Novelist Diana Mathur is midway through a material gathering tour and writing binge in Latvia, a small Baltic country bordering Lithuania, Belarus, Russia and Estonia.
Diana is working on the fourth novel in her historical fiction series, The Linden Tree & the Legionnaire*, set in World War II Latvia. She first visited the Baltics in 1992, as soon as western visitors were allowed after the break-up of the Soviet Union, and has continued to visit as often as she can to study primary sources and historical sites. Over the course of her research, Diana has collaborated closely with the War Artist of the Latvian Legion, reclaimed real property confiscated by Soviet-era communists, dug up treasure buried during the war, and traveled the trans-Siberian railroad to what’s left of the gulag archipelago on the trail of Stalin-era deportees. She has introduced many readers to the rich culture and tumultuous history of the last pagan holdout in Europe, Latvia, now a member of both NATO and the European Union. In 2022, Diana was granted Latvian citizenship through the auspices of Meritorious Service for the Benefit of Latvia.
The current writing binge began a month ago. Diana spent March secluded in a cozy Riga apartment during the tourist off-season, isolated by occasional blizzards and a language barrier (though many Latvians speak English eloquently, and Diana has been attending language classes at the Southern California Latvian Community Center). She says that being immersed in the culture where the story is set, and away from everyday distractions, is a writer’s paradise.
The opportunity for this immersive experience arose through Diana’s friendship with Latvian filmmaker and surfer Pauls Kesteris. Pauls’ home surf destination is Pavilosta, a charming fishing village on the Baltic coast that seems simultaneously untouched and sophisticated; and the water temperature there today is close to freezing. So whenever possible, Pauls packs up surfboard and heads to Topanga Beach and other southern California surf meccas. How fortuitous that a Latvian filmmaker-surfer and a Topanga Canyon writer may temporarily switch homes and cars, offering one another a view and pathway to another world! How productive, economical, and exciting! It would be great if creative people could find this type of symbiotic alliance through on-line platforms, guilds and societies.
Diana says she will continue to keep her nose to the grindstone for the remaining weeks of her writing binge (except for a final, parting museum spree). The story’s working title is Where Blue Eyes Come From. The working cover was created by Kārlis Smīltens, and Dzordzija Mathura.