Book review of Sven Mikser’s “Vareda”

Book review of the Sven Mikser's “Vareda”

Sven Mikser’s novel, “Vareda,” unfolds against the backdrop of the Estonian countryside during the summer of 1991, focusing on the experiences of 16-year-old art-enthusiast Johannes. The events of the book take place in the year 1991, in a small, quiet place in the Estonian countryside. Namely, the young man gets himself a job for the summer as a guard at Vareda village’s manor of the same name, where he meets and befriends a boy of the same age as he, Andreas.

The novel mainly explores themes of grief and identity, as well as reflecting the societal values of 1990s Estonia. Although, unfortunately, homophobic thinking and language has not been completely omitted from the book, it is still clear that the author does not condemn the innocent love between the main characters, but the prejudices of other people and society as a whole. Compared to many other books, “Vareda” contains notably little homophobia.

It can be noted that the plot of the book is not exactly very substantial, and in terms of the events, essentially nothing much happens there. Although this may make the book boring for some readers, it can also be viewed from another angle. The fact that by the end of the book so many questions remain unanswered, provides food for thought even after finishing the read.

Sadly, the end of the novel was in some ways disappointing even, because the culmination of events felt a little too calm. At the same time, that can also be interpreted as a parallel with “end-of-the-summer-sadness” (Mikser 2023: 296), that all of us have also probably experienced. The book manages to skillfully create a nostalgic atmosphere, despite Mikser’s descriptions of the environment not being the most detailed.

In conclusion, while “Vareda” is certainly not perfect, it is noteworthy that the book represents queer relationships from a kind point of view, steering clear of self-hate narratives. It is a novel that normalizes gay love and closeness, and we are so happy to see that such a book has been written about Estonia and Estonian characters. Although it might not end up being everyone’s favorite book, we found it to be very enjoyable. We recommend that anyone interested take a look at it if possible.

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Last book club meeting of 2023

Last bookclub meeting of 2023: how it went

Time for another blog post about our latest, and this year’s last, book club meeting!

This time so many people turned up that we could barely fit everyone to sit in the same room! The best turnout we’ve had thus far. Thank you so much to everyone who came! We had such a great time munching away on some delicious pizza and discussing this meeting’s themes with you. Truly ending the year with a bang 😊

The theme this time was “Queers vs State”. A pretty broad topic, but that just gave us a lot of possible sub-topics to talk about. This meeting pretty much just turned into a venting session. We got to express our many frustrations with our native countries’ governments, the lack of protection for queer people by the state, and trans people’s dire situation with gender-affirming healthcare. In addition, we also learned about the situation of queer people in Poland and China and the sadly low rate of acceptance for queer folks in Estonian middle schools.

We also shared our Interesting™ (mostly negative) experiences with how queer people are talked about in education, or whether our existence is mentioned at all. It was lovely to hear that some people have still had some more positive experiences at school, but so disheartening to hear that the overall situation has in some senses gotten even worse. We also touched on seemingly unrelated topics, such as the fact that public transport is so expensive in Tartu. We agreed that it would be lovely if university students and young people in their twenties got more discounts in general :’)

Besides everything we talked about, it was also super heartening to see people, who usually seem more quiet and reserved, gradually get more comfortable and chime in more and more. All of our book club visitors are incredibly dear to us and we love that we can create a safe space for people to come together and feel like they belong somewhere.

Although it is called a “book club”, we have noticed that most people who join us don’t actually read that many books. Which is also perfectly okay, no shame in that whatsoever! We usually end up talking more about movies and TV shows, and most prevalent are people’s own personal experiences. This is why we have been discussing that starting from 2024 we should maybe transform our book club into something more of a discussion corner/talking hour/etc. Maybe then we would not be as limited in our discussion topics and hopefully more people would want to join us on a regular basis.

Currently the plan is to keep the format of the meetings the same as it has been these past few months. So that we have a general theme, some possible discussion questions prepared to get the visitors talking, and some snacks to keep us all satiated while we enjoy each other’s wonderful company. But starting from the new year, it would just be without any added pressure to be a reader to join.

If you would still like to have a book club as well, let us know! We would love to have a place to discuss any and all queer literary finds. Even during this meeting quite a few people expressed their interest in queer fiction, which was incredibly lovely to hear!

All in all, we were so happy to see so many of you join this time and we hope to see you again in whatever format we decide on, come new year.

Thank you for a wonderful year of book clubbing and see you again in 2024!

