Coming soon: Mine. My third novel—yes, a story of love, loss and unexpected endings—is being released by The Book Guild on May 28, 2023. Please enjoy a small excerpt from Chapter One, which I have shared in part before, but deserves a second reading, especially as Valentine’s Day is approaching, and if nothing else Mine is a love letter to one of my most favourite countries in the world: Estonia.
“While Tucker flew to Tallinn, to explore his newly acquired deeds, Sophie found her way to New York’s Estonian House. Just a short taxi ride from her office at Ascent Magazines’ headquarters, the quiet, almost sleepy, Beaux-Arts building stood sentinel on East 34th. Buzzing herself in, Sophie paid attention to the odd, tight security in what seemed like a private members’ club, then ascended a wood-panelled staircase, taking in the scent of baked bread, strong coffee and cooked cabbage. The sharp odours reminded her of dark earth, upturned on an early spring day, when frost might still cling to the underside of a metal spade.
On the walls along the flight of stairs hung a gallery of images: an onion-domed church with Orthodox crosses, an endless field of wheat and a timber house that spoke of distant places.
“May I help you?” an accented voice called out as she reached the top step, leading into a gift shop and what appeared to be a library.
“I’m interested in Estonia,” Sophie began. “I mean… I have a friend who is Estonian. Or… actually his grandparents, his parents, were Estonian. Came to the USA in—”
“And he is called?”
“Tucker Mägi,” she answered. “Well, Tõnis is his birth name.”
“Tõnis Mägi,” she emphasized.
From the dark recesses of the library, beyond the concession, a newspaper rustled and a chair scraped against the floor. A tall, elderly man with thinning hair stood up. Towering over the glass partition that appeared as much for protection as privacy, a fixture more appropriate for Moscow than midtown Manhattan, he looked down his long nose at Sophie.
“I knew a Tõnis Mägi,” he said. “I went to school with him. We were engineers together. He was a friend. From Pärnu. Where is he now?”
“Really?” Sophie asked, at first spellbound, then, realising the improbability, she suggested, “Maybe you mean his grandfather?”
“Maybe his grandfather,” the man echoed, his shoulders sagging. “Tell me about your Tõnis.”
“He lives in Rye, in Westchester County,” Sophie replied, “but his family is in Louisville, Kentucky. He runs his own property company, sort of, took an MBA at Columbia. No siblings and his mother – Eeva Meri Mägi – recently passed away, but his father and grandparents run the Louisville stud farm. Maybe you two should meet?”
The man nodded, still standing, while Sophie carried on. “His father sent him some old paperwork, deeds, and he’s gone off to Tallinn. He’s not particularly interested in things Estonian, but I am.”
“Smart boy, and one with a nose for money, by the sounds of it,” the old man laughed, tapping the side of his nose, “like all the Mägis. They once owned most, if not all, of the Pärnu city centre, as well as the seafront. I think some buildings in Tallinn, too. Things will be different now, after Independence. He’ll have a passport. He’d be Estonian if it weren’t for the war. People are going back now.”
“On the other hand,” the man said, “there might be nothing left for a young Mägi. I’m not going back. Never will.”
He excused himself with Old World charm but before he reached his chair turned back, remembering something. “There was a manor house that belonged to the Mägi family. Twelfth-century