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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

     

The Reconstruction

by
Rein Raud


general information | our review | links | about the author

To purchase The Reconstruction



Title: The Reconstruction
Author: Rein Raud
Genre: Novel
Written: 2012 (Eng. 2017)
Length: 295 pages
Original in: Estonian
Availability: The Reconstruction - US
The Reconstruction - UK
The Reconstruction - Canada
  • Estonian title: Rekonstruktsioon
  • Translated by Adam Cullen

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Our Assessment:

B : much of it quite well done, but tries too hard for significance

See our review for fuller assessment.




The complete review's Review:

       The Reconstruction is narrated by Enn Padrik. Diagnosed with terminal cancer, with a very limited amount of time left, he dedicates his remaining months not so much trying to get his own world in order as trying to come to terms with the mystery that has been haunting him for the past five years: the apparent suicide of Anni-Reelika Padrik: "My daughter. My only child. My princess". She died, along with three others, in what was clearly planned as a mass-suicide, at a farmhouse called Birchback that had become a kind of communal retreat; one other person escaped the fire and survived.
       Enn notes:

I never quite liked the kind of crime novels where the ending is revealed at the very beginning, and our job is to merely watch how it is reached.
       But that is more or less what's on offer here, as The Reconstruction is an attempt to figure out what could bring a young woman to take her own life, in that place and way. It is, however, also a character-study, a father trying to learn who his daughter actually was, as he recognizes that there was so much he didn't know about her.
       Enn's undertaking is both investigation and reconstruction; it is also confessional: he looks back on his own life, and hears reports on Anni's life (and death) from those who knew her along the way, including at Birchback -- including some who also haven't really confronted what happened head-on, and who only do so when nudged by Enn and his project. With no future left, he tries to revisit the stations of Anni's past, and reconstruct the encounters and experiences from those times, (re)charting her life in a way he had been unable to previously -- in the (real-)time when Anni had grown and begun to go her own way. Times change and the dredged-up events are of an increasingly distant past, and gaps remain, but there's also a great deal Enn can fill in.
       Enn does find a variety of people from Anni's past and learns much about her that he didn't know -- including a terrible episode in Paris -- as well as more in-depth about what she was seeking in retreating to Birchback. Periods he thought he was more or less familiar with -- a time Anni spent with her aunt and uncle; her Parisian experiences -- turn out to have been more complex than the simple, summary view he had of them.
       He recounts periods of his own life too, including his courtship of Maire and their marriage, a reasonably comfortable life in Soviet Estonia and then a somewhat more tumultuous one in the newly independent country. Anni went to study in Paris -- Enn follows her tracks even there -- while her parents' marriage was breaking up, ending in divorce -- a loss of stability that, Enn now realizes, further exacerbated Anni's personally troubled situation. Anni's descent looks to have been a search for meaning and community: after returning from Paris, and spending some time with her aunt, she ended up at a Christian youth camp, and then eventually at the less obviously religiously-oriented but more cult-like Birchback.
       It's reasonably well done, with Anni successfully fleshed out -- realistically, like any person, with many bits that explain her yet much that also remains unknown and unknowable. The choice of a dying narrator for this quest-tale -- a quest for information, but also for meaning -- might be a bit much for the novel, especially in the way it is handled: death looms close ahead of Enn, apparently, but he makes it just fine through this period, with no real undue suffering, or his condition affecting his abilities. In fact, the dying-card seems to be an effective one to get people to open up to him, which makes his whole being-mortally-ill seem almost too convenient (even as Raud tries to milk it at times -- especially in the conclusion -- to add a bit of weight to the whole soul- and other searching aspect ...).
       Perhaps most appealing about the novel is the incidental color, the glimpses especially of Soviet times and the effects of local conditions on the characters, as well as then attitudes in the new times. Secondary characters like Enn's former sister-in-law, and the man she was married to -- and then what's become of her -- make for interesting side-stories -- relevant also to Anni's but also simply interesting on their own. The religious/faith-seeking is as annoying or as interesting as that kind of exercise generally is; some readers (such as yours truly) may have less patience for it than others.
       With a dying narrator, investigating a mass-suicide, The Reconstruction is inevitably a heavy piece of work, and it's perhaps more than the book can bear. Raud's talents lie elsewhere, the descriptions of the more mundane much more successful than the 'important' scenes here -- most of which, tellingly, are presented second-hand, in the voice of other characters (and Raud never speaks as well through them as he does through Enn). It's a fine novel, but not entirely successful, the author overextending himself in trying too obviously to write something weighty.

- M.A.Orthofer, 11 April 2017

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Links:

The Reconstruction: Reviews: Rein Raud: Other books by Rein Raud under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Estonian author Rein Raud was born in 1961.

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© 2017 the complete review

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