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Exile, trauma and nostalgia in Bernard Kangro’s „The Blue Gate”



This article examines exile trauma and the poetics of its representation in Bernard Kangro’s novel „The Blue Gate” (Sinine värav). Exile was first thematized in Bernard Kangro’s poetry, in the first collection he published in Sweden, „The Burned Tree” (1945). However, it was not until 1957, in the novel „The Blue Gate” that exile became a thematic concern in his prose. The working through of his personal trauma in prose fiction, instead of the so-called pure autobiographical genres continued throughout Kangro’s Tartu novels, culminating in his Joonatan trilogy in the beginning of the 1970s. The main reason for this sequence may be the small size of the Estonian exile readership, which required careful reckoning of how to articulate the painful past that affected all who had fled Estonia as World War II refugees. 

The process of acting out exile trauma as represented in „The Blue Gate” is activated and directed by the protagonist’s nostalgic memories, one of which keeps recurring. This extraordinarily beautiful and bright recollection of a blue gate at home enables the protagonist to gain access to other memories, which are connected to traumatic experiences. The image of the blue gate is semantically situated alongside other images and motifs designating the process of acting out, such as the blue butterfly, drowning, and the tree of life. Three levels of meaning can be discerned in each of these images. The first is the protagonist’s nostalgia for his home and his youth along with a possible future; the second is related to exile trauma as a communal experience which generates hopes and visions for the future of the homeland; the third entails a longing for a better and more secure world.