Rein Raud

The Brother

Eduard Vilde Award

"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… I was so thoroughly impressed with his language, imagery and characters." - Melissa C.Beck, book reviewer, Numéro Cinq

"Slim but satisfying." - Kirkus Reviews

"Raud is artist enough that he draws readers into the same kind of trance that Western-movie-goers can feel, belief suspended for ninety minutes in front of the silver screen, as the stranger rides into town, deals with the bad guys -- and then rides off into the sunset." - Complete Review

Estonian edition published by Tuum (2008), English translation by Adam Cullen published in 2016 by Open Letter Books. Also available in Russian and Lithuanian.


People vary. There are those that hurt others, and there are those that are hurt; the latter include people attacking whom almost seems fair as they have enough strength to hit back, and then there are others so disgusting that they simply seem to invite violence, because evil done to them is nothing more than the restoration of a greater balance.
Laila wasn’t any of these: even though she attracted injustice like heather attracts bees all those that hurt her felt secretly ashamed. The lawyer that she had asked to take care of her mother’s affairs after her death turned his own eyes away when he set a paper filled with complicated legal jargon in front of her for a signature and the notary who read out to her the long and complicated document had to swallow back tears thinking about what would happen to this pale young woman after the successful conclusion of the deal. Even the bailiff who came to evict Laila from the Villa and to write up her possessions spoke to her in a more polite manner than to anyone ever before, and it was also exceptional that both the truck and the movers, who took off their caps in her presence, were paid for by the firm. Her current landlord, who was often cursing himself for charging her such high rent for the tiny attic chamber with a leak in one corner of the ceiling, and with the additional responsibility of doing his family’s laundry free of charge. And the goatee-wearing antique dealer who had finally given Laila a job in his store frequently caught himself thinking that he was paying her shamefully little, which made him shake his head over human nature but brought about nothing else. Or perhaps he had an éclair with his afternoon coffee which was really not good for his health. Laila herself was used to her ill fortune, as children get used to the thought of their own mortality, so she was no longer really hoping for anything to ever change. Until the knock on her door.

A stranger arrives in a small nameless town that is held in a tight grip by a group of corrupt men of power. A stranger, wearing a large hat and a long black cloak, claiming to be the long-lost brother of a young woman, who has been cheated out of her inheritance... And suddenly everything starts to change.
Rein Raud’s short novel is, in his own words, a spaghetti western told in poetic prose, simultaneously paying tribute to two such incompatible figures as Clint Eastwood and Alessandro Baricco. And it ends with a hint of a ghost story coming as a surprise, when a young lawyer’s assistant turned detective uncovers a secret that makes us unexpectedly look at the “brother” from a different perspective altogether.
But the storyline is only one part, and perhaps not the main part of the novel. Raud’s last books have contained a fair share of philosophical discussions, and similar aphoristic thoughts are not completely absent from this novel either. Still, it is the tender and lyrical language, precise and strongly visual imagery, along with the technique of introducing important, sometimes crucial turns of the plot in dependent clauses of complex sentences that makes this book gourmet reading instead of the fast food westerns traditionally are. Playing with the conventions of the genre, Raud’s manner of creating characters is sharp, but sketchy, they are types rather than in-depth psychological portraits of real people, just as it befits the characters of a western to be. There is the banker, who intuitively realises that the series of misfortunes that has befallen him and his associates since the stranger’s arrival is not just coincidental, introduced to us as “a strong man, who had already begun to take note of his health, and had achieved enough in his life to answer yes/no questions with one word”. The fact that a former surgeon is now a professional killer is revealed to us by a comment on his mother’s death: “luckily, this happened before the surgeon, head stuffed by his snuffles, had cut a rich man’s girl in the wrong way and was put behind bars for some time - from there, a different man returned, whose knives were nevertheless just as sharp”; the professional seductress Dessa “had never been to this town before, because people whom someone hates passionately enough to get in touch with her usually tend to live in more sophisticated places”, and when the protagonist learns that a beautiful girl whom he had mistaken for one of the idly rich is actually a music teacher, she asks him: “Am I now different in your mind? When you know that the option to let time pass senselessly does not soil me.” The words the people speak in the book are larger than life, and so are their deeds. But although the story could take place anywhere, and, apart from a few cellphones, anytime, it is still also a very Estonian story, coming from a society ruthlessly divided into winners and losers. - Estonian Literature Centre