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.