will help to cover costs associated with storage, transportation, technical expenses and events in the community. In the future we will have more lectures and events to promote our written cultural heritage, including book exchanges and shows. We will share our own knowledge of the authors and their works, making suggestions of books which should be read. Hopefully your interest will grow and you will start book clubs with your friends. Researching the books on your shelves is a good starting point to knowing more about our culture. We hope that you will generate more ideas as to how we can preserve our Estonian cultural heritage through a knowledge of our books.
Please support our project Estonian Books in Exile.
The bank account for the Estonian Arts and Letters Society (EKS) at the Toronto Estonian Credit Union in Toronto is account number 42180-04. If you are interested in this project, have questions or ideas, please feel free to write to estonianbooksinexile@gmail,com. We will do our best to respond to your letters as soon as possible.
Thank you for your interest and your support!
Ingrid Sepp Jaenes, Toronto