Welcome to my spot on the Baltic Books Blog Tour today! I’m thrilled to share a fabulous extract from Burning Cities by Kai Aareleid!
I’m so excited and honoured to be a part of this blog tour! I hope you enjoy the extract! But first things first, here is a little bit more about the Baltic Books Blog Tour, Burning Cities and its lovely author!
This year the Baltic countries – Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania – are celebrating 100 years of independence with new translations of Baltic Books coming to the UK for the first time and a series of cultural events happening across the UK. The Baltics are also being honoured as the Market Focus at London Book Fair (LBF), the biggest book trade event in the UK.
About Burning Cities:
Burning Cities is a poetic historical saga by Estonian author Kai Aareleid, in which the fortunes of a small family parallel those of a small nation under Communism. A young girl growing up in Soviet Estonia is witness to tragic events both grand and domestic.
Opening up about her family history, Tiina revisits the first two decades of her life following the Second World War, in Tartu, Estonia. The city, destroyed by Nazi invasion then rebuilt and re-mapped by the Soviets, is home to many secrets, and little Tiina knows them all, even if she does not know their import. The adult world that makes up Communist society, is one of cryptic conversations, undiagnosed dread and heavy drinking. From the death of Stalin to the gradual separation of her parents, Tiina, as a young girl, experiences both domestic and great events from the periphery, and is, therefore, powerless to prevent the defining tragedy in her life – a suicide in the family.
Translated for the first time into English, Burning Cities is an intimate portrayal of life under Soviet Communism and an absorbing family drama told with poetic precision.
To purchase a copy of this book, you can find the links below:
Peter Owen Publishers
About Kai Aareleid:
And now here is the fabulous extract from Burning Cities:
On the evening of Women’s day, Vova shows up at the door of
dr Köller’s villa carrying a large paper-wrapped bouquet, pinned
together at the top. Tiina unwraps it in the hall. luckily no one
else is at home – no one to ask questions or make a comment. Ten
white carnations, fist-sized, like snowballs. Gorgeous. Tiina hunts
around for a vase and puts the flowers in her room. Why do Mum
and Dad say that carnations are Russians’ flowers? Tiina wonders.
They are so pretty. Can flowers have a nationality?
‘Thanks,’ she tells Vova. ‘So . . . should we go to the cinema?
What do you think? I can check what’s on.’
Tiina looks for the newspaper and traces her finger down the
listings. ‘So. Sun Valley Serenade is playing at the Saluut Cinema.
no, wait. This is Saturday’s paper.’ She searches for a fresh issue
of Onwards and turns to the back page. ‘So. Today. Komsomol
Cinema: The Airfield’s Not Receiving. Kalev Cinema: The Eventful
Day. Kultuur Cinema: Threatening Nights. There’s nothing good.’
‘I wouldn’t mind watching Afanasy nikitin’s Journey Beyond
Three Seas again. Or The Secret of Two Oceans.’
‘Oh, you and your sea films.’
‘They’re not just sea films. Or, well, kind of . . .’
‘Fine, fine. let’s just go for a walk then. We’ll make an “eventful
day” of our own.’
They stroll a good distance along the river-bank, walking back
up from the lower town only when they reach the main road,
because Tiina wants to go past her old house and see whether the
renovation is still under way.
‘They took our class to clean up building rubble from the new
cinema one day,’ Vova tells her at the top of the hill. ‘Soon we’ll
be able to watch movies here.’
Tiina nods. At the moment the construction site is still sur –
rounded by a tall wooden fence. Tiina has observed that you never
know how long fences will last – neither the fences nor the ruins.
Fences, ruins. Could today be the day that she climbs over the
fence? Over another fence that has enticed her for years – one that
others have crossed but over which she’s never had anyone to
accompany her? You don’t go into those kinds of places alone:
the fence is high, the ruins dark. But Vova is here now. Work on
the church is rumoured to have halted again, so it’s hardly likely
anyone is guarding the site. no church is so off limits that the two
of them can’t have a look around before someone changes their
mind, sweeps the ruins up and hauls them away, too. Before they
‘I want to show you something. Come on,’ Tiina says and starts
They pass Vova’s school. In front of them is a grey wooden
fence, behind it a red-brick steeple. They gaze upwards. The roof
is almost complete; they can see scaffolding. Tiina turns past the
ice-cream booth and walks away from the street until they reach
the rear part of the fence. Vova follows her.
Tiina peers through a gap in the boards: brown grass, patches
of snow, bricked-in arched windows, empty ones higher above,
‘What’s there?’ Vova whispers.
‘A church. It’s a church. It was bombed and burned down. I’ve
never been in, but today . . . let’s climb over.’
‘What’s there to wait for? let’s climb over.’
