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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

Diary of a Blood Donor

Mati Unt

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To purchase Diary of a Blood Donor

Title: Diary of a Blood Donor
Author: Mati Unt
Genre: Novel
Written: (1990) Eng. 2008
Length: 212 pages
Original in: Estonian
Availability: Diary of a Blood Donor - US
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  • Estonian title: Doonori meelespea
  • Translated by Ants Eert

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Our Assessment:

B : curious mix of Estonian politics and the Dracula story

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The Independent . 24/7/2008 Mark Thwaite

  From the Reviews:
  • "Despite Stoker's innovative plotting, his story arc is clear. Unt, on the other hand, foregoes clarity for suggestion and what sometimes reads like the infuriating impulse to write down anything that comes into his head. (...) We learn too how costly the process of writing and thinking about writing is for any writer who recognises the vertiginous dangers as well as the joys of penmanship. But following Joonatan's meanderings, reading Lussi's fantasies, and learning about Minni's feelings, is often confusing and frustrating. Unt's vampire metaphor is contradictory and his narrative loose." - Mark Thwaite, The Independent

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       Diary of a Blood Donor is, in part, a variation on Bram Stoker's Dracula, complete with names that echo those in Stoker's novel (including narrator Joonatan Hark). It is set largely in the mid-1980s in an Estonia that is still part of the Soviet Union but edging towards independence -- even as it seems more or less bled dry:

     We had Eastern European resignation, shattered illusions, a little intermittent enthusiasm, a cynicism born out of frequent foreign occupations, and the desire -- like all long-isolated peasants -- to better ourselves.
       It begins with Joonatan summoned to Leningrad, to meet someone aboard the historical cruiser Aurora. No explanations are given. One reason he considers going is that: "should I choose Leningrad, I'll become freer by having made my free choice" -- typical of the philosophical conundrums he finds himself ensnared in. Later, much more pointedly, he finds himself suffering what are clearly meant to be particularly Estonian (or any subjugated country or people's) qualms, explaining half-deliriously:
Minni, I'm sick. The sickness is such that I don't want to remember what happened to me. I seem to recollect many unpleasant things. If I remember them fully, these memories would force me to act, run, save myself, fight for my life -- but somehow I don't want to. I prefer forgetting.
       Forgetting isn't that easy, especially when historical associations abound, from the Aurora, with its role in the Russian Revolution, to 19th century Estonian poet Lydia Koidula, whose birthday is being commemorated, which leads to a number of unusual complications.
       The reader is warned:
     Once begun, it's vital not to lose the thread of the story, since once you lose it it's extremely difficult to find it again.
       But Unt does not make it easy; for one, there are many threads, and for another, he is prone to digressions, going off on a variety of tangents. Parenthetical warnings such as: "My book is riddled with errors" are no more reassuring, and even he realises, for example: "My God, I'm babbling again."
       There is a story here, of sorts, and it does get rolling when Joonatan ventures to Leningrad for the mysterious meeting. And, yes, it's also to do with blood-sucking (and -letting) -- with Joonatan eventually noting: "Metaphors have their rightful place in literature, but that's all", and suggesting:
Metaphors spread roots everywhere, but in the end they don't mean much.
       Still, vampirism is a pretty good metaphor for tiny Estonia at that time, and though he makes more of a convoluted adventure out of it than perhaps necessary, a lightness of tone keeps things fairly entertaining -- even when it gets as heavy-handed as a vampire explaining that he now gets his fix at the blood bank:
Yes, we need blood to live, but we no longer infect anyone, at least not in this little country, this Estonia with its surfeit of suffering and its may dilemmas.
       Unt has a nice, playful style, but the presentation can begin to feel like a lot of free association -- as if he has to prove that he has talent to burn. Still, it's a decent modern take on Dracula and gives some idea of 1980s Estonia (which was certainly an odd little corner of the world, even without any real vampires). Oddball fiction, certainly, but worth a look.

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Diary of a Blood Donor: Reviews: Mati Unt: Other books by Mati Unt under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Estonian author Mati Unt lived 1944 to 2005.

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