The Pilgrimage



The Pilgrimage (Novels, Estonian)
Published by Varrak, 2008, pp. 304

“The Pilgrimage” (Palveränd, 2008) is Tiit Aleksejev’s second novel, which takes the reader into the last years of the 11th century. In terms of genre it is a historical thriller, based on the four chronicles of the First Crusade (1096–1099), whose authors took a continuous part in the events described. The main character of the novel is a young man-at-arms, who is bound for Palestine with the men of the Count of Toulouse to free it from the Moslems. He is faced with trials, in the course of which it becomes clear that there are several dimensions to the crusade and that in order to conquer the infidels one must first conquer oneself. The main character sees cities the like of which do not exist in the western world, and at the same time he and his brothers in arms are face to face with a completely new type of warfare. In addition he has to take part in a struggle for power between the Normans and Basileos Alexios I, to which no rules apply and in which all the figures use every means available.

Although an adventure story outwardly, on the internal level “The Pilgrimage” is above all a meditation on human relations, loyalty and betrayal, love and treachery. While the author is historically very accurate in reconstructing the medieval world, the characters’ interior world and use of language are modern enough in their presentation to invite the reader’s interest and sympathy.

The novel is presented as the reminiscences of an old monk, a monastery gardener, living in the South of France, who is in fact that young man-at-arms, Dieter, whose life and adventures the work relates. Dieter gets involved in the Crusade as a young man, who is not really a horseman, miles, nor a priest, nor an ordinary person. Thus he is a very suitable hero for an historical novel, who does not really belong anywhere and therefore is able to move between different adventures and environments. In a sense “The Pilgrimage” may be seen as a novel of Dieter’s development, since the changes he undergoes on the “armed pilgrimage”, as the crusade was called in the Middle Ages, are great and unexpected.

In the context of Estonian literature it is certainly unusual that the subject matter of “The Pilgrimage” does not concern Estonian history at all, although right at the beginning the reader is given a hint that this old monk may have been born somewhere in northern Europe, in an area still uncharted by maps of the time. In this regard Aleksejev may be viewed primarily as a successor to Karl Ristikivi, who likewise chose subjects from Western European history for his classic historical novels, rather than the heir of Jaan Kross, who saw it as important to bind his historical novels to the fate of Estonia.

“The Pilgrimage” is the opening volume of a two-part novel planned by the author, which is why the adventure remains incomplete – the crusaders manage to conquer Antioch, but Jerusalem is still merely a dream in their minds. The second part of the novel, which should culminate in the conquest of Jerusalem, is promised by the author by 2010 at the latest.

Text by Marek Tamm

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