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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

The Brother

Rein Raud

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To purchase The Brother

Title: The Brother
Author: Rein Raud
Genre: Novel
Written: 2008 (Eng. 2016)
Length: 118 pages
Original in: Estonian
Availability: The Brother - US
The Brother - UK
The Brother - Canada
  • Estonian title: Vend
  • Translated by Adam Cullen

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Our Assessment:

A- : well-styled; satisfying

See our review for fuller assessment.

The complete review's Review:

       The plot of The Brother is fairly simple: a young woman, Laila, was basically screwed out of her inheritance (and house) by the dubious dealings of a lawyer, a notary, and a banker, and now a mysterious stranger has come to town to set things right. The stranger is Laila's (half-)brother. As he explains to her:

"Inevitably, at some point, in every person's life coms the moment when he has to count up the promises he definitely intends to keep before he goes," Brother said. "For me, you've always been one of those."
       The trio who done her wrong realize that 'the Brother' poses a threat, and try a variety of ways of ridding themselves of this problem (escalating all the way to hiring a hit man). Inviting him to play cards they engage the services of a card sharp who is supposed to take all his money off him; the one they hire doesn't succeed -- but it's one who refuses the commission who provides greater insight into the mystery man: "Never before have I seen someone who so perfectly lacks any resolve to win", he realizes from observing him for a while; he understands that he might have beaten him at cards, but that the Brother was the one kind of opponent that could just as easily destroy him.
       Meanwhile, as they struggle to rid themselves of the mystery man, each of the three suddenly finds themselves in a spot of professional bother, a spiral that, as it spirals out of their control, threatens to destroy them. So too the new owner of the Villa, Laila's old house, where the Brother takes on the job of gardener (setting the grounds right, like they are supposed to be ...); not complicit in the actual fraud, the new owners get off a bit more lightly than the ones actually responsible.
       An added twist comes with the lawyer's assistant, "the rat-faced young man named Willem", taking it upon himself to figure out the identity of the mysterious stranger, adding an additional layer of tension to the story as he comes ever closer to putting together the puzzle of the Brother.
       The Brother doesn't exactly ride into town on a white horse, and he isn't simply all swagger, but the resemblance to the Sergio Leone-spaghetti Westerns (especially the ones with Clint Eastwood) that author Raud admits inspired him is striking. The story is almost all atmosphere and style (showing also Raud's other big inspiration, the writing of Mr. Gwyn (etc.)-author Alessandro Baricco), and one can almost hear the (Western movie score) background music.
       The relatively short chapters -- each at most a few pages -- are rich but stark, the essentials -- of mood and incident -- sketched but not belabored. Much is masterfully understated, but the full ramifications easily expand off the page for the reader. The book is short, and quite event-filled, but there's an agreeable languor to it all too; nothing is rushed.
       There's a woman the Brother seduces -- but he doesn't need to do anything overtly. His is a force greater than nature -- as also suggested by the (almost ridiculous) ease with which fate conspires against the conspirators, as if the Brother merely needed to will their downfall, without lifting a finger.
       The woman admits to him:
     "I came to you like a lamb to slaughter. Or no, like a moth drawn to the flame. Not unwillingly, but with a will that's completely conquered. Me, who always does only what I please, whenever I can. Why do you look like you've already heard all of this before "
       Why ? Because he has heard it often before. Because he lives with this power, this aura.
       Sure, it's not strictly realistic. On the face of it, it's almost absurd. But Raud is artist enough that he draws readers into the same kind of trance that Western-movie-goers can feel, belief suspended for ninety minutes in front of the silver screen, as the stranger rides into town, deals with the bad guys -- and the rides off into the sunset.
       The Brother is a crafty, atmospheric little story, a B-movie, but of the best sort -- completely enjoyable, and very well done.

- M.A.Orthofer, 23 September 2016

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The Brother: 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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