An excerpt of the book "The Courage of Living. Letters to Käbi" (Elamise julgus. Kirjad Käbile", EKSA, 2019). Translated by Tiina Ann Kirss.
See also "Who was Käbi Laretei?"

In the summer of 2017, Käbi’s books were an awakening. By coincidence I found her book “Where did all the love go”? (2008) in a bookstore. This was a question that interested me, too, and I decided to follow Käbi’s path into my own inner landscapes. I went to the library and borrowed all of Käbi’s books that were available in Estonian. In fact, there were quite a number of them, 12 books in all. Her 2005 book, „As if in translation: Theme and variations” left a deep impression: I was struck by the author's courage, directness, and intelligence. And also, quite simply, her humaneness.

Is it possible to write this way?

Is it possible to live life flying high, while remaining forthright and honest as a human being, and to write about the life one lived in the same way?

Unlike many Estonians who had the good fortune to meet Käbi Laretei, I have never met her, nor have I heard her playing on stage. However, in the 1930s, before Käbi left Estonia, she was the classmate of my grandmother Elga Johanna Karu (nee Mänd), and in the 1980s they were reunited. I did not know this yet. From my mother's stories I later found out that Käbi had gifted my grandmother with a white beret, which my mother had worn in her childhood for a long time.

I do not regret at all that I never met Käbi Laretei personally. Perhaps the awakenings I experienced through her books could not have taken place before the summer of 2017, when a year and a half had passed since my divorce, which had taken seven years. This was a time when my greatest pain and grief were already behind me, and I had resolved to create change in myself and my way of seeing the world. I faced making peace with the father of my first son, with whom we never actually lived together as a family, but years later I still felt guilty for the shattering of the relationship.

Perhaps I had simply not been ready for such a journey. Fortunately, the written word is not destroyed. Once it has been written down, it can become a bridge between different times and people, even many years later, when the writer herself is no longer among the living. I am quite sure that through her books, Käbi lives on, in her words and the people who read them and think about them. Dialogue is possible, now and in the future. In this sense the written word is truly a timeless gift. Thus Käbi gave much to the world: by means of her miraculous piano concerts she lifted people into the heavens, but through her books she touched hearts. Deeply.

Without much rationalisation, I undertook the journey with Käbi in search of courage. We were joined by many other writers and by my friends. Indeed, for me life and literature are closely entwined. Literature helps one think through one`s life and what it means to be human, to search for oneself and understand the different layers of oneself. Once I have written my way through them, I understand myself, the world, and relationships with others and the world much better, once I have thought through them in the writing process. This is also why I love to write letters. Indeed, the old-fashioned kind of letters help untangle certain kinds of topics. The fact that Käbi could not directly answer my letters is not a lack. She does answer. Really, she does. You only have to know how to listen, how to listen to books and the written word. And you also need to know how to listen to yourself.
What happens, when everything around you falls silent?

What are the voices – fears, drives, anxieties – that summon you from within?

What holds you back?

The topics of the letters I exchanged with Käbi over the course of a year range from the deeply personal to the broadest aspects of being human. Actually, for me all the topics that I consider are personal. I try to avoid the ones that do not interest me. I take life personally, as well as people, books, and even writers with whom I take up a conversation. As the writer and diplomat Jaak Jõerüüt has said, why do anything if one does not do it passionately, with devotion and professionalism.

When I was a teenager, we would say to our classmates and friends, „Follow me, I know a shortcut.” I remember one of the boys in my class say that when we were spending summer vacation in Saaremaa. We tried to break our way through the juniper woods to the seashore and looked for ways to get there faster. We got lost. We didn`t get there faster, and looking for a straight path ended up taking more time.

This is a pithy story. Later on, I would learn many times that there are no quick or direct ways to get somewhere. Even if there appear to be, and even if it is possible to skip over certain phases of life and jump to the next, a higher level or rung on the ladder. Usually it turns out that something has been skipped or left undone. Something has been forgotten, and one needs to turn back or start all over again.

Just as one cannot skip over certain aspects or phases of life, no one can live another person's life for them, suffer their pain, feel their joy. Everyone must learn their own lessons, make their own mistakes and learn from them. The experiences of others, including what one reads in books, can be helpful and provide support. Everyone must make their own existential journey. For me these „doings, mistakes, sufferings” refer first and foremost to the world of thought and feeling, not so much in the physical world, though all of these are connected to one another.

The books and thoughts of Käbi and many other writers have been a great support on my own journeys. I hope that this journey can offer help, guidance and company for someone else. Today, tomorrow, or many years from now.


Aija Sakova
Tallinn, November 2018