Jaan Kross

Treading Air
  • Treading Air

  • Translated by Eric Dickens

    Treading Air follows the life of Ullo Paerand through 30 years of violent political upheaval. Abandoned by his father as a child, he grows up to become an electoral assistant to the parliamentary office in Tallinn and it is in this position that Ullo witnesses first the Soviet and then the German occupation of Estonia. Forced out of his honest profession Ullo becomes involved with the Resistance but, when many Estonians flee the country, he chooses to remain. An interlude of a decade shows much has changed since the end of the War; Soviet influence is marked in the style of government and the manner of the people. The narrative unfolds in stories imparted to an unknown "author" by a 70-year-old Ullo. Just before the end, however, Kross introduces a teasing ambiguity: Ullo dies before he is able to answer the last question about his life.

Jaan Kross was born in Tallinn in 1920. He studied law at the University of Tartu and taught law until his arrest and deportation, with countless other Estonians, to Siberia in 1946. He, on his release in 1954, returned to Tallinn and devoted himself to poetry and to translating the classics, including Shakespeare, Balzac and Stefan Zweig. Later, his interest in Estonia's chequered history made him turn his attention to the historical novel, and he established his reputation as one of Europe's outstanding practitioners of this genre. He was regarded as an Estonian writer of world class. He died in December 2007. On its publication in France, The Czar's Madman won the Prix du Meilleur Livre Etranger.