‘It didn’t matter if she broke her fingers’

Natalya Filippovna may be a middle-aged, single mother and member of the Russian minority in Estonia, but she is content with her simple life. She has a flat, a job at an electronics factory and, most importantly, she has her bright and ambitious teenaged daughter, Sofia. Money is tight, but they make do – that is, until Sofia requires a lengthy, expensive procedure and Natalya loses her job. With bills piling up, Natalya reluctantly accepts an undesirable mode of income.
‘Mari Saat’s empathic book marks an important turn in Estonian literature to serious moral issues after decades of postmodernist experimentation. The plight of the Estonian Russians can’t be a more topical issue right now in Estonia. But Mari Saat’s treatment is far from unequivocal journalistic cliches. This small lyrical book achieves a subtle synthesis of natural and supernatural, quotidian and quietist.’
– Märt Väljataga

Extract from The Saviour of Lasnamäe
By Mari Saat
Translated by Susan Wilson
Published by Vagabond Voices

Sofia had never come home from school to find Mum, already back from the morning shift or just leaving for the late shift, staring so fixedly at the window, completely oblivious to her. Was she in a world of her own? That had to be it, otherwise she would have done what she always did; she would have come over to give her a hug, or if she were busy with something she would at least have called out and asked a question or explained what she was doing. Sometimes it felt like she was a bit of a nag.

‘Mum, what’s up?’ she asked.


Natalya Filippovna cried. She cried during the day and she cried during the night, even in her sleep. She wasn’t even sure whether she slept at all or just cried. If she were suddenly called back to work now it was more likely than not that she wouldn’t be able to do anything because her eyes were so red and sore from crying, and her head was thumping, and she had a pain in her chest, and her fingers were trembling – there was no way she’d be able to do anything with her fingers in that state. And now there was nothing for them to do anyway.

She had of course heard that things weren’t going so well at the factory. There was talk of a crisis engulfing the global electronics industry, of things not going well with their two main clients, and that there might even be lay-offs. That’s what the gossip was – not that she really paid much attention to it, perhaps because she was, after all, above average. No doubt her age was significant but what did that matter? She was above average for accuracy and speed, had never been off sick and her daughter wasn’t so young that she’d have to stay at home on the odd occasion that Sofia happened to be ill. She was a very good, effective worker. As a result she didn’t immediately understand when they called her in for a chat and said that with regret they could not extend her contract. Later it transpired – as the women had already guessed – that only people whose temporary contracts were coming to an end were being let go. This meant that they would not be laid off – only that their contracts would not be extended any longer. Then it emerged that they were not real workers, unlike workers with permanent contracts who could not simply be discarded in this fashion because they had to be paid redundancy money. Temporary workers could merely be tossed overboard. Natalya Filippovna found it particularly insulting that everyone was treated alike; their speed and accuracy and how much supervision they required counted for nothing. They’d always been happy with her, she’d never missed a shift and now they were suddenly letting her go while the slower, careless workers were kept on just because it cost the factory more to get rid of them… She understood of course that the factory had problems. Even if they actually got rid of the less capable workers on permanent contracts, the factory might not survive, but whatever way she looked at it it felt so unfair. Why bother to monitor and congratulate and praise workers, if it counted for nothing? As she stared at the window, she wanted to hammer her fist against the glass until it bled but instead she merely wrung her hands. It didn’t matter if she broke her fingers, but a broken window would have to be paid for… And how could Sofia live here then, in a kitchen with the wind whistling through… There was no money for new glass… How much would they charge for glazing these days anyhow?

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