Estonian writer Tõnu Õnnepalu’s Raadio was original published in Estonia in 2002, but this year Dalkey Archive Press has released Adam Cullen’s English translation of the novel. The book deals with universal human problems, including questions of isolation and identity, while also confronting more specific challenges of how to come back to one’s homeland after years abroad as well as introspective crises over sexual anxiety. Each of these themes, as well as Õnnepalu’s approach to fiction, were recently discussed during an event launching the English language edition of Radio at Waterstone’s Books in London’s Bloomsbury.
Õnnepalu begins by explaining the significance radio had and continues to have in his own life. He explains that radio provides a deeply intimate connection to the wider world which is crucial when living on a small island off of Estonia’s mainland, as he has done for many years. For Õnnepalu, who has never owned a television, there is a kind of immediacy to radio which can approximate the reality of being at a musical performance or having a personal conversation, something other forms of modern communication devices have never been able to replicate. It was the radio which the novel’s protagonist used as a means to answer questions about his own identity and to better understand the contradictions in society, something which appears to be partly based on Õnnepalu’s own experiences.
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