Review: The Reconstruction by Rein Raud

 

Some personal tragedies are so sudden and so devastating that those left behind simply can’t process the complete story — at least not right away. Take, for example, the scenario in Estonian author Rein Raud’s latest novel, “The Reconstruction”: Narrator and father Enn Padrik’s only child, Anni, separated herself from her family and became embroiled in a religious cult — her body was found with three others in what appears to have been a suicide pact. Six years have passed since her body was discovered and Enn, now suffering from terminal cancer, is finally ready to learn the truth about his beloved child.

Raud’s beautiful novel chronicles Enn’s attempts to interview his daughter’s former college roommates, research subjects, and fellow commune members to piece together who his daughter was and who she became. Enn knew his daughter as a driven student and researcher, but learns that her field work with sex workers led her to philosophical questions beyond her academic purview, resulting in a spiral away from university and toward individuals also grappling with questions of consciousness and faith. In her father’s words: “In short — weirdos, and not necessarily harmless ones.”

But Anni is no docile lamb, and confrontations with a highly regarded spiritual leader result in a surprising shift in roles. The real Anni, then, is someone so changed her father feels he’s researching a stranger.

The elegance of Raud’s writing comes from the depth provided to even the most cursory of characters, as well as his careful pacing. While “The Reconstruction” delves into heady philosophical territory in the end, the structure of the novel still cuts like a thriller, making this an unusual page turner filled with meditations on meaning and reason, as well as questions of identity and familial influence. Can a person change so much as to become unrecognizable? Raud says yes — but that doesn’t negate a father’s love.