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A weekly look at creativity, arts, and culture in southwest Michigan, hosted by Zinta Aistars.Fridays in Morning Edition at 7:50am and at 4:20pm during All Things Considered.

Art Beat: Maiga's Stories

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Courtesy Anna Ill
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Anna Ill
Maiga Zalinskis (center, on window sill) as a young girl in Latvia

For much of her life, Anna Zalinskis Ill has been fascinated by her mother’s stories about her life in Latvia — as a young woman, then as a refugee from the Soviet occupation during World War II. Some were written down, many others were recorded on tape. When Ill undertook the challenging task of transcribing and translating, it would take her 20 years to complete the project. On August 5th, Ill will launch the book, Maiga’s Stories, at Ninth Wave Studio in Kalamazoo.

A conversation with Anna Ill

“The idea of translating my mother’s stories came up shortly after my mother’s death in 1993,” Ill says. “I started the process in earnest about six or seven years later. I purchased a transcribing machine. It plays the tape and allows you to stop and rewind with a foot pedal to slow, stop, rewind and review while transcribing. That was the initial stage of translating the stories my mother spoke on the tape recorder in Latvian, and I translated directly into English text.”

Maiga’s Stories follows Maiga Zalinskis from childhood to her years as a young woman, then as a young mother who became a war refugee when the Baltic States are invaded by the former Soviet Union. Latvian readers will identify with that. But so will other readers, as Maiga’s voice is authentic and sincere, a mix of youthful mischief and angst with moments of humor.

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Courtesy Anna Ill
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Anna Ill
The cover of Maiga's Stories

The stories read as one would expect from recordings and journals—bits of her story left to the imagination. But there’s enough to restore Maiga to life, vivid and memorable in the imagination.

“There were six tapes that my mother left,” Ill says. “I can’t even imagine how many hours I spent listening to and reflecting on which stories to choose, how to organize and then translate them. I was driven to continue and looked forward to each session because I could hear my mother’s voice and her beautiful, insightful stories. She came to life as a girl in the 1920s, an adolescent in the 30s, and a young woman in the 40s, as she and her mother and her two-year-old son left Latvia which was then in the hands of the Stalinist regime.”

Ill and other family members will read from the book Friday, August 5, 2022, during the Kalamazoo Art Hop at Ninth Wave Studio, 213 West Walnut Street, from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m.

In collaboration with the book launch, Ninth Wave Studio will have on exhibit paintings by my father, Latvian-American artist Viestarts Aistars. Born in Latvia in 1927, Aistars was a long-time Kalamazoo artist who passed away in 2020, leaving behind an immense archive paintings and drawings. He immigrated to the United States in the aftermath of World War II, when Aistars family was listed for deportation to concentration camps in Siberia. Much of Aistars’ work reflects the home he lost, with frequent themes of Latvian culture and folklore, seascapes recalling the Baltic Sea, or the forests he wandered as a child.

For more information about the Art Hop book launch and art exhibit, visit Ninth Wave Studio.

Listen to WMUK's Art Beat every Friday at 7:50 a.m. and 4:20 p.m.

Zinta Aistars is our resident book expert. She started interviewing authors and artists for our Arts & More program in 2011.
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