The latest addition to my website is A(nton) H Tammsaare‘s Tõde ja õigus I (Truth and Justice: Andres and Pearu ; later: Vargamäe). This is the first volume of Tammsaare’s great five-volume epic novel. This one tells the story of Andres and his new wife Krõõt, as they take over a farm which is very marshy and needs a lot of work. Their problems are not only with nature but with the next door neighbour, Pearu. Throughout the book Andres and Pearu will fight and do whatever they can to cause problems to the other, spending much time in court. However it is Krõõt who suffers most, initially producing only girls and, finally, dying, as her first son is born. Andres remarries, in somewhat controversial circumstances, and more children are born. Some of them are lost in a flu epidemic. However, his struggles with nature and Pearu continue. The next generation grows up and has very different views from their parents as to what life would hold for them. It is superb novel, with a host of characters and a main character who struggles, not always successfully, with nature, his neighbour and his soul.
The latest addition to my website is Jaan Kross‘ Kolme katku vahel; Balthasar Russowi 2 (Between Three Plagues: A People Without a Past). This is the second volume of a four-volume historical novel set in sixteenth century Estonia and recounting the life of Balthasar Russow, the Estonian chronicler of the era. We left him in the previous volume, having fled back to his studies in Germany after being involved in the unsuccessful Peasants’ Revolt. Now he is back in Tallinn, pastor of the Holy Ghost Church and writing his chronicle, which will make him famous (at least in Estonia). Events in Estonia have not improved since the Swedes took over, with regular attacks by the Russian and their allies and the plague appearing regularly. Baltahasar’s chronicle also stirs up some controversy, as not everyone thinks that his truth is their truth and there is even an attempt to sabotage it. It is another fine work by Kross, lively, colourful and never a dull moment.
The latest addition to my website is Jaan Kross‘ Kolme katku vahel; Balthasar Russowi 1 (Betweeen Three Plagues: The Ropewalker). This is the first in a series of four novels Kross wrote between 1970 and 1980, telling the tale of Balthasar Russow, an Estonian man who wrote a celebrated chronicle of Estonian history. This book is based on his life (1536-1600) and is set during a period of considerable upheaval in Estonian history. At the beginning of the novel, the country is part of Livonia (roughly modern-day Estonia and Latvia) under the rule of the Teutonic Order, i.e. Germans. Not surprisingly, the locals are not happy with this. During the course of the book the Russians, under Ivan the Terrible, invade and the Estonians call on the Swedes to help. We follow Balthasar’s schooling but he also manages to get involved in various events, from watching the eponymous rope-walking at the beginning of the book to the peasants’ revolt at the end, with a variety of other events in between. It is a very colourful and superbly well told tale by Kross. The parallels with 1970 Estonia – Russian invasion, nasty overlords – will not have been lost on his readers.
The latest addition to my website is Jaan Kross‘s Vastutuulelaev: Bernhard Schmidti roman (Sailing Against the Wind). This is a superb novelised biography of Bernhard Schmidt – despite his name and the Wikipedia article, an Estonian – who invented various things, including, in particular, sophisticated astronomical telescopes and the boat that sailed against the wind of the title. As a boy, experimenting with a rocket, he lost a hand but, nevertheless, managed to become a first-class craftsman, producing lens of the highest quality, superior to machine-made ones. Being Estonian, he was subject to the vicissitudes of late nineteenth/early twentieth century, particularly at the hands of the Germans and the Russians. He spent a long time in Germany but remained resolutely Estonian. Kross tells us about his inventions and what led him to them but he also tells us about his life, about the inner man, about his dealings with the political situation (not always diplomatically) and about his sex life. It is a first-class story and a first-class biography about a man most of us will never have heard of.
The latest addition to my website is Eduard Vilde‘s Mäeküla piimamees (Milkman of the Manor). This novel, which has been called Estonia’s first psychological novel, tells the story of an estate owned by a German, Ulrich von Kremer, and one of his tenant farmers, Tōnu Prillup. Prillup’s wife, Leenu, has died, and he has almost immediately married her younger sister, Mari, to help look after his two children. When Mari goes to the manor to wash windows and, later, to milk, Ulrich von Kremer is very taken with her and wants her for his mistress (he is unmarried and, indeed, has never been married). Eventually, after having some moral doubts, he offers Prillup the lucrative milk contract and then a better farm, if Prillup will let Mari be his mistress. Prillup initially refuses but then sees the financial advantages – he is behind with his rent – and tries to persuade Mari to comply. For a long time she refuses but she, too, eventually agrees. But things do not work out as well as Prillup hoped, with the milk contract not being as lucrative as he hoped and he himself having doubts about letting his wife being the mistress of another man. It is a fairly straightforward, realistic tale but with the psychological element, and has been hailed as a classic of Estonian literature. it is the only one of Vilde’s many novels to be translated into English.