Tallinn: Paradiis, 2019. 182 pp.
ISBN    9789949741212

Peedu Saar’s Veronicas is a dreamily sentimental romance that reads as strikingly old-fashioned in this, the second decade of the 21st century. It is only Saar’s second novel, but is thicker and artistically more mature than his debut, Pascual (2018).

            Although Veronicas lies somewhat outside the contemporary mainstream of Estonian literature, the novel still attracted a fair degree of attention, and was nominated for the Cultural Endowment of Estonia’s Award for Prose in 2019.

            In a quote printed on the back cover, the Estonian author Peeter Sauter compares Veronicas to the impressionist and sentimental works of the early 20th century like A. H. Tammsaare’s university stories and Oskar Luts’s Kirjad Maariale (Letters to Maaria). The literary critic Märt Väljataga also observes a similar rebirth of Luts’s characteristic sentimentalism in Saar’s novel. And not merely ‘similarity’. He notes that Veronicas shares a connection with Luts by way of its physical setting, its identical outlook on life, and the mysterious and alluring feminine sphinx to whom the story itself is addressed.

            Veronicas is set in the Estonian university town of Tartu. Its protagonist has fallen head over heels in love with a girl he affectionally calls “Veronica”, after the flower (also known as speedwell or gypsyweed). His deep affection is sparked from a single encounter, one weekend, and yet the dream of it fills the young man’s days, entirely. The novel is structured as an appeal to the man’s beloved, allowing the reader to accompany him through his raging emotions and waves of anticipation, yearning, and distress.

            The book is, in a way, very Tartu-like and accurately conveys the aura of that “city of mists and dreams” (Doris Kareva). Saar’s style is unhurried. He takes time to describe developments, pondered thoughts, time spent in pubs, and longings. Although the protagonist has real work to do as a biologist, that which unfolds in his mind is somehow more tangible – his dreams are realer than reality itself. He is joyful and sorrowful simultaneously; lonely and yet with his beloved in every dream.

            Saar’s work is very well-rounded, with a clear composition and uniform style. The man’s emotions are spontaneous and believable, while his sentimentality does not estrange the reader.

            With Veronicas, Saar has accomplished a highly convincing, gripping, and stylistically enjoyable story of imagined longing; of a love that, as it turns out, is just a figment of the protagonist’s imagination, and thus may have never really existed at all.

Piret Viires is a professor of Estonian literature at Tallinn University. Her research focuses on contemporary Estonian literature, postmodernism, post-postmodernism, and the interaction between literature and technology.