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Regina Ezera: Aka [The Well]

This is a relatively long novel but tells its story very well but very gradually. It is set in a rural area of Latvia. Laura lives with her mother-in-law, Alvīne, her sister-in-law, Vija, and her two children, her daughter, Zaiga, and her son, Māris. Her husband, Ričs, has been in prison for five years, with another year to serve, for manslaughter. He was a habitual drunk. He worked as a ploughman and people used to give him several drinks after ploughing and he got used to it. One day he had been out hunting with one of his friends while drunk and had accidentally shot and killed the friend. Laura and her family manage to carry on. Laura is a teacher and while life is not especially easy, they manage to make do. One day, a doctor from Riga, called Rũdolfs, comes to stay nearby on holiday. There is a lake nearby and he enjoys swimming, fishing and boating. Indeed, he first meets Laura when he goes to hire her boat. Rũdolfs is divorced with a twelve year old son (or is it thirteen? Rũdolfs is not sure). He has had affairs. We learn of one from a previous holiday, when a couple came to the lake. The woman would go swimming in the lake in the morning and her husband would then go off fishing and Rũdolfs and the woman would have sex. While we follow the local events, Rũdolfs’ holiday activities and some of the characters, particularly Rũdolfs’ hosts, the main plot is the relationship between Rũdolfs and Laura.

Rũdolfs certainly is not looking for love. We do get the slight (but only slight) impression that he is somewhat lonely but he seems generally happy with his job, his holidays and casual sexual encounters. Laura equally is not looking for anything though she, too, is not entirely happy. She receives regular letters from Ričs and they are loving and caring. He indicates that he misses her and talks about plans for when he is released. She reads them, not only to herself but to the family, but, at the same time, she is clearly upset by his absence and, indeed, his behaviour. Rũdolfs’ first encounter with Laura after hiring the boat is when Zaiga suddenly develops a fever and the local nurse is not available. Rũdolfs is called in and he is happy to help. He is able to diagnose Zaiga’s problem and care for her and he enquiries about her several times after that. Gradually he starts meeting them, particularly the children, and becomes something of a substitute father to the children, particularly Māris, and both children use the familiar you form when addressing him (and vice versa), though he and Laura continue to use the polite you form with one another.

Ezera certainly does not rush into anything here. We see Rũdolfs getting more and more familiar with the children but also with Laura, helping her, accompanying her and the children, going to their house but we also see the other characters with their issues, though most of them are merely background. Vija, for example, is not happy as the house nominally belongs to the man who killed her father, and she cannot wait to get away. She has a boyfriend but is not particularly enamoured of him. Alvīone, however, is somewhat stoical, like her daughter-in-law. But Rũdolfs and Laura do get closer and it is clear that there is something between them. The question – and Ezera leaves us guessing to the end – is what is that something and what, if anything, are they going to do about it. It is a sweet, gentle, lovingly told tale and it is sad that it is available in various languages but not English.

Publishing history

First published by Liesma in 1972
No English translation
Published in German as Der Brunnen by Ullstein in 1994
Translated by Welta Ehlert
Also translated into Chinese, Czech (Studna, Svoboda, 1978) and Ukrainian (колодязь, Vyd-vo khudozh. lit-ry”Dnipro”, 1981)