Tiit Aleksejev´s books are to be awaited. His crusade novel Palveränd (Pilgrimage, 2008), the first part of a trilogy, is among the best works of fiction that have appeared lately, and his debut novel, Valge kuningriik (The White Kingdom, 2006), captivates the reader with its genuine atmospheres from the first pages. The play Leegionärid (Legionaries, 2010), is about the history of the author´s homeland, the Second World War in Estonia and the post-war interpretations of history here from a painful aspect.  In 2011 appeared the second part of the trilogy, Kindel Linn (Stronghold).

Tiit Aleksejev, born in 1968, graduated in history from the University of Tartu, where he also obtained a master’s degree in medieval history. He has worked as a diplomat in Paris and Brussels, and currently lives in Tallinn. His first short story, Tartu rahu (The Peace of Tartu) won the annual award from the Estonian literary magazine Looming in 1999,  The White Kingdom was awarded the Betti Alver Award in 2006 for the best debut novel.

The White Kingdom is a thriller, the action unfolding in Paris and retrospectively in Afghanistan in the nineteen-eighties, and it deals in many respects with a life familiar to the author: the protagonist Rein Mets works in the Estonian embassy in Paris. He likes old books, and his interest in them becomes a part of a spy riddle. But beside the thrilling spying tale it is the way the characters sense their world that captivates the reader especially, some things brought to life from memory, such as the Afghanistan war experiences in a mountainous, dangerous, hard land. And yet, it is a novel about Paris: the kaleidoscope of time-frames, vivid pictures of the city, rich in life, the bookstores, cafes, museums and streets of Paris, almost breathing and rushing before the eyes of the reader, and the metaphorical, beautiful language of the book on the background. The mosaic is put together on the last pages of the book and leaves a sad, astonished feeling, like having looked into something tragically and unchangeably beautiful, as into history in its mercilessness.

In order to write The Pilgrimage (2008), Aleksejev collected material for ten years and visited the main battle scenes in the Holy Land. The novel is based on the chronicles of the First Crusade in the 11th century, with Jerusalem as a dream in their minds. The main character is a simple warrior of unknown origin from some land far in the North, who under the name of his friend Dieter is one of the pilgrim soldiers of the Count of Toulouse and is the one to conquer Antioch with the help of a betrayal. The novel is about the importance of human relations as well, of loyalty, love, friendship, and the accuracy of the reconstruction of the medieval world tells us the story of the inner values of that time. Dieter retells his story as an old monastery gardener from Southern France. Interesting meditative visions, inner monologues and the question of what ideals made people go and suffer is like a psychological review of the inner ideals of the crusaders, at the same time giving a good overview of how a crusade was planned, directed and reasoned. There is a map and a chronology of this crusade; it is a deep look into the history of European thought with penetrating psychology, and yet it is also an intense historical thriller, again very vivid, mixed with the feeling of long days of travelling and battles, the taste of blood and yearning for love. If there is a parallel to find, it could be Mika Waltari. Aleksejev does not write only about things long gone, he writes about the crusades, whether the medieval ones or those of the present day, the conflicts between the East and the West, in very original and beautiful language. In 2010 this novel won him the European Union Prize for Literature.

In Legionaries he writes again about an historical event, the battles of the Blue Mountains (Sinimäed) in Estonia, where in the Second World War the Red Army was stopped for some months in 1944. When retreating, the Estonian warriors in the German Army met the Estonian warriors in the Red Army in a terrible battle. During Soviet times it was a taboo theme and even the graves of the fallen of the wrong side were often levelled to the ground. Aleksejev´s play deals with the question of whether the fallen soldier has the right for a proper grave and peace, the right to cross the Styx honourably, as Virgil had once written. It was often their year of birth which destined the young men to one or the other side of the war, and the machinery of history didn´t ask their opinion. They went to war, and in the play the fallen soldiers and their relatives are talking – about their memories of childhood, hopes and the future they wanted to have and which came very differently. They do not judge, they ask for peace, and Aleksejev cites Mika Waltari in the end, who has said that it is not that there are people, guilty or innocent, but there are nations which happen to be under the sword.

Since April 2016, Tiit Aleksejev is the chairman of the Estonian Writers´ Union.

Text by Elle-Mari Talivee


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