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Jaan Kross. Tahtamaa.

Tallinn, Estonia. Keele Sihtasutus. 2001. 355 pages. ISBN 9985-8112-1-6

AN ACKNOWLEDGED MASTER of historical novels, Jaan Kross (b. 1920) has moved closer to contemporary times with each of his new novels. Tahtamaa is set in the 1990s. The latest novel of Jaan Kross has become a bestseller and a source of puzzlement for the critics. Critics have claimed that the grand old master has accommodated himself too readily to the tastes of popular readership. The main character of the novel is Aabel Haljand, a man of letters in his sixties. He is quite a self-assured and professional gentleman, who does not need to worry about his position and who observes the labyrinths of history with some superiority and stoical peace. After his divorce he appreciates his independence, as well as his stable relationship with his lover Marge, who has a family and an adult daughter. At the beginning of the novel Haljand is approached by a Swedish Estonian, Lingo Luuk, who wants to purchase a plot of land called Tahtamaa that Haljand owns on the island of Saaremaa. The intrigue of the novel begins to unravel from this plot of land, from its seeming worthlessness and its real worth and price.

Tahtamaa can be regarded as a grandiose and many-layered metaphor. Tahtamaa of the novel is at the same time a real place and a symbol, and its symbolical space allows it to encompass numerous meanings. It seems a small, cheap, and meaningless slip of land by the sea. Actually, the owner of Tahtamaa could earn huge profits because of the healthy mud in the sea. Thus, Tahtamaa can be interpreted as a metonymic symbol of the small and seemingly unimportant land of Estonia by the sea. Like Tahtamaa, Estonia has been desired by different buyers and inhabitants. Its real masters have acquired it only due to favorable opportunity and unexpected courage.

Such symbolic opportunities for interpretation are embedded in almost all Kross's works. The network of such meanings is always complex and often begins with the titles of the works, such as Valjakaevamised (Excavations), Mesmeri ring (Mesmer's circle), and Paigallend (Treading air).

The toponym Tahtamaa originates from an Estonian verb tahtma `to want'. It suggests that to become an owner, to pick a delicious apple from the garden of history, one must want it desperately. The critics have offered still another interpretation: since everything is moving around property and money at Tahtamaa, it means that instead of his fatherland the modern Estonian only fights for Mammon, using all possible means.

Together with his lover, Marge, and his unexpectedly found adult son, who is a lawyer, Haljand manages to outdo Lingo Luuk by establishing a spa at Tahtamaa and creating a joint-stock company to manage it. At the end of the novel, loads of wealthy pensioners from many countries arrive to cure their ills and to make profit for the owners. Tahtamaa is a novel for successful people oriented toward managing their lives. As such it stands opposed to Kross's previous novel, Paigallend, which has been considered Kross's top achievement alongside Keisri hull (The czar's madman). The main subject of Paigallend is the beauty of refusing compromise. Tahtamaa speaks of people of compromise in action, without exploring the deeper backgrounds of their activity. The heroes of Kross's novels never lose.
Rutt Hinrikus
Estonian Museum of Literature
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Author:Hinrikus, Rutt
Publication:World Literature Today
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Jun 22, 2002
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