Inga Abele // PORTRAIT

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Inga Ābele (1972) is the most brilliant presence in modern Latvian drama, having skillfully worked in several literary genres, publishing the story collection Akas māja (The Well House) in 1999, the novel Uguns nemodina (Fire Will Not Wake You) in 2001 and poetry, Nakts pragmatiķe (Night Pragmatist), in 2000. Initially her short stories were based on a biting existential viewpoint, which held together the creative work as a whole. Uncovering the relationship of human crises to the twilight zone of the century in contemporary Latvia through pathological nuances, Inga Ābele simultaneously depicts disappointed hopes in a hopeless world, and reminds us painfully of the worth of life though it exists in a time of shattered values. The writer breaks away from standard writing forms, developing black irony and describing issues in modern life as though presenting fragmented raw material without an understandable logic. The determining force is to sense emotionally and instinctively, the secrets of the subconscious. The title The Well House is a metaphor for entering this unfathomable state through introspection, as though waves lap against the hidden “feminine” side of existence. A modern woman’s surface links to hearth, child and husband are expressed in a rippling manner, as tide and ebb. Life thus depicted takes on ambivalent meaning, for one is not only grounded, but lifted to crests. Within, or “underground”, is a layer of emotion not to be understood rationally but sometimes brought forth and strengthened through artificial stimulus: characteristically, balancing on a delicate edge between reason and insanity, protagonists break free of norms and restrictions. Without this unaccustomed extremity of depth and search for the meaning of existence “beneath the waves”, the intense emotional and existential feelings integral to any creative work – including that of love – would be excluded. The well forms a separate space within the stability and order of the earth, those who have fallen outside present-day competition being forced to dwell within a substructure. In dealing with outcasts and the marginalized, Ābele’s works have notable depth and a natural sensibility in depicting the vast, scarcely differentiated landscape of civilization as well as the rubbish heaps and cesspools at its edges In the novel Fire Will Not Wake You, a parallel theme to that of the well is a formulated concept of the unfulfilled desire of modern-day people to find within their prosaic lives a process of a higher, symbolic context, in following religious trends that offer fragments holding sacred meaning – however, rites and pilgrimages do not show the protagonist, Florence, the way out of the blind alley of existentialism. Nor is the fatal awareness of being alone mitigated by love, for in Ābele’s portrayals relationships are burdensome and disharmonious. Fathers, men, loved ones are shown as irresponsible venturers whose ways, like those of God, are not understandable. They rarely live an introspective life, and therefore do not empathize with the “little” dramas of a woman’s finer feelings. In both prose and plays, acute conflict is shown through refutation between one’s nature and that foreign to it; home and the outside world; those who live on the same street and those from unknown areas; the loss of inner balance is sharply drawn. Māja, kur sirdis lūzt (The House Where the Heart Breaks) includes Ābele’s plays performed in Latvia and internationally – Dark Deer, Iron Weed and Jasmine. The will to leave home gives rise to the romantic searching of youth; but perhaps even more, to the disintegration of family and the isolation of life today. The emotional temperament of the interim lifestyle of contemporary Latvians reduces ties to social levels, from which the plays’ characters seek to escape; for example, by raising dark deer, a business that brings bankruptcy and still deeper catastrophe. Ābele infuses alongside her depiction of the realities of our modern world, elements of surrealism, poetry and symbolism. Dark Deer reveals not only the ruined family as hostages to fate; but the adolescent girl Ria’s sacrifices of animals symbolize killing her capacity for love as well as herself, both being displaced in the bloody slaughterhouse of meaningless life. Lifting barriers formed by culture and following the primal urges of savage nature, the warfare between life and death that is symptomatic of our times in any sphere, has begun. In the unequal contest hatred prevails over love, being physically superior; as the monkey in the play Jasmine first annihilates its own species and then gnaws away the bark of saplings, exterminating them. Ābele’s godless world of struggle arouses compassion for those who are victors rather than having become social sacrifices. A last straw of hope still floats in the cocktail of post-modern absurd life. Her last book The Observations in the Time of Snow was awarded the Annual Prize for Literature in 2004, Latvia’s most prestigious literary award. Ieva Dubiņa Translated by Inara Cedrins

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