Archive for the ‘Rein Raud’ Category

The Brother

May 21, 2017

When Brother in Rein Raud’s short novel The Brother (translated by Adam Cullen) is found watching “an old Western about a nameless gun-slinging hero” it should come as no surprise that the line “Brother had already seen the film once before and knew what happened next” is slipped ambiguously enough into the text as to suggest the possibility it refers to not only to the events on the onscreen but to his own unfolding story. Brother, after all, is there to right a wrong perpetrated on his half-sister, Laila, who has been cheated out of her inheritance by the cabal of privileged and powerful men who run the town for their own benefit. She now finds herself working in an antique shop surrounded by the furniture she once owned:

“She recoiled before them. They were like former lovers who have had children with strangers meanwhile. Their proximity was tortuous.”

Brother appears atmospherically – “The day that had begun bright with sunshine darkened abruptly with dark clouds in the afternoon” – and his every action and utterance thereafter reminds us of Clint Eastwood’s Man with No Name – he is never named – from aphorism:

“Inevitably, at some point in every person life comes the moment when he has to count up the promises he definitely intends to keep before he goes.”

to threat:

“Tell him I’m coming.”

His taciturn nature is demonstrated in a chapter where the notary attempts to warn him off in long, rambling paragraph-length sentences which are contrasted with Brother’s three or four word replies, ordinary, banal even, but loaded with meaning.

Brother does not appear, however, all guns blazing – either literally or metaphorically. As the first card-sharp the “pillars of the community” try to hire to play the brother (in order to “figure out who he is”) explains, his nothing to lose attitude makes him harder to beat:

“Never before have I seen someone who so perfectly lacks any kind of resolves to win.”

As the townsmen – the notary, the lawyer, the banker – plot to nullify his threat, they suffer unexpected bad luck: a contract not properly drawn up, suspicion of a wife’s affair, an irregular loss of money. Only the lawyer’s assistant – a “rat-faced young man” named Willem – determined to discover Brother’s background, seems any threat to him.

To reveal any more would spoil the measured plot of the novel, unloaded in short, powerful chapters which surprise with their content even as they are heavy with inevitability. This is not realism; arguably, it bears less relation to verisimilitude than the Western genre, as Raud intentionally keeps setting vague to endow his tale with a mythic quality. The novel taps into deep-seated ideas about justice. Brother is not the sheriff come to clean up the town, but his presence acts as a conscience on those who have lied and cheated, yet been able to hide this knowledge from themselves, and initiates a karmic revenge. Sadly, much of the novel’s pleasure arises from wishing such a figure would walk our streets today.