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Inga Abele: Paisums (High Tide)

Inga Abele starts her story with a a dream: God found the woman within this dream and said to her:“If you agree to live your life in reverse, you’ll have the power to give life back to your lover, who died young. Much (though not all) of this novel recounts the life of Ieva in reverse. Ieva, by the way is the Latvian for Eve and that is not a coincidence. Our heroine may be considered as somewhat of an ur-woman. She loves roaming in the forest (on her own). Indeed though she marries (and divorces) has a daughter and also a lover, she seems to like being on her own, an independent woman.

She had been brought up by her grandparents and her grandmother taught her that everything would eventually pass, even life. Maybe whatever it was would last more than a month, but it would pass. Each view, each landscape, even you.

She seems to struggle with the problems of life but does more or less overcome them. She once read, though who knows where: You’ll fall from grace more than once, but it’s okay. At the beginning of the book (i.e. later in her life, when she is over thirty), she falls in love. But does she need it again, she’s so tired and knows all the horrors of it from start to end.

We do see an early event in her life, namely her grandmother dying and not going gracefully, as Ieva’s mother, Lūcija, struggles to cope with job,motherhood and her own mother, who is now like a child to her.

However, we then jump to a period later in her life, namely the story of her ex-husband, Andrejs. They are very different. She is the intellectual while he is the outdoors woodsman. He doesn’t enjoy words like Ieva does and Andrejs hated know-it-alls. Smart people. Writers. Who needs them? She became pregnant and had a daughter, Monta, the year the Soviet Union collapsed.

However, when we meet him, he is on parole from prison, working near the prison. We learn that he had killed someone – at this point we do not who or why. Ieva continued to visit him in prison – they were even allowed to spend the night together – but they had a row and they had not met since. He is very bitter.

The man he killed was Aksels, Ieva’s lover. Despite the fact that he killed her lover, Ieva not only visits Andrejs. Surprisingly, as we are still in the Soviet Union, they are allowed to spend the night together now and then and do so.

Ieva was brought up by her grandparents and, to a great degree, her daughter Monta, is brought up by her grandmother, Ieva’s mother. Monta will later say it’s horrible to say, but if Mum died I wouldn’t cry like if my grandma died.

At this point, Ieva was struggling in her life. She was flat broke and barely fed herself or her daughter (and the daughter’s dog) till she left Monta with her mother and went off to study in Moscow. Ieva visits but relations between mother and daughter remained difficult, even in later life. Mum visited often, but I just couldn’t bring myself to really talk to her. I’ve never been able to and know for a fact I never will.

Ieva is a complex woman. Love is important – when I was with Aksels, love justified everything we did. Even the most horrible and incomprehensible things – but, as we have seen, not as important as her independence. Various characters try to describe her. A gypsy woman tells her fortune: You’ll start from zero many times over, it’s a gift you have.

Peter, a Hungarian playwright she meets in Berlin says You’re an amazing woman in everything you do. How come whenever you tell a story you always finish it by saying you wish it had been different? Does someone else make your decisions for you? And if not, why don’t you do what you want to do? It just seems that the whole time you’re living this life, you’re thinking about a different one instead.

She was brought up by her grandmother and yet she hands over her daughter to her mother. Both daughters benefit from this but also feel the loss of maternal affection. Ieva’s grandmother spoilt her, so when she got out she quickly married and had a daughter. With the Soviet Union collapsing at the same time, her life was thrown in turmoil.

We gradually go back to learn of Ieva’s early life and even her birth.We learn about her drug usage, her complex relationships with Aksels and Andrejs and decisions she and others make will affect the rest of her life. Her married life is not happy and nor is the married life of her parents. Though she remains on good terms with her brother, they were brought up separately.

People will be unintentionally destroyed by the wandering stars in their lives, she comments and that is undoubtedly true for Ieva. And now? Now, at the beginning of the book, she states why do I walk in circles, like a dog chained to a post? She has no easy answer but this book certainly tries to explain where she went wrong.

Publishing history

First published by Dienas grāmata in 2008
First published in English by Open Letter in 2013
Translated by Kaija Straumanis