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Queers vs. State

Queers vs. State

Being queer has never been easy, and, at least in a half of the world, is still highly dangerous. The next book club meeting on December 8th, 5 PM, will be dedicated to the complicated relationship of LGBTQ+ and state. 

What is it like to be a queer under a threat of imprisonment or death penalty? How did LGBTQ+ people survive in totalitarian states? What kind of challenges do we face by being queers in contemporary Estonia? 

Also, December is HIV/AIDS Awareness Month, which is a perfect time to remember the most brutal struggle for LGBTQ+ lives, which resulted in major changes in legislation worldwide. 

Check out our book and film recommendations and share your own advice in the comments! 

P.S. We have pizza! 😉 🍕

 

Books:

  • “Great believers” by Rebecca Makkai
  • “To Paradise” by Hanya Yanagihara
  • “Kalevi alt välja” by Andreas Kalkun, Rebeka Põldsam, Vahur Aabrams
  • “Bad Gays: A Homosexual History” by Ben Miller and Huw Lemmey
  • “All The Young Men” by Ruth Coker Burks, Kevin Carr O’Leary
  • “Red Closet: The Hidden History of Gay Oppression in the USSR” by Rustam Alexander

 

Films and TV shows:

  • Paris is burning (1990)
  • V for Vendetta (2006)
  • Milk (2008)
  • Pride (2014)
  • 120 beats per minute (2017)
  • Boy Erased (2018)
  • Firebird (2021)
  • It’s a Sin (2021)

 

This project has been funded with support from the European Commission. This publication reflects the views only of the author, and the Commission cannot be held responsible for any use which may be made of the information contained therein.

 

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Gender and Identity: our experience

Gender and Identity: our experience

Our last meeting was on the topic of “Gender and identity”. This time we could eat delicious pizza during our discussion 😋

As expected, since gender and identity are such personal topics, very quickly our discussion veered to talking about our own experiences instead. Many of our bookclub members expressed frustration with how the world perceives us specifically because of our gender. Fortunately, the meeting also helped to think about some moments of gender-euphoria and share the happiness with others.

Other topics that also popped up included sexuality, family-relations and friendships, and how tolerant or intolerant teachers/lecturers have been in our experiences.

Since so much of our meeting this time was about our personal lives, we could not collect as many recommendations as last time. However, the most notable discovery was Estonian politician-turned-author Sven Mikser’s latest book, “Vareda,” which reportedly features positive representation of gay characters. Given the scarcity of Estonian books with queer characters, anticipate an upcoming book review!📚

All in all, we had yet another very pleasant and fun meeting with some incredible members of our community 🥰 We look forward to meeting you next time for our last bookclub meeting of the year!

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Book club 24.11: gender and identity

Book club 24.11: gender and identity

November is the month for education, awareness, and celebrating the trans community. To partake in the festivities, we decided to dedicate our next book club meeting to the topics of gender and identity. 🏳️‍⚧️ 🦄

Is gender a social construct or something inherent to us? Do we get to choose our gender? Is the future female or rather non-binary? 🐲

Join us on November 24, 17:00, to discuss all these questions and many more. 🕰️📖

Check out our book and film recommendations and share your own advice in the comments!

🍕 P.S. We have pizza! 😉

This project has been funded with support from the European Commission. This publication reflects the views only of the author, and the Commission cannot be held responsible for any use which may be made of the information contained therein.

Books:

  • I Wish You All the Best by Mason Deaver
  • Felix Ever After by Kacen Callender
  • I Was Born for This by Alice Oseman
  • Pet by Akwaeke Emezi

 Films and TV shows:

  • Tomboy (2011)
  • Orlando (1992)
  • Laurence Anyways (2012)
  • Sex Education (2019-2023)

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What to read and watch this autumn

What to and watch read this autumn?

In our recent book club meeting we met up to talk about all things spooky, scary, and queer. We even got a real-life scare during the meeting! Exactly like something out of a horror story. We managed to share our experiences regarding works from different mediums from the horror, thriller, and other genres that have somehow scared us or left a strong impact.

Most of the people who gathered expressed that they do not actually really like horror stories, at least not for their horror or gore-y elements. Instead, we talked about how the horror elements feel secondary to the feeling of catharsis, of relating to the horrors on the page or screen which can help one feel not as alone, and to experience scary things in a controlled and safe environment. We came to the conclusion that horror can also offer a space to observe and ponder some of the more taboo topics that other media rarely touches, such as cannibalism.

