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Everything Is Wonderful
Cover of Everything Is Wonderful
Everything Is Wonderful
Memories of a Collective Farm in Estonia

"Pages of dreamlike prose explore Estonia's terrible Nazi-Soviet past, the trauma of dictatorship, and how memory processes that trauma" (The Financial Times).

A Times Literary Supplement Best Book of the Year

Just like it was taken for granted that houses could be abandoned and slowly decay, so it was taken for granted that people died in prisons, and that it was possible that no-one would really ever know the cause of death. This is the nature of totalitarianism . . .

In the early 1990s, after the collapse of the USSR, Sigrid Rausing completed her anthropological fieldwork on the peninsula of Noarootsi, a former Soviet border protection zone in Estonia. Abandoned watch towers dotted the coast line, and the huge fields of the Lenin collective farm were lying fallow, waiting for claims from former owners who had fled war and Soviet and Nazi occupation.

Rausing's conversations with the local people touched on many subjects: the economic privations of post-Soviet existence, the bewildering influx of western products, and the Swedish background of many of them. In Everything Is Wonderful Rausing reflects on history, political repression, and the story of the minority Swedes in the area. Here she tells her story of what she observed as she lived and worked among the villagers—witnessing their transition from repression to freedom, and from Soviet neglect to post-Soviet austerity.

"A delicate, precise, and richly informative memoir of a forgotten Europe and a vanished world." —Timothy Garton Ash

"Pages of dreamlike prose explore Estonia's terrible Nazi-Soviet past, the trauma of dictatorship, and how memory processes that trauma" (The Financial Times).

A Times Literary Supplement Best Book of the Year

Just like it was taken for granted that houses could be abandoned and slowly decay, so it was taken for granted that people died in prisons, and that it was possible that no-one would really ever know the cause of death. This is the nature of totalitarianism . . .

In the early 1990s, after the collapse of the USSR, Sigrid Rausing completed her anthropological fieldwork on the peninsula of Noarootsi, a former Soviet border protection zone in Estonia. Abandoned watch towers dotted the coast line, and the huge fields of the Lenin collective farm were lying fallow, waiting for claims from former owners who had fled war and Soviet and Nazi occupation.

Rausing's conversations with the local people touched on many subjects: the economic privations of post-Soviet existence, the bewildering influx of western products, and the Swedish background of many of them. In Everything Is Wonderful Rausing reflects on history, political repression, and the story of the minority Swedes in the area. Here she tells her story of what she observed as she lived and worked among the villagers—witnessing their transition from repression to freedom, and from Soviet neglect to post-Soviet austerity.

"A delicate, precise, and richly informative memoir of a forgotten Europe and a vanished world." —Timothy Garton Ash

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About the Author-
  • In 1993-94 Sigrid Rausing completed her anthropological fieldwork on the peninsula of Noarootsi, a former Soviet border protection zone in Estonia. Abandoned watch towers dotted the coast line, and the huge fields of the Lenin collective farm were lying fallow, waiting for claims from former owners, fleeing war and Soviet and Nazi occupation. Rausing's conversations with the local people touched on many subjects: the economic privations of post-Soviet existence, the bewildering influx of western products, and the Swedish background of many of them. In Everything Is Wonderful Rausing reflects on history, political repression, and the story of the minority Swedes in the area. She lived and worked amongst the villagers, witnessing their transition from repression to freedom, and from Soviet neglect to post-Soviet austerity.

Reviews-
  • Publisher's Weekly

    November 11, 2013
    In an evocative companion work to her previously published Ph.D. dissertation in social anthropology, History, Memory, Identity in Post-Soviet Estonia, Rausing, the head of a philanthropy trust in her name and now owner of Granta magazine and Granta Books, returns to the year of her field research in poverty-stricken Estonia. Swedish-born, schooled in England, Rausing homed in on the Noarootsi peninsula for her anthropological fieldwork in 1993 because of its large Swedish population before World War II: in 1944 most of the Swedes left, while the remaining villagers found themselves in to a Soviet military garrison inside a welfare state; after Estonian independence in 1991 the economy collapsed, and by 1993, the year Rausing resided in Purksi and worked as an English teacher, the whole area was depopulated, ravaged by alcoholism and lack of opportunity. With a keen, level eye, Rausing reconstructs the blasted landscape of abandoned farmhouses and watchtowers, the truculent personalities of the locals, including her louche drunken landlord Toivo, and the terrible scars of history. Gradually, as she expresses in this engaging book, Rausing began to feel at home, reminded of her own childhood in Sweden, warmed by the peacefulness of the place, as it was inevitably drifting toward the wider globalized culture, a fragile “society in transition.”

