The Icelandic novelist Sigurjón Birgir Sigurðsson, better known to the world as Sjón, has been one of my favorite discoveries in recent years. I picked up his 2003 novel, The Blue Fox, in a library in New York, and was intrigued by his spare style, but it was his next novel The Whispering Muse (2005) that made me a fan. I bought an autographed copy of this book, as well as Moonstone (2013) in bookstores in Reykjavik a few years ago. Happily enough, I also discovered a discarded copy of From the Mouth of the Whale (2008) in a Viljandi second-hand shop called Sahtel recently. Sjón’s work is simple, elegant, intricate, and thought provoking. He is capable of writing historical fiction — the story of a gay hustler set in 1918 (Moonstone) or an exiled healer set in 1635 (From the Mouth of the Whale) — but with depths of emotion and understanding. The ideas and images in his novels linger for some time and perhaps forever.
The best and most innovative bands are always the sums of their equal parts. Think, of course, of The Beatles, who thrived as a whole, but produced rather less inspiring records as solo artists. Black Bread Gone Mad is one of these bands that benefits from across-the-board excellent musicianship. They have a stellar violinist (Lee Taul), whose diminutive size conceals a striking, all-powerful vocal range; a fluid bagpiper, flutist, and vocalist (Merike Paberits) who also packs incredible conceptual artistic talent; a hell of a guitar player (Peeter Priks), who brings rock theatrics into the mix; an accomplished and funky bass guitarist, one of a handful to fully understand the nature of instrument (Mati Tubli); and a drummer (Martin Aulis) who is a goddamn animal. They have a gift for blending pop sensibilities, world music influences, and the better aspects of jazz improvisation. And unlike many folk groups to come out of Viljandi, who prefer an understated, almost shoe-gazing aesthetic, they put on a fantastic live show. At the moment, they are headed into the studio, but watch out for them when they come back on tour.
While the world waits for the theatrical release of Wes Anderson‘s latest film, The French Dispatch, which has been delayed multiple times due to the ongoing COVID-19 Pandemic, I think it’s worth revisiting some of his earlier films. One that had a major impact on me as a college student was 1998’s Rushmore, which is always a joy to visit, and again The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014), which I watched obsessively during a period of great change in my own life, so much that I began to feel that I lived more in the film than reality. Yet the real treasure is Moonrise Kingdom (2012), which tells the story of two young lovers who run away into the woods in the summer of 1965, and is magnificent from beginning to end. I know that during the winter I will be watching this film again and again, not only because it is so much fun to watch, but because it demonstrates Anderson’s genius — and it can only be called that — as a filmmaker.
When people hear that I am from New York, they often assume that I am some big city boy, but I actually grew up in a sleepy village on the Atlantic coast called Setauket. I refer to it, among Estonian friends, as the Saaremaa of America. The name comes from an Algonquian word that means where the waters meet. This is also the setting for an excellent show called TURN: Washington’s Spies (2014-2017), which details the true story of an American spy ring during the American Revolution. What I love about this show is that it does justice to the violence and intrigue of the Revolution. There is one scene where the protagonist, a farmer turned spy named Woodhull, is assaulted by British soldiers on a country road at night. The silhouettes of the soldiers with their tri-cornered hats laughing as they kick him in the dirt continues to haunt me. This is a period — the late 18th century — that Estonians tend to ignore, with their focus on the prewar era and again on the cultural awakenings and Singing Revolution of the 1980s. But watching it might inspire them to become more curious about other obscured parts of their past.
An Estonian-language version of these recommendations appears in the winter edition of the magazine Edasi.