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Max Boyle was born of an Estonian mother and Scottish father in Yorkshire in 1958. He has taught English in the Baltic and Central Europe and now teaches in his hometown of Huddersfield.
Is Estonia home to the most introspective nation in Europe? The stereotypes of Estonians might suggest so, depicting a reticent and uneffusive people for whom, according to their own proverb, 'speaking is silver, silence is gold'. Early one summer, Max Boyle departs his native West Yorkshire and travels the country, of which little beyond the capital, Tallinn, and a Eurovision Song Contest win in 2001 is known in Britain. He takes with him a copy of 'You Are So Little, Little', a poem by tragic nineteenth-century writer Juhan Liiv which speaks of Estonia and its 'indrawn heart'. In an adventure which supplements a backpacking journey with an offbeat behavioural and literary enquiry, he explores his ancestral home, inviting Estonians to comment on Liiv's verses and their own view of themselves. Finally, he comes to terms with memories of previous, troubled visits to Tallinn and exorcises the ghost of an unhappy liaison with an Estonian woman.
I stood outside a pretty yellow house and rang the bell. Droplets of water fell from the brim of my hat. It was raining - the first serious rainfall of my trip - but a burst of sunshine greeted me as a hefty, fair-haired woman in her sixties came to the door, proffering an expansive welcome and ushering me in. She radiated affection and concern, showing me to a twin-bedded room which would be mine. I looked around at a wood-effect floor, logs stacked behind plate glass in a tall brick fireplace, a heater in one corner and a television perched on a chest of drawers. I thought it all very smart, and said so. " Please, this is not really a hostel," she impressed upon me. " For you it is home. Feel like home. Please feel like home."...
She spoke of her business with boundless zeal, and sometimes at a speed which rendered her English incomprehensible. When able to get a word in edgeways, I told her of my travels around the country and of my background. She could scarcely contain herself. " Oh, Estonian boy!" she exclaimed, clasping her hands together and bellowing upstairs to her husband to come and hear the news. Slim and agile, he came lightly down the steps as she fired off further declarations of welcome and good will. I thought her a booming, gregarious battleship of a woman and she blasted the stereotype of the introspective Estonian right out of the water.