I received a review copy of this title from Open Letter Books via Edelweiss. The book was first published in the original Estonian in 2008 and this English version has been translated by Adam Cullen.
Karma, comeuppance, what comes around goes around. There are many terms and phrases for the universal of idea of cause and affect. The Brother is a fast-paced, hard-hitting, short book that uses the plot structure of a western as an allegory for demonstrating the balance of good and evil in the world. The author himself has described the book as “a spaghetti western told in poetic prose, simultaneously paying tribute to both Clint Eastwood and Alessandro Baricco.” The plot of this book is a clever structure for the philosophical and existential ideas that the author explores. When a mysterious man, simply known as Brother, arrives in the unnamed town it is a dark and stormy day and the weather reflects the turmoil that three shady and crooked men have caused for the townspeople.
Brother finds Laila, his long-lost sister and explains why they have never met. Brother simply states that his sudden appearance is caused by his desire to fulfill the dying wish of their father by helping Laila out of a tough time. How Brother became privy to this information no one knows but the men who have swindled Laila out of her home and her inheritance are very nervous at Brother’s mysterious presence. Brother’s imposing figure, with his large boots and long, black overcoat certainly cause these three men a fair amount of consternation, but it is also evident that their own guilty consciences are driving their actions.
Laila appears, at first, to be a sad and lonely woman whose entire life has revolved around an ancient family villa where she lived with her mother. She describes her childhood as one in which she spend trying to be invisible. At school she realized very quickly that she was much smarter than the other students but feigned stupidity so that she would not stand out among the others. She felt that being an honors student and winning awards would draw negative attention to her in the form of jealousy so she maintained average grades and a low profile. Laila seems to have been the perfect victim of the notary, the banker and the lawyer.
But Laila doesn’t act the part of a downtrodden victim; she enjoys her new life working in an antique shop and losing the villa allows her to break free and escape from her past. As Laila’s life gets better and becomes happier with a newfound brother, a new job and eventually a new place to live, the three crooks in town experience a significant decline in their own fortunes. These three men all blame Brother for their streak of bad luck even though Brother has in no way tried to exact any vengeance for the crimes against Laila. Brother becomes the symbol for the forces in the universe that divvy out proper fate and just punishments.
But just like in life, people are not always so easily placed in a good guy or bad guy category and there is some gray area. Willem, the banker’s assistant, is tasked with finding out who Brother is and if, in fact, he is Laila’s biological brother. All of the evil characters in the story are known simply by their profession, such as the notary, the banker and the lawyer. The good people or the victims, like Laila, are given real names. It appears that Willem, as the banker’s henchman would fit into the evil category. But in the end he does have more of a conscience than the other villains and finds some redemption. In westerns the bad guys wear black hats and the good guys wear white hats and I think Raud’s use of names or occupations in place of names is a subtle way of using the same type of imagery to point us to the heroes and the villains.
And the title “Brother” is neither a true name or an occupation but, to me, it seemed more of a term of endearment. Raud doesn’t even use an article and write “The Brother” but simply calls his hero “Brother.” My twin nephews who are eight years-old oftentimes call each other or refer to each other as “Brother”; I have always found it so sweet because they especially use it when they are helping each other or are being protective of one another. Similarly, Raud’s uses “Brother” as a title to set the same tone of kind helper and hero for Laila’s long-lost sibling.
This appears to be the first book of Raud’s translated into English and I was so thoroughly impressed with his language, imagery and characters. I hope more of his works will be translated into English and published in the U.S.
About the Author:
Rein Raud is the author of four books of poetry, six novels, and several collections of short fiction. He’s also a scholar in Japanese studies and has translated several works of Japanese into Estonian. One of his short pieces appeared in Best European Fiction 2015.