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A subtle, heart-rending Estonian novel about a father in the
last few months of his life trying to reconstruct the circumstances of his
daughter’s suicide.

Enn Padrik is the father and the narrator of this story, which
has been translated from the Estonian in straightforward, engaging prose. Five
years after his daughter, Anni, died mysteriously along with three other
people, he finds out he’s dying of cancer and wants to put together the pieces
of this cryptic puzzle. All four died in a fire at a commune, but it was
determined that by the time the fire started they were already dead, “lying
side by side…in the master bedroom…a small packed suitcase lying beside each
of them.” In his limited remaining time, Padrik seeks out other members of the
commune as well as people who interacted with Anni before she went there. The
novel has a Rashomon-like feel as Padrik comes to realize that
accounts about Anni diverge, and no single perspective suffices to explain her
life and death. We get different facets of her personality, for example, from
friends recalling Anni’s own reminiscences about her life in Paris, where she
had been working on a research project about Eastern European prostitutes, from
a man named Erik who attended a Christian youth camp with Anni, and finally,
and most movingly, from Carola, who had been at the Birchback commune, was
supposed to have been the fifth person involved in the mass suicide, and had
escaped. Raud (The Brother, 2016, etc.) treats his narrator and all of
his interviewees with respect and allows them to tell their versions of Anni’s
story. It turns out there are no easy—and ultimately no satisfying—answers to
explain Anni’s transformation from a bright young schoolgirl to a member of
what amounted to a religious cult.

A disturbing and heartbreaking novel that deserves a wide

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