By Tõnu Õnnepalu
Translated by Adam Cullen
Written under the name of his literary alter ego Anton Nigov, Tõnu Õnnepalu's Exercises is an unclassifiable work, part searingly honest confession, part keen-eyed journal of everyday reality in a foreign land, part writer's unsparing dialogue with himself as he stands on the threshold of two worlds: the cosmopolitan but alienating Paris he is about to depart and the "small culture" of his native Estonia.
Family histories and narratives of wartime and Soviet Estonia alternate with meditations on writing, reading, fiction, poetry and poets major and minor, personal and cultural geographies, time and the irremediable, life as the history of one's physical traumas, the islands where the author has lived and those which he dreams of visiting, and above all the existential condition of coming from a small country, whose melancholy landscapes and abandoned villages form the very cartography of the writer's self.
Tõnu Õnnepalu (b. 1962) writes autobiographically influenced fiction under a variety of pen names, including, in the case of Exercises, Anton Nigov. He received the Baltic Assembly Prize. He lives in Tallinn and on the Estonian island of Hiiumaa.
Adam Cullen (b. 1986) is a translator of Estonian prose, poetry, and drama into English. His latest translations include Tõnu Õnnepalu’s Exercises (2019), Eno Raud’s The Gothamites (2019), and Kai Aareleid’s Burning Cities (2018, long-listed for the 2020 International Dublin Literary Award). Originally from Minnesota, he has lived in Estonia for over a decade.