This Estonian novel draws on the trope of American Westerns—Clint Eastwood or Alan Ladd would have been extremely comfortable in the title role—in which a mysterious hero shows up on the scene, sets things right, and then disappears.
The original focus is on Laila, a young woman who’s inherited some property but who lets herself be walked over by almost everyone she encounters. (The narrator comments that “she attracted injustice like bees to heather.”) Most of these characters are presented allegorically (e.g., the banker, the notary, the lawyer), and perhaps to their credit they feel both embarrassed and a little guilty about the way they treat Laila. Enter The Brother—Laila’s brother, that is, though there’s some uncertainty about his parentage. Laila had never met him and never even suspected she had a brother, but she’s happy to see him, especially when he starts to bend Laila’s fate in a more favorable direction. He becomes a gardener at the Villa, a place Laila inherited that had been taken over by Mikk and Milla, a couple who seem to have bought the house from her under shady circumstances. But Laila’s luck begins to change for the better, beginning when she finds 50 gold coins hidden in a chiffonier, allowing her to buy the antiquarian shop where she works. And even more satisfying, the luck of the other characters begins to change for the worse, so that the notary, for example, makes a mistake in trying to convey some property and the lawyer’s marriage collapses and heads for divorce. At the end, The Brother has done the tasks he set out to do, so in mythic fashion he strolls out of the scene wearing his wide-brimmed hat and knee-high boots.
A slim but satisfying novel with archetypal resonances.