The Sun Script
Published by Salv in 2021
"A truly masterful novel that combines a historical panorama, intriguing adventures and philosophical depth…. 'The Sun Script' is a novel that will still be read after many years to come." — Valdur Mikita
"I think "The Sun Script" is Raud's best book so far." — Karl Martin Sinijärv, Estonian Broadcasting Company web news
"'The Sun Script' unites the all-encompassing and the minuscule, so that the unique idiosyncrasies that make up an individual life never seem meaningless against the background of the universal — it is precisely the endless variations that reveal the unity behind them all… Rein Raud has created a kaleidoscopic, captivating, broad and multilayered landscape of ideas, populated by bright characters." — Annabel Napa, Sirp
The novel contains two main interspersed story lines that have multiple points of overlap. T
he first of these deals with Lily, an Estonian strongwoman, loosely modelled on the historical figure of Anette Busch (1882-1969), an Estonian female sumō wrestler, who was very famous in Japan in the 1920s and 1930s. Lily has been travelling with a circus group around the Russian empire and finds herself in the Russian Far East when the civil war erupts. After performing at an event where a White Russian leader meets with a Japanese general, followed by an attack of Red forces, Lily manages to escape first to Shanghai, and from there to Japan.
In Tōkyō, she has to struggle at first and then becomes a street perfomer and later a celebrity as a female sumō wrestler, equally well accepted in different circles from the entertainment world to the new aristocracy, from Japanese feminists to Shintō enthusiasts. Finally, she is invited to a “dance with the gods”, a rite involving female sumō wrestling at a Shintō shrine in the mountains of the Kumano peninsula.
The second story line deals with Tsuneo, the son of a Japanese Shintō priest and an amateur linguist. Tsuneo’s shrine is the home to a secret and syncretic jindai-moji (“script from the age of the gods”) tradition, several of which have actually existed. The version transmitted in Tsuneo’s shrine, the Sun Script, combines Shintō legends with esoteric Buddhist teachings about a cosmic language, and
Tsuneo is convinced that this language might be the Japanese contribution to a unified, peaceful world. During his studies at the university, he accidentally learns about the theories of the Estonian linguist Jakob Linzbach (1874-1953), who had developed a script with the same underlying purposes. Linzbach was a historical figure, who developed independently many of the ideas that appear in Ferdinand de Saussure’s work, published at the same time, and are now considered basic in modern linguistics. He was also one of the founders of the Kosmoglott society, which tried to promote an artificial language as a means of international communication.
This society was first active in St.Petersburg/Petrograd, and moved to Tallinn after the Bolshevik revolution. Looking for Linzbach, Tsuneo first travels to Petrograd, and from there to Tallinn. There he falls under the suspicion of the Estonian counter-espionage, while he looks for ways to approach Linzbach and his circle.
The novel combines sections with fast-paced events and high tension with more subdued, reflective passages that muse on the role of the individual in history, the marginality of those who do not conform to social expectations, the possibility of reaching mutual understanding between very different people, as well as about the nature of writing and language in general.