2020 Longlist

Burning Cities


Translated from the Estonian by Adam Cullen

A poetic historical saga in which the fortunes of a small family parallel those of a small nation under communism. Tiina is a young girl growing up in soviet Estonia and 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. Tartu, destroyed by Nazi invasion then rebuilt and re-mapped by the Soviets, is home to many secrets, and 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 separation of her parents, Tiina experiences from the periphery, and is, therefore, powerless to prevent the defining tragedy in her life.

About the Author

Kai Aareleid was born in Tartu, Estonia in 1972. Her début novel Russian Blood was published to wide acclaim. After her second novel Burning Cities was published, Kai was awarded Estonian Writer of the Year. A prolific translator, Kai has translated works by Bruce Chatwin, Javier Marías, Paulo Coelho and Roberto Bolaño.

Librarian’s Comments

Kai Aareleid’s novel “Burning Cities” is a poetic, soulful and intimate portrayl of life under Soviet occupation. The book features a young Estonian girl who navigates everyday life during politically turbulent times. There are family secrets, half-forbidden friendships and heartwarming scenes of life in a small town. We see bittersweet examples of people’s strength when facing loss and confronting their own repressed memories. Much of what is portrayed is still, after many decades a very sensitive subject for most Estonians. The pain has remained deeply rooted into the national conciousness. However, the author’s choice in using a child as the protagonist has slightly softened the heart-wrenching themes of the novel. Kai Aareleid’s language is precise and beautiful. Her deep bond with the characters is palpable. Tallinn Central Library, Estonia

It is both a historical and personal story on a high literary level that plays with the idea of games – card games, war games, literary and love games. But games are also about losing and the main conflict does not lie in war or occupation but in personal traumatic experiences.  Inventive in construction and very precise in use of language.  Tartu Public Library, Estonia



Peter Owen Publishers


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