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The Butterfly (Le papillon)

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Original Language: French | 160 pp. | January 2017

2 Seas represents: Dutch, Nordic countries and English (US & Canada)

Under option: the Netherlands, World English, Germany, Czech Republic, Denmark, Hungary, Latvia & Lithuania, Russia, Spain, Italy, Turkey

FICTION

No doubt, this famous Estonian theatre troupe works as a parable of the author’s country (among others). I salute Kivirähk’s fictional capacity of making a point in a thought-provoking, jovial way. Kivirähk’s style is just brilliant. — Lionel Decottignies, L’Humanité

The trappings of a Dostoyevsky novel, the ambiance of an Ingeborg Bachmann poem, the feel of a dance in the snow and the character of a play where all the actors are Charlie Chaplin. A story which has you both laughing and crying and a very unusual drama. In short, it is more than just a novel – it is a treasure which will light up the January nights. — Anna Tiedje, Librairie Delamain

The first novel by the author of THE MAN WHO SPOKE SNAKISH, which is available in translation in eleven countries and has already become a modern classic of Estonian literature.

Estonia, the early 20th century. One evening as he is leaving the factory where he works, August bumps into the director of the Estonia Theatre. He gives up his blue-collar job and joins the theatre troupe, whose members turn out be as crazy as they are hyper-sensitive: Pinna, the founder, the actors Alexander, Eeda, Sällik and Oskar, and also Erika, his future wife, who joins the theatre shortly after his arrival. She comes to the embody the Butterfly, the theatre’s emblem, and injects a lightness into proceedings which is so lacking in the country at the turn of the century.

The Estonia stage is soon the only place where liberty and love can still resonate and where there is still space for mischief, fun and games and the joys of friendship. But like the butterfly, the theatre is fragile – the brutal reality of the world encroaches and the grey dog which embodies it prowls in the vicinity, threatening to subject this close-knit troupe of dreamers to violence, separation and death.

Le Papillon is Andrus Kivirähk’s debut novel and the unexpected fruit of research that he was carrying out into the history of Estonian theatre. Fascinated by the subject matter, the author abandoned his research project halfway through and instead incorporated the material into a novel which blends history and fiction. It features actors who really existed, but also the first expressions of the writer’s vivid imagination (including the bird women, the werewolf actor and the dog who personifies Death). However, what makes this book so special and so appealing in the context of Kivirähk’s body of work is its melancholy beauty. Until the collapse of the Soviet Union, the Estonian people largely lived in the Middle Ages and their lives were marked by oppression and invasions. Over the course of nearly a millennium, the country only experienced independence once, in the twentieth century during the golden inter-war hiatus. In depicting a troupe of actors who will experience both the dawn and the end of this hiatus, Andrus Kivirähk paints a moving portrait of simple, brave and resilient people whose humanity is their only defence against barbarism.