A subtle, heart-rending Estonian novel about a father in the last few months of his life trying to reconstruct the circumstances of his daughter’s suicide.
Enn Padrik is the father and the narrator of this story, which has been translated from the Estonian in straightforward, engaging prose. Five years after his daughter, Anni, died mysteriously along with three other people, he finds out he’s dying of cancer and wants to put together the pieces of this cryptic puzzle. All four died in a fire at a commune, but it was determined that by the time the fire started they were already dead, “lying side by side...in the master bedroom…a small packed suitcase lying beside each of them.” In his limited remaining time, Padrik seeks out other members of the commune as well as people who interacted with Anni before she went there. The novel has a Rashomon-like feel as Padrik comes to realize that accounts about Anni diverge, and no single perspective suffices to explain her life and death. We get different facets of her personality, for example, from friends recalling Anni’s own reminiscences about her life in Paris, where she had been working on a research project about Eastern European prostitutes, from a man named Erik who attended a Christian youth camp with Anni, and finally, and most movingly, from Carola, who had been at the Birchback commune, was supposed to have been the fifth person involved in the mass suicide, and had escaped. Raud (The Brother, 2016, etc.) treats his narrator and all of his interviewees with respect and allows them to tell their versions of Anni’s story. It turns out there are no easy—and ultimately no satisfying—answers to explain Anni’s transformation from a bright young schoolgirl to a member of what amounted to a religious cult.
A disturbing and heartbreaking novel that deserves a wide audience.