The Brother
Rein Raud
Adam Cullen, Translator

(Open Letter)
When her parents died, Laila lived alone in their rather large place, and then the lawyer, notary and banker came along, had her sign various documents. So, without notice, Laila was soon enough dispossessed of the Villa, ended up in a tiny garret in town, had to take a job the antique shop just to get by. Then Brother comes to town.

He's actually her half-brother, if that, though she didn't even remember, and what he looks like and hell, you and I will never figure it out either. Perhaps he isn't even a brother - - - hers or yours . . . or mine.

When he arrives, it's night, and it's raining. He is "a tall man dressed in a wide-brimmed hat, a drenched overcoat, and knee-high boots." If you think you're going to get to know him, forget it. Even when the odd things start happening, the characters here aren't too sure where it's all coming from, like water from the sky. We think we may know, but with this Estonian writer, Rein Raud, you can never be sure. Especially there out in the cowboy country of Järva-Jaani.

"The notary had been the first to make his move, and therefore was also the first to take a blow." It's all because of the sale of an apple orchard to a brewery. Mistakes were made in the paperwork; all was "void." Then students from the capital got wind of the transaction - - -

    they didn't understand the least thing about local life and were adamantly opposed to the brewery ordering all of the apple trees razed and building its new production plant on the site.

"They could certainly drink beer, but brewing it wasn't allowed." You know how troublesome these kids can be, when they get their dander up, especially about this ecology business.

The lawyer? "The new balance of things found its way to the lawyer more slowly . . . " Had to do with problems with his ex-wife, who he dumped, then his "showing up at public functions in the company of a gorgeous creature with golden locks and the waistline of an ant, and who was - - - true - - - close to twenty years his junior." She started taking tennis lessons, "lost" the very large diamond ring he'd given her, their first anniversary present. She also starts singing contentedly in the shower, asks for a little more money for "personal expenses." You know how one think can lead to another, especially when there's a tennis instructor involved.

And the banker? One of the branch-office accountants borrowed some money "without permission."

    It goes without saying that the man's dreams met with disaster, but instead of repenting, he somehow managed to disappear together with the day's till and a portfolio filled with documents, as a consequence of which the office had to be closed for the time being.

"This simply cannot continue on like this, gentlemen," said the banker to his friends, the notary and the lawyer. "We have to do something about it."

§   §   §

I can tell you more about what happens (good!) to Laila, and what happens (bad!) to those who have treated her so shabbily - - - but the proof of it is in the reading. The hexes obviously have something to do with this "Brother" business, but the truth of great double whammies lies in the reading, not in my telling. Rein Raud's witchcraft lies in his words (or those of his superb translator) and you remember how we readers can get enchanted . . . too much so. I picked this one up late at night, and you know how I love my beauty sleep, and yet here I was at one or two in the morning, just not able to be done with it.

Who is this guy rode into town on a rainy night to set all to rights? He doesn't tell us much, this Brother, although when one of the young ladies of the village takes up with him, he can tell her that "love springs from the ability to prefer imperfection over perfection." Which he can't do.

Figure that one out.

And Laila? Howcum she let these creeps take her to the cleaners? Even wise Brother can't get that one: "I don't understand how you've allowed the world to step on you like this?"

"Because I hoped it would step over me," Laila explains:

    You know, when that whole degrading process was over and they'd tricked me out of everything we once had, and I ended up here, penniless, unable to do anything about it and with only a bunch of memories breathing down my neck, then at first, I really wanted to scream and cry, but afterward, I realized that I was actually glad. Glad that it's all over now. That I'm free.

§   §   §

There is a whole bunch of stuff going on here, but to explain it to you, I'd have to copy the whole (wonderfully short) volume, possibly in its first original pristine language, Estonian!

Sorry. Can't do it. You have to go out and pick it up yourself. But I will tell you my favorite part.

Notary-banker-lawyer decide they have to do something, because "Thing are worse than worse than bad."

    "We should figure out who he is," the banker continued.

    "How, I wonder?" the lawyer asked.

    The banker was a strong man who had already begun to watch his health and had managed to achieve enough in his lifetime to answer yes-or-no questions with a single word.

    "We should play cards with him," he said.

Well, they find a professional, who they pay to come to town, and he spends some time there, tells them that he has been watching the man.

He explains his art. "Those I play with have personally decided the game's outcome long before they sit down at the table. They've wrapped themselves up so tightly in the desire to beat me by any means possible that all I have to do is to put a few links in place, and the chain that firmly binds them is complete."

    A few fall victim to their own recklessness, a few to their cautiousness, but everyone who challenges me gets the same end result; that's how I make a living."

Gambler watches Brother from a distance, as he always does with his opponents. "If you've ever watched him with the gaze of a predator readying to pounce, then you'd have refrained from it likewise. Never before have I seen someone who so perfectly lacks any kind of resolve to win . . . It's possible that I would have managed to devastate him, but it's just as possible that he would destroy me."

He refuses to even try.

§   §   §

Who is this guy? And what is his game?

That, dear reader, is what we came here to figure out. And I suggest that you do it at your own leisure. Me? I'm satisfied that I know who he is. But I'm not about to tell you.

That's your job.

And you'll be the loser if you don't give it the good old college try.

--- L. W. Milam
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