The ReconstructionCultural Endowment Annual Award for Literature (Best Book of Fiction)
"A disturbing and heartbreaking novel that deserves a wide audience." - Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
"The elegance of Raud’s writing comes from the depth provided to even the most cursory of characters, as well as his careful pacing. While “The Reconstruction” delves into heady philosophical territory in the end, the structure of the novel still cuts like a thriller, making this an unusual page turner filled with meditations on meaning and reason, as well as questions of identity and familial influence. Can a person change so much as to become unrecognizable? Raud says yes — but that doesn’t negate a father’s love." - Laura Farmer, The Gazette
Estonian edition published by Mustvalge in 2012, English translation by Adam Cullen published in 2017 by Dalkey Archive Press. Also available in Russian, Danish, Finnish and Lithuanian, forthcoming in Latvian.
For five years, Enn Padrik has postponed the investigation into the apparently religiously inspired suicide of his daughter and her friends at a commune near Viljandi, but now he cannot do it any longer. He has to travel all over Estonia and even to France to talk to those who might remember anything relevant.
Some of these people seem to have been waiting for him, others refuse to talk. And little by little, a bigger and quite unexpected picture starts to emerge.
From the late 1970s through 2011, the book spans the lives of two generations, the changes in the world at large and the Estonian society in particular, the transition from a world of rights and wrongs to a world where most things are neither, but the yearning for absolute truths still won’t go away.
I didn’t know it when I began, but I do now: I don’t want to blame anyone or anything; or if I do, then only myself. But I needed clarity. I don’t want to find fault; I want to find out—if I only can.
The last six months of my life have been special. I’ve given thought to very many things that had no bearing upon me at all before. When the doctor told me that, yes, I’ve got bad news for you, but there’s nothing to be done and it really is cancer, then I actually already knew. He didn’t give me all that much hope, saying only that I’d have to decide personally whether or not I wanted the operation—although the likelihood of it going well, he said, is relatively small in my case. And on top of that, there’s no certainty that the tumor won’t start flourishing again a little while later. Foregoing the operation, his estimate for me was six months to a year.
I knew how I’d have to spend that time—completing what I’ve been putting off for too long already. Delaying it out of nothing other than cowardice; out of nothing other than doubt over whether I’d be able to live with the knowledge I needed to seek. Knowledge, without which I cannot live, either.
Now, six months have passed, but I hope I still have enough time to put together the notes I’ve been jotting down in the evenings after my conversations, while everything was still fresh in my mind and for as long as the pain permitted. In the meantime, I’ve managed to speak to tens of people; to traverse most of Estonia; and to even visit France. Several gave the impression that they didn’t want to speak to me, while others conversely appeared to have been expecting my appearance for quite a long time already, so that they could finally get all the things that been troubling them for years off of their chests. And they even allowed me to record it, so I’ve been able to go back to those conversations time and again; to allow their intonations to bring to life the moments, in which I found out many difficult things; so that now, I can detect behind their tiny quavers important meanings, which for whatever reason I hadn’t noticed earlier. I received everything I was able to coax out of them, then put together all the small details into the bigger picture, and now, I know almost everything; or at least as much as is conceivable. And whatever I don’t know and can never really find out—those things, I know all the same, somehow. I’d never have guessed that there is a writer hidden away in me, but I’ll admit right off the bat (not that it doesn’t show, regardless) that if I was faced with the choice of either leaving gaps and holes everywhere in places, where it was impossible for me to provide precision between the dry facts and interpreted impressions, or else to let my intuition guide me and imagine how things might have been, then I’ve given into temptation, for the most part. What’s more, it doesn’t change the bigger picture. The bigger picture stays just the way it is. And whatever I don’t know, no one does anymore.
Occasionally, it feels like I’m out of breath in a race against time. The nights I don’t vomit are becoming more and more infrequent, and my painkillers are getting stronger and stronger. Even so, sometimes not even they are any help—the pain is so strong then that I’m unable to focus on anything for several days at a time. But a clear day or two follows; on some, the disease even manages to recede to the background of my mind for a little while. From now on, though, I’ll try not to trouble you with my health issues. This story isn’t about me.
You might recall a sad news story that flashed through the papers five years ago about a tragedy in Viljandi County, where four young people died in a fire. They had been living at a fair distance from more populated areas, on a lone farmstead that didn’t exactly have the best reputation among locals. It wasn’t any kind of drunkards’ hangout at all—oh, no; those young men and women had lived there relatively quietly, especially in the last year before the tragedy; they were just a little strange, was all. And the house they were in was old, wooden—when a fire breaks out in a place like that, then it’s hard to contain.
Since one of the deceased was the son of a rising politician, not much more than that made it into the papers. The locals talked about it a little more, of course; but they always do that—not even the pointless deaths of youths can tame the habits of sensationalist loudmouths. Birchback (that was the name of the farmhouse that burned) had been restored to its former, pre-occupation owner many years before the incident, and the man’s son—a young bohemian artist—had moved to it. From then onward, it became a gathering point for all kinds of weirdoes, UFO-spotters, Buddhists, and other aura-spotters of every fur and feather. And that was there they spent their days, not drinking any more than the rest of the country-folk and never being a nuisance, apart from maybe running naked into the lake or organizing picnics on a meadow from time to time; and, well, perhaps they smoked a little marijuana there in private, who knows. But at some point, the place was frequented more and more by those. . . oddballs, I guess: seemingly a little religious, and seemingly not quite.
And that’s when it happened. The tragedy, about which I needed to find out as much as humanly possible before it was my time to go. So that I could see the entire chain of events that led up to it. Because circumstances were actually different, of course. The fire had just started when it was noticed by chance, and some locals managed to extinguish the flames quite quickly. Nothing at all should have hindered the occupants from running outside and continuing to live their lives.
Nothing, aside of the fact that they were already dead by the time the fire started. They were lying side-by-side on the second floor, in the master bedroom, their bodies contorted, a small packed suitcase lying next to them, and a letter crumpled in their fists: “I, so-and-so, have settled all my debts in this world and can go before God with a pure heart.” And what’s more: an additional fifth suitcase was found in another room on the first floor, along with a fifth note on the ground next to it. But I’ll get to that later—there’s no point rushing ahead in the course of events.
Perhaps you’re wondering why I know all of this. It’s because the relatives of the deceased had a right to find out. And one of those four, whose earthly paths ended in that house was Anni-Reelika Padrik. My daughter, my only child. My princess.
Or more like what was left of her.