The theme of love predominates in the fiction of the grand master of psychological prose Jānis Jaunsudrabiņš (1877– 1962), but he was the first in Latvian literature to be fully aware that he is living in the 20th century; existential problems to him were more important than descriptions of fits of passion associated with love. He broke the stereotype of love common in Latvian literature that was formed, on the one hand, from clichés of sentimental phrases and, on the other hand, equally clichéd dramatized plot.

The "Aija" trilogy consists of three relatively independent and stylistically rather distinct novels: "Aija" (1911), "Atbalss" ("Echo") (1914), and "Ziema" ("Winter") (1925). Reading these three novels, it is possible to follow the development of both Jaunsudrabiņš’s art and that of the Latvian novel at large. The first part is still a very traditional narrative in the style of childhood memories about the touching love of the farm worker son Jānis’s love for Aija. She is a little older than Jānis, plans her life very rationally and therefore, even though she is aware of Jānis’s love, she marries an older man, a well-to-do cobbler – a classical variation on the theme of first and unrequited love. In the second part, Jānis is already thirty and working odd jobs in the city, but Aija has become for him "his destiny". One summer he returns to the farm where he once worked and where he met Aija; the plot is centered around Jānis’s attempt to get over one love with the help of another – which does not work. At the end of the novel, having found out that Aija is now a widow and living with her three daughters in a ruin of a house in extreme poverty, Jānis makes a decisive step: he goes to Aija. Yet "Atbalss" is not, as it might seem, a nuanced psychological novel with a nice happy ending – that impression is destroyed by the third novel, "Winter". If existentialism existed as a concept at that time, Jaunsudrabiņš might have been considered a representative. One of the ideas common to existentialists and shared by Jaunsudrabiņš is world as a prison: man is condemned to existence; he must constantly wander around trying to find his exit from endless impasses; it is impossible for anyone to enter into a dialogue with or even find a common ground with anyone else: everyone is totally alone and the only dialogue takes place inside and with oneself.   This sense of isolation finally leads one to a despair-filled existential dead-end. Jānis has spent many years wandering around the world, which is a prison, always retaining at least an illusion that there is an exit: his love for Aija. Yet Aija turns out to be the farthest thing from a classic "femme fatale". She is a pragmatic egotist, unfaithful, negligent, lazy – and yet possessive of some sort of almost irrational spark for which Jānis cannot leave. This hopeless love exacerbates his feeling for the world as a prison and Jānis ends up committing suicide. In "Ziema" Jaunsudrabiņš transforms love from a maudlin cliché into an existential concept: existence is determined by love.

All his life, Jaunsudrabiņš also wrote stories and literary sketches. Some of these sketches were collected in "Baltā grāmata" ("The White Book") (1914–1921) – one of the lightest, most poetic and stylistically consistent childhood memoirs in Latvian literature.

Guntis Berelis

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