  • Andrew Motion, The Times Literary Supplement (Best Books of the Year)

    “A beautifully remembered account of Rausing's anthropological fieldwork on a collective farm in Estonia in the 1990s: fascinating as the portrait of an isolated community, and the larger politics of the time."

  • Financial Times “Pages of dreamlike prose explore Estonia's terrible Nazi-Soviet past, the trauma of dictatorship, and how memory processes that trauma. . . The farm, dissolved in the mid-1990s, is remembered fondly at times by Rausing . . . In Everything Is Wonderful she evokes the spirit of a lost Baltic community and, in so doing, has written a rather beautiful book."
  • Economist “Finely observed, intimate description . . . . There is a fragility in [Rausing's] personal circumstances, too."
  • Daily Telegraph “An entrancing, dreamlike account of rural life in post-Soviet Estonia. . . . [Rausing] has written a strange, wonderful, hallucinatory exploration of a year she spent on a collapsing post-Soviet collective farm in Estonia. . . . She ventures no firm conclusions, and she forces her narrative into no political straightjacket. This is not that kind of book. . . . This is not the story of a moneyed member of the golden elite, but rather of a thoughtful observer trying to make sense of herself and her surroundings. It is extremely affecting."
  • Anne Applebaum "Sigrid Rausing's memoir is a charming, unsettling and unusually intimate glimpse into the life of an Estonian village in transition."
  • Simon Sebag Montefiore "A deliciously enjoyable, fascinating and important book that works as scholarship, diary and chronicle--it's a historical study of place, memory and tragedy that reveals the hellish experience of Estonia under Nazis and Soviets, it's a unique anthropological examination of a peculiar now vanished civilisation, the collective farm, and it's also a delightfully quirky diary of a Swedish PhD in the early 1990s that chronicles extraordinary lives of ordinary Estonian people with a playful curiosity."
  • Lady Antonia Fraser "Sigrid Rausing's lyrical and evocative description of a former collective farm on a remote peninsula in Estonia portrays the transition from Soviet rule to independence. A startling and beautiful book."
  • Edward Lucas "Intimate, lyrical and evocative--Sigrid Rausing's memoir captures a forgotten world, on the cusp between Soviet occupation and a Western future. A finely drawn literary account of people and places, encompassing history, geography, culture and biography."
  • Timothy Garton Ash “A delicate, precise, and richly informative memoir of a forgotten Europe and a vanished world."
  • Robert Conquest "In 1993-94, Sigrid Rausing spent a year doing anthropological fieldwork in a former collective farm in post-Soviet Estonia. Twenty years on, that work, and the diaries she kept at the time, and later during a return visit in 2003, come together in this remarkable and instructive book, where continually interesting individual characters are given a broader historical and cultural context. Dr. Rausing combines a keen eye for the telling detail with striking--at times lyrical--descriptions of rural lives and landscapes, and in documenting the “lost futures" of those working there, reminds us again of the dreadful human cost of totalitarianism."
  • Adam Nicolson “Beautiful, gentle and haunting. Every single edge in it seems to be frayed. And what a triumph it is to have allowed that frayedness to survive the whole process of writing it down. It is alive like an old frayed tapestry found in old trunk. Perhaps archaically beautiful is the phrase I am groping after. Like a sort of dance of the blind, slow and gentle, feeling its way, the shoes moving carefully over the floor."
  • David Rothenberg, Central and Eastern European Life and News (London) “A beautifully written memoir of what it was like to spend a year in Estonia in the early nineties, the first decade of its re-emergence as an independent nation. As the publisher and now editor of Granta, she knows well the qualities of good narrative nonfiction, and her work could easily fit in the pages of her magazine. . . . It is a good thing that Sigrid Rausing has dared to revisit her story and tell it in a way that more readers...
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