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Jaan Kross’s Return to the Estonian SSR

Jaan Kross arrived in Tallinn from his forced exile in Siberia on 24 June 1954 together with his second wife Helga Roos-Kross. He had in his briefcase a play that he had completed in Siberia, along with an unfinished verse novel and a poem, as well as a quantity of lyric poetry. Due to his uncertain political status, he did not succeed in publishing anything during his first year back in Estonia. Even a poem he wrote as a commissioned piece for the magazine Stalinlik Noorus (Stalinist Youth) about the attempt orchestrated by the Soviet Union on 1 December 1924 to overthrow the government of Estonia did not make it into print. It was not until the autumn of 1955 that Kross was able to start publishing both his verse translations (B. Brecht, A. Blok, H. Heine, P.-J. Béranger) and his own lyric poetry.

It appears that somewhere around 1957 he had started writing a prose work about his period of exile in Siberia, but he evidently discontinued working on it, as was the case with his narrative fiction of the 1950s in general. Kross had not yet found his individual method of prose, which later became the prolific use of free indirect style and interior monologue, and his texts from that period still lacked the inevitable narrative energy.

Kross also tried to write critical reviews and chose as his object both Juhan Smuul, the Chairman of the Writers’ Union of the Estonian SSR, and Hans Leberecht, the winner of the Stalin Prize of 1949, but naturally nobody dared to publish such texts. If the hypothesis of the author of this article holds true, then in 1956‒1958, Kross nevertheless found a mode for how to earn a living as a poetry critic. The basis for this interpretation are manuscripts found in Kross’s personal archive and their comparison with published texts. Apparently, Kross let his later bibliographer Vaime Kabur to stylistically and ideologically “correct” the reviews he had written. Thereafter Kabur had them published under her own name. Kross had already tested this approach while he was still in Siberia but at that time he had not found a confidant in Estonia. V. Kabur herself was a critic and officials had no reason to suspect that it was Kross who was originally the author of some texts published under her name.

Kross’s first collection of poetry, entitled Söerikastaja (Coal Refiner), appeared in the autumn of 1958, causing controversy in many ways, yet from that point onwards he was considered a “bone fide” Soviet Estonian writer.