‘Why? What do you mean by today?’
‘Well, I mean . . . I’d like to go today. With you. Should we?’
‘There are trees over on the side by our school – that spot’s
better for climbing,’ Vova says.
He walks ahead, and Tiina allows herself to be led.
‘Some boys from my class have gone in there in secret,’ Tiina
says. They’ve both lowered their voices to a whisper for some
reason. ‘One showed me a lump of white stone, he brought it to
school. He said it’s foreign stone, that it’s from Jesus’ statue, pure
marble. Another said Jesus almost melted in the fire.’
‘mm-hmm. In the heat.’
‘That’s rubbish. marble doesn’t melt. It crumbles into pieces;
that part’s right.’
‘Well, I don’t know.’
Tiina is silent. She walks along the planks behind Vova. ‘The
boys said, too, that this place is haunted and cursed and all sorts
of other things.’
‘What do you mean, “cursed”?’ Vova asks.
‘Well, that they’ve started rebuilding it several times, and that
each and every time something happens. last year when they
started working on the dome, one builder fell from the scaffolding
to his death. This year a wall collapsed on a guy putting up plaster,
no warning . . .’
‘do you believe that?’
‘In a curse?’
Tiina thinks for a few moments then answers, looking Vova
straight in the eye, ‘no, I don’t.’
Vova has climbed up to the top of the fence and holds out his
hand to Tiina. ‘Come on.’
They saunter over the knee-high weeds revealed by the melted
snow up to the edge of the church wall and walk along it. The
empty windows have been barricaded tight. Vova scales the side
of a chimney and finds a low doorway. He pulls on the boards
until he manages to pull a few away.
‘Well, why not? let’s risk getting cursed.’
Vova climbs in first.
light seeps through the scaffolding and the gaps in the
disintegrating inner walls. Tiina turns and sees behind her a giant
crippled mass that looks like it was once the altarpiece. Her eyes
play tricks on her in the dim light – it appears something is glinting
in the eye sockets of the statue’s disfigured head. A chill comes
over her, and she seizes Vova’s sleeve. Fragments of stone crunch
beneath their feet. The space smells of damp plaster and soil. The
light, wherever its source might be, is fading with every passing
moment. The church is dusky and quiet. The brick walls radiate
cold; the only sound is a dull metallic clattering high above. Then,
the fluttering of wings. Footsteps. Tiina startles.
‘The wind,’ Vova says, as if he read Tiina’s thoughts. ‘Pigeons.’
‘Pigeons,’ Tiina repeats.
‘Yeah.’ Vova peers around. ‘I guess this was a beautiful church.
estonian style of church. Shame about the statue.’
Tiina says nothing. Coming here wasn’t a good idea. The place
has filled her with a sudden, terrible feeling of grief and hopeless –
ness. Churches should comfort people, that’s what she’s gathered
from what Aunt Ida says, but this . . . this comforts no one. Will
it ever actually be rebuilt?
mrs Wunderlich had gazed at her engagement photograph taken
in front of the altar and said, ‘now, it’s all gone.’ She was right, it’s
gone. And now she’s gone, too. When news of the big reno vations
came, mrs Wunderlich said, ‘I don’t need any more renovations,
I’m going to go to be with Johannes.’ And on the second-to-last
day of the year, when everyone else had already packed their things
or changed spaces, it happened. She didn’t need to pack or change
spaces to move in with Johannes.
Will the time ever come when these walls are white again and
the altarpiece is healed, stretching its arms wide and saying, Come
to me? When the roof finally blocks out the sky, glass is replaced
in the windows, the steeple towers above the city and the bells
start to ring once more?
Or will this place ultimately be wiped away by the arrival of a
fleet of tractors and trucks, of spades and wheelbarrows, rails being
laid to haul away waste, a communal workday being held and the
site made clear and bare again? It’ll then be an empty square crisscrossed
by footpaths for a while, before residential buildings all
identical to one another spring up on it. Which is more needed?
A church or places to live?
Tiina stands in the doorway, staring at the clouds careening
away above the ruins, and can vividly perceive the way the world
moves, the way time moves and how everything can change at any
moment. Just like this church. One summer’s morning it was
there – the pews, bells, hymnals and altar cloths – and the next
moment the sky was filled with aeroplanes, a deafening blast
thundered and then it was rubble.
Vova’s lips suddenly brush across Tiina’s cheek, just for an
instant. Tiina comes back down from the heights and the expanses,
back to that march evening, wraps her arms around Vova and
holds him tightly.
Follow the bloggers on the #BalticBooks #LBFBaltic blog tour!
Huge thanks to Hannah and Maddie at Midas PR for the fabulous extract and blog tour invite!