Māra Zālīte

Poet and playwright Māra Zālīte was born in 1952 in Krasnoyarsk, Siberia, where her family had been deported since 1941 by the Soviet regime. When Zālīte was four years old, her family returned to Latvia. In 1975 she graduated from the Department of Philology of the University of Latvia. In parallel to her writing career, Zālīte has worked at the Writers’ Union of Latvia, led the Young Writers’ Studio, been the editor-in-chief of the literary magazine Karogs, and headed the copyright agency of Latvia. Māra Zālīte is the author of five poetry books and 21 staged plays and musicals, several children’s books and collections of essays, as well as the novel Five Fingers (Pieci pirksti, 2013). The rock opera The Bearslayer (Lāčplēsis), staged in 1988, was of particular significance. The topics of history and mythology reflected in this rock opera had a profound meaning for the audiences of the time when the USSR was collapsing and there was a new hope for Latvia to break free from occupation. Māra Zālīte is a laureate of various literary awards including the prestigious J. G. Herder Prize (1993, awarded by the Toepfer Foundation in Germany), the International Baltic Sea Region Jānis Baltvilks Prize in Children’s Literature and Book Art (2012) for the children’s book Tango and Tootie Go Visiting (Tango un Tūtiņa ciemos, 2011), and the Annual Latvian Literature Award – in 2002, 2005 and, most recently, in 2014 for Five Fingers. She is an Emeritus Member of the Latvian Academy of Sciences (1998). Her works have been translated into German, Russian, English, Estonian, Lithuanian, Swedish and other languages.

"Five Fingers"
A childhood memoir in which the author describes her family's return from Siberia in the second half of 20th century and life in Latvia in the late 1950s and early 1960s. In terms of quality, the book matches the best of Latvian autobiographic literature, including "Bille" by Vizma Belševica.

"Up to now, Zālīte has been best known as a poet and playwright. [.. ] Poetry and drama are present in the Five Fingers as well; the best of the writing in the book involves a combination of precise poetic details and dramatic purposefulness up to the very end where the protagonist Laura promises to fulfil the wish expressed by her grandfather before his death – to give his wedding ring to his son Reinis who has disappeared without a trace after being deported to Siberia "once he returns." That means that she takes on the task to remember.  The five fingers is a metaphor for the apple-tree in whose branches Laura sets up a perch and for God's hand; it is also the fingers of Jewish opera singer Asia broken during a cheka interrogation [...].  The repressive instrument, the ubiquitous cheka, has been generalized as an absolute evil in the character of the Ogre, at the same time not paying much heed to political correctness, that other enemy of freedom.” – Egīls Zirnis, KDiena.

"A book that surprises you not only with the fact that Māra Zālīte is having a go at the prose genre, but also with its undeniable quality. It is quality, which springs from a manner of writing unusual for the author and indicates that she may have reached a new stage of creative freedom, for instance, in her use of language. /../ This is most certainly a valuable contribution to Latvian literature, proving that the period of [Soviet] occupation remains a subject worth exploring." – Jānis Vādons, Laligaba.