We also explored the symbiotic relationship between supernatural tales and marginalized communities, specifically the queer community. Queer people can often see themselves in and can identify with monstrous characters because we also do not fit in the way society expects us to. Although we did touch on specifically queer horror stories, we also shared many experiences with content that is not actually queer but has touched us as queer people in specific ways.

 

Here are some of the recommendations that we gathered from the meeting:

Books:

  • If We Were Villains by M. L. Rio
  • Secret History by Donna Tart
  • A Terrible Vengeance by Nikolai Gogol
  • Bioshifter by Natalie Maher
  • Laundry Files, a series of novels by Charles Stross

Movies:

  • Soma
  • Bones and All
  • District 9
  • “Suur tõll”

Thank you so much to everyone who joined us! We hope you are having a spooky autumn and we look forward to seeing you again next time 🎃📚

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What do we study

What do we study

Peemot’s folks are insanely talented in so many ways, including academic work. 🕵️
 
We asked our friends and colleagues to introduce their research on queer language, literature, performance, and perception of the urban space. 👨‍🎤📚📝
 
Maybe your research also deals with LGBTQ+? Let us know in the comments! 💅
 
____________________________
 

Vocabulary relating to the LGBT+ community in Estonian LGBT+ activists’ podcasts

Leena:

As a result of the bachelor’s thesis “Vocabulary related to the LGBT+ community in the podcasts of Estonian LGBT+ activists”, it was revealed that Estonian LGBT+ activists prefer Estonian terms to English ones when talking about the queer community, the use of inclusive vocabulary and group labels is important to them, and the most popular discussion topics in podcasts are related to transgender and non-binary identities“.

____________________________

Building families beyond boundaries: queer kinship in The house in the cerulean sea and young adult literature

Mii

“The thesis explores the portrayal of queer kinship in the young adult (YA) genre, focusing on the novel “The House in the Cerulean Sea” by TJ Klune, and finds that the novel challenges traditional family structures, normalizes queer visibility, and emphasizes the positive influence of queer adults, underlining the importance of diverse narratives and representation in promoting understanding and acceptance among young readers, especially those who identify as queer”.

____________________________

Feelings of safety of gender and sexual minorities in the urban spaces of Tartu

Alar:

“LGBT+ people’s feelings of safety in urban space are formed on the basis of predispositions (“How safe do I think this place is?”) and signs (“What in this space speaks to me about my safety”)”.

____________________________

Role Creation in Drag: Tallinn Drag Queens

Madlen:

“In my work, I provided an overview of the Estonian drag scene and focused on the personas of local drag queens who have developed distinct character traits but don’t prioritize creating a specific life narrative”.

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Minority stress

What is minority stress?

This week, on 24.10.23, we introduced our activities to Tartu school nurses, so that every child would feel safer at school. Sharing some facts with you! 🧑🏻‍⚕️🏳️‍⚧️🏳️‍🌈 🧑🏻‍⚕️🏳️‍⚧️🏳️‍🌈

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Spooky Scary Queer: book club meeting

Spooky Scary Kväär: Book club meeting

🎃✨ Calling all bookworms and horror enthusiasts! 📚👻

Get ready for our spine-tingling book club meeting on October 20th at 17:00! 🕰️📖 This time, we’re diving into the eerie realms of Spooky Scary! 💀🌙 We’ll be unraveling the threads of queer horror, exploring the mysteries of death, and embracing all things macabre in books and beyond.

No specific book required this time—our focus is on the thrilling theme! 🦇✨ But fear not, we’ve curated a bone-chilling list of recommendations for your adventurous souls. Feel free to check them out beforehand, but remember, there’s absolutely no pressure. Just join us, bring your hauntingly good vibes, and share your own spooky favorites! 🖤👹

Let’s gather and celebrate the season of frights together! See you there! 🎃📚

Books:

  • Under the Whispering Door – TJ Klune
  • Cemetery Boys – Aiden Thomas
  • Gideon the Ninth – Tamsyn Muir
  • Carmilla – Sheridan Le Fanu
  • Dorian Gray portree – Oscar Wilde

Films:

  • Rocky Horror Picture Show
  • Jennifer’s Body

TV series:

  • The Haunting of Bly Manor
  • Interview with the Vampire
  • What We Do in the Shadows

This project has been funded with support from the European Commission. This publication reflects the views only of the author, and the Commission cannot be held responsible for any use which may be made of the information contained therein.

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