Visions of My Brother’s Keeper
We read what our parents have read, don’t we? That’s what’s passed on from one generation to the next. In my case, though, it’s as much about what my older brother, Rein Maremaa, read than anything else. Unfortunately, he died much too soon and I’m not sure what happened to his library of books. But I remember distinctly what he read and how it influenced my own writing and thinking. He had a fierce appetite for the eclectic (just as I do): he liked the works of Aldous Huxley and read all of them; he liked Lawrence Durrell’s Alexandria Quartet, the early works of Sartre and Camus, the philosophical musings of Bertrand Russell and all four volumes of Ford Maddox Ford’s Parade’s End. Beyond reading the classics of Hemingway and Fitzgerald, he picked up on works in different reading the classics of Hemingway and Fitzgerald, he picked up on works in different languages: Gunter Grass’s Tin Drum in German, Garcia-Marquez’s many works in Spanish, Bernard Kangro and Friedebert Tuglas in Estonian.
Because he was older and much wiser, I picked up on the books and authors he liked. (OK, I admit: maybe I was being competitive, too, as the younger brother.) In the heat of Midwest summers, I tripped out in the local library and read the works he liked. In a way, I became his keeper (as I later realized) of the visions that rang true for him in a wide range of authors. It’s what he passed onto me, as if it were tossed in the wind with a flick of the wrist to do with as I pleased. “Take it or leave it,” I seemed to hear him saying. In time, I learned quickly that it was OK to be eclectic in my literary tastes, to read science and philosophy, literature and history, and if possible, read them in different languages. I learned, too, that I needed to react to everything I read at a visceral, gut level. Did the story and characters move me? Was I shaken up after reading a book, as I’m always shaken up after reading the works of J.M. Coetzee, the great South African writer? Were the ideas in the book authentic and powerful enough to change my perceptions of the world around me? Did the writer, above all else, take chances? Dare to subvert the dominant paradigm?
Reading any book was a gamble of time and energy. A writer had to be gutsy enough to make that gamble worth my while. The memory of what my brother, Rein, read and how he reacted to it opened my mind at an early age to the power of language to change the world.