Pommer's Garden


Pommeri aed

Pommer's Garden (Novels, Estonian)
Published by Pegasus, 2008, pp. 253

In Pommeri aed (Pommer᾽s Garden, 1974) a schoolmaster named Jaan Pommer cultivates his garden as well as his pupils in a little one-roomed schoolhouse in a Southern Estonian village in the eighteen-nineties. This is a teacher’s novel of a borderland, set against the background of the systematic 19th-century Russification process of the Russian empire’s western border territories, and belongs among Traat’s “trilogy of teachers”.
Traat, the panoramic describer of Estonian history and a grand writer, treats the past genuinely and sensitively; depicting the spirit of the nation: persistent, even stubbornly tenacious, and he is extraordinary in his cognition of space. His “novel territory” is made up not only of the landscape, but its past, its soul, the fates of its inhabitants and their role in forming the spirit of this place.
Pommer raises the pupils according to his ideals, fights for a better world in his community and therefore clashes with the parish leaders while trying to close the village inn. Far from an ideal character, he is harsh but kind-hearted, steady, strong and permanent. He has a mission to enlighten and educate, and stands up for his little old schoolhouse in an endless fight for every piece of window glass, an oil lamp or a new blackboard. As a country schoolmaster in an agrarian society, Pommer is a farmer, and he puts his soul into his garden. Pommer’s wish to cultivate the garden seems to sprout from Candide’s last words of Voltaire’s philosophical fairy-tale.
Two of Pommer’s own children have chosen their father’s path. The only son, Karl, is ill with tuberculosis and writes poetry, secretly believing the ideas of the freedom of his homeland which are only to be hinted at. There is hope in this novel, springing from nothing really “big and important”, but significant, like the cold, golden apples the soulful broken-hearted daughter Anna takes from the hayloft to decorate the Christmas-tree, regaining the belief in life again after attempting suicide. The tricks of schoolboys, their will to learn, make the days bright even when there is no more wood to fire the big oven in the classroom.
Traat is also a poet, and Pommer´s Garden has been characterised as lyrical prose. The poetic realism adds to the suggestiveness. In the middle of the novel the age-old schoolhouse burns down on St John’s Night as the old parish underling accommodated in the classroom falls asleep with his pipe. It seems to be symbolic of the new era as well. Traat wrote the novel when the new Russification period in Estonia was beginning. Although Pommer may only start building a new and better one, he loses his job, and he hopes for a young schoolteacher to come and take his place, in a job with a much wider meaning. The novel, deeply philosophical, fascinating on both an intellectual and a psychological level, is moving in its belief in the continuity of life: and in the end of the book one of Pommer’s apple-trees, rather capriciously, is finally blooming.

Text by Elle-Mari Talivee

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