Toomas Nipernaadi

Novels

Toomas Nipernaadi

Toomas Nipernaadi (Novels, Estonian)
Published by Loodus, 1928, pp. 430

Toomas Nipernaadi is widely regarded as August Gailit’s most personal work of fiction. It is the story of a man who leaves town in early spring, at the time when the ice starts to melt, and sets off to wander around, from one village to the next. Wherever he turns up, adventures and trouble ensue. Nipernaadi works as a rafter and a pastor, drains swampland, becomes the master of a farm. He spins wondrous (fairy) tales to the village maidens who then all fall in love with him. Toomas Nipernaadi is a phenomenon in Estonian culture. Its heyday was just after its publication. Reviews abounded and critics were unanimously enthusiastic. Despite universal praise, readers interpreted the book in quite different ways. For some, the joyful motto of the book served as a key to understanding the whole thing: A sailor came from Rasina, hey-ho, hey-ho. Others were taken with the more serious side of the novel. Nipernaadi’s adventures were by no means infinite merrymaking, but rather slipped constantly into tragicomedy. Nipernaadi was one of the first works in Estonian literature that was translated into many languages. The first was the German translation in 1931. The German critics’ reaction was lively and extremely positive (the critics included Hermann Hesse and Hans Fallada). Such success understandably increased the novel’s popularity at home even further and raised great hopes in the author: the Nobel prize and a Hollywood film. Following Toomas Nipernaadi’s wanderings through spring, summer and autumn, the reader perceives a mythical model of life in the novel: the sequence of seasons, repetition, the closed circle, the cycle of life. And in that circle is Toomas Nipernaadi – the eternal wanderer. What gives Nipernaadi the aura of a mythical character is his direct contact with nature. Nature is a significant component of the novel which, through Gailit’s masterful descriptions, acquires the status of a character in its own right. Not by chance was the German edition entitled Nippernaht und die Jahreszeiten, stressing the importance of nature. The whole composition relies on the seasons. Gailit was a romantic, and his attitude towards women was romantic too. He never ceased to worship all those girls and women to whom he gave life in his work. Women also play a significant role in Toomas Nipernaadi. The novel, consisting in fact of seven short stories, focuses on love affairs and amorous adventures. Nipernaadi’s famous passionate monologues might well seem to the reader like masterly adaptations of the Song of Solomon. Toomas Nipernaadi is an ode to love, symbol of love. At that level, there is no doubt as to Gailit’s attitude to women. The novel’s central idea is that of deeply perceived human love. This book was written by a man who loved life and people for whom love was sacred.


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