Grove Press
Grove Press
Grove Press

Everything Is Wonderful

Memories of a Collective Farm in Estonia

by Sigrid Rausing

“Sigrid Rausing’s memoir is a charming, unsettling, and unusually intimate glimpse into the life of an Estonian village in transition.” —Anne Applebaum

  • Imprint Grove Paperback
  • Page Count 240
  • Publication Date March 08, 2016
  • ISBN-13 978-0-8021-2296-4
  • Dimensions 5.5" x 8.25"
  • US List Price $16.00

About The Book

Just like it was taken for granted that houses could be abandoned and slowly decay, so it was taken for granted that people died in prisons, and that it was possible that no-one would really ever know the cause of death. This is the nature of totalitarianism.

In 1993-94 Sigrid Rausing completed her anthropological PhD fieldwork on the peninsula of Noarootsi, a former Soviet “border protection zone” in western Estonia. Abandoned watch towers dotted the coast line, and the huge fields of the Lenin collective farm were lying fallow, waiting for claims from former owners, who had fled war, and Nazi and Soviet occupation. In Everything Is Wonderful, a book that blends history, memoir, and travel writing, Rausing tells the story of how she lived and worked amongst the villagers, witnessing their transition from Soviet neglect to post-Soviet austerity, and democracy.


“Sigrid Rausing’s memoir is a charming, unsettling and unusually intimate glimpse into the life of an Estonian village in transition.” —Anne Applebaum

“An intimate look at the devastations of communism in Estonia. . . . [a] sensuous, character-rich portrait of the denuded landscape, ruined economy, and erratic, alcoholic personalities she encountered as a dreamy, lonely observer and teacher. . . . [Rausing] unearths fascinating history of this remote area, annexed and depleted by Russia, then Germany, then the Soviet Union. . . . A mellifluous portrait of a country slowly and painfully pulling itself into the European world.” —Kirkus Reviews

“Evocative . . . With a keen, level eye, Rausing reconstructs the blasted landscape of abandoned farmhouses and watchtowers, the truculent personalities of the locals, including her louche drunken landlord Toivo, and the terrible scars of history.” —Publishers Weekly

“A beautifully remembered account of Rausing’s anthropological fieldwork on a collective farm in Estonia in the 1990s: fascinating as the portrait of an isolated community, and the larger politics of the time.” —Andrew Motion, The Times Literary Supplement (Best Books of the Year)

“Pages of dreamlike prose explore Estonia’s terrible Nazi-Soviet past, the trauma of dictatorship, and how memory processes that trauma. . . The farm, dissolved in the mid-1990s, is remembered fondly at times by Rausing . . . In Everything Is Wonderful she evokes the spirit of a lost Baltic community and, in so doing, has written a rather beautiful book.” —Ian Thomson, Financial Times

“A beautifully written memoir of what it was like to spend a year in Estonia in the early nineties, the first decade of its re-emergence as an independent nation. As the publisher and now editor of Granta, she knows well the qualities of good narrative nonfiction, and her work could easily fit in the pages of her magazine. . . . It is a good thing that Sigrid Rausing has dared to revisit her story and tell it in a way that more readers can grasp it. For the times of transition from darkness to light can be the toughest moments to remember.” —David Rothenberg, Central and Eastern European Life and News (London)

“Finely observed, intimate description . . . . There is a fragility in [Rausing’s] personal circumstances, too.” —Economist

“An entrancing, dreamlike account of rural life in post-Soviet Estonia. . . . [Rausing] has written a strange, wonderful, hallucinatory exploration of a year she spent on a collapsing post-Soviet collective farm in Estonia. . . . She ventures no firm conclusions, and she forces her narrative into no political straightjacket. This is not that kind of book. . . . This is not the story of a moneyed member of the golden elite, but rather of a thoughtful observer trying to make sense of herself and her surroundings. It is extremely affecting.” —Oliver Bullough, Telegraph

“A delicate, precise, and richly informative memoir of a forgotten Europe and a vanished world. Everything Is Wonderful shows that grey can be a very interesting color.” —Timothy Garton Ash

“A deliciously enjoyable, fascinating and important book that works as scholarship, diary and chronicle—it’s a historical study of place, memory and tragedy that reveals the hellish experience of Estonia under Nazis and Soviets, it’s a unique anthropological examination of a peculiar now vanished civilisation, the collective farm, and it’s also a delightfully quirky diary of a Swedish PhD in the early 1990s that chronicles extraordinary lives of ordinary Estonian people with a playful curiosity.” —Simon Sebag Montefiore

“Sigrid Rausing’s lyrical and evocative description of a former collective farm on a remote peninsula in Estonia portrays the transition from Soviet rule to independence. She shows how the suppression of history in the Soviet Union meant that the villagers knew very little about their past, including the brief period of independence between the two world wars, and the violent Nazi and Soviet occupations that followed. This is a startling and beautiful book.” —Lady Antonia Fraser

“In this disorientating memoir, Sigrid Rausing describes life as an anthropologist in post-Soviet Estonia. The narrator, her subjects, and their country are caught between worlds, unsure where they are going, why they are going there or indeed if they are going anywhere at all. It is lovely, gentle and very human.” —Oliver Bullough

“Intimate, lyrical and evocative—Sigrid Rausing’s memoir captures a forgotten world, on the cusp between Soviet occupation and a Western future. Her academic fieldwork among the fragments of the ethnic Swedish presence in an Estonian village has produced a finely drawn literary account of people and places, encompassing history, geography, culture and biography.” —Edward Lucas

“In 1993-94, Sigrid Rausing spent a year doing anthropological fieldwork in a former collective farm in post-Soviet Estonia. Twenty years on, that work, and the diaries she kept at the time, and later during a return visit in 2003, come together in this remarkable and instructive book, where continually interesting individual characters are given a broader historical and cultural context. Dr. Rausing combines a keen eye for the telling detail with striking—at times lyrical—descriptions of rural lives and landscapes, and in documenting the ‘lost futures’ of those working there, reminds us again of the dreadful human cost of totalitarianism.” —Robert Conquest

“Beautiful, gentle and haunting. Every single edge in it seems to be frayed. And what a triumph it is to have allowed that frayedness to survive the whole process of writing it down. It is alive like an old frayed tapestry found in old trunk. Perhaps archaically beautiful is the phrase I am groping after. Like a sort of dance of the blind, slow and gentle, feeling its way, the shoes moving carefully over the floor.” —Adam Nicolson