The Master Takes a Wife

Novels

Peremees võtab naise

The Farmer Takes a Wife (Novels, Estonian)
Published by Kupar, 1997, pp. 184

Since 1971 when he published his first novel, Mats Traat (b. 1936) has been one of the pillars of Estonian prose. In 1988 and 1994 he published the first two volumes of his monumental sequence Let Us Climb the Mountains, which describes the life of Estonian peasants at the end of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th century. The Master Takes a Wife is the seventh novel of this sequence. Hendrik, the master of Palanumäe farm, has been widowed. It is the year 1919, wars are going on all over Estonia, which is fighting several different powers for its independence. The scene is set in South Estonia, near a country town called Nuustaku (Otepää). The children of the Master of Palanumäe have grown up and are leading their own lives, but the middle-aged Hendrik is still not so old that a woman can’t quicken his blood, and furthermore, a proper farm cannot do without a mistress. A suddenly awoken burst of class hatred leaves Hendrik with a bullet wound; life and people are seen in new and unexpected aspects. The overall situation is complicated; the new independent Estonian Republic holds promises for a new era and new opportunities, but life in a country backwater follows its own slow path. Hendrik tries to choose between two women, but the expectant eyes of at least four follow his movements. The daughter of a local village shop-owner, who has gained some education and has been in the service of a professor in St. Petersburg, tries to pull her dreams down to the supposedly lower level of a peasant who wears felt boots, but is frightened away by a brief physical encounter. Education has drawn the body and spirit of this woman apart and she cannot cope. The antagonism between body and spirit, between real life and fantasy determine the fate of a ripe old maid with psychoanalytical precision. And the master makes a poor farm girl happy. The novel is one of the best Traat has written so far (the total number of his works is not small) being psychologically realistic, even including seeming trivialities, and still being figurative and offering powerful generalisations.

Text by Janika Kronberg and Rutt Hinrikus

First publsihed in the Estonian Literary Magazine no. 05


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