Friday, January 04, 2008

The winged chariot sung

It was on remarkably many levels that the news of the death of Jaan Kross were felt. Such an irreplaceable loss. Being an Estophile his unique broad perspective on his native country has of course been hugely influential in forming a personal understanding on Estonian history and culture. Still, I did not read him for information but for art: the excellent Finnish translations brought out the majestic rhythm of the language, the intricate beauty of the sentences. The texture is dense and deep - and the interplay between theme and language is mostly flawless. The result is a slow, universal, almost a mystical beat behind the surface action that the reader becomes only gradually aware of: a huge canvas is painted with sparse, understated strokes. The themes themselves were mostly Estonian but his was a universal Western voice, concerned with our particular modern predicament of unmoored individuals in time, at the mercy of history. There are not many such writers in any generation and it was quite a miracle that such an authoritative Western voice would be coming from such a small nation - quite like the improbable emergence of Sibelius from the nationalistically awakened and in many ways narrow confines of Finland. Such a body of work, such a life - we can only be grateful and priviledged to have been able to share even if only partially this majestic, polyphonic historical and cultural perspective.

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