Memorial held for Jaan Kross

  • 2008-01-09
  • By Adam Krowka

Kross was the literary voice of Estonia for readers worldwide.

TALLINN - Estonia's statesmen and cultural figures gathered in Tallinn's Kaarli Church on Jan. 5 to remember Jaan Kross, easily the nation's best-known contemporary writer. Kross died Dec. 27 at the age of 87 after a prolonged illness.
Speaking at the funeral service, which was broadcast live on Estonian Television, President Toomas Hendrik Ilves described the writer as  " of those who kept fresh the spirits of the people and made us ready to take the opportunity of restoring Estonia's independence."
The service included speeches and readings from Kross' works, and was followed by a more private burial service at Rahumae Cemetery. 

Kross was widely recognized for his contributions in poetry and historical prose. His works have been published in 23 languages and received several international and Estonian awards. Kross has been given state awards in Estonia and Germany, received several honorary degrees and has been nominated multiple times for the Nobel Prize in Literature.
Born in 1920, Kross studied law at the University of Tartu before the onset of World War II. He evaded several Nazi and Soviet military recruitment attempts by maintaining a drunken and drug-induced condition, though was briefly used as an interpreter. Later imprisoned, he was unable to escape with other intellectuals when Nazi forces retreated.

Kross would later write, "Only those who seek revenge go abroad. Whoever seeks something more important stays at home."
As a fluent German speaker and "free-thinker," Kross was again imprisoned in 1946 during Soviet occupation and then sent to a Siberian gulag. Following his release in 1954, Kross continued to publish and translate poetry. In the 1960s he moved to publishing short stories and full-length novels.
Keeping a meticulous eye for historical detail, Kross often included hints of social commentary which criticized the authoritarian system. He claimed "I have never written in order to show how to make compromises, but how to survive despite them."

After a brief return to law following the restoration of independence, Kross returned to writing, translating, and lecturing at the University of Tartu. Worldwide recognition and nominations for the Nobel Prize continued in his later years. The Republic of Estonia Cultural Prize for Life Work was awarded to Kross last year.
Some of Kross' best-known titles are "Between Three Plagues," "The Czar's Madman," "Sailing Against the Wind," "The Wikman Boys," "Treading Air," and "Wanted Land." A book of his memoirs titled "Dear Fellow Travelers" was published in 2003.

Kross is survived by four children from different marriages and his wife and fellow writer, Ellen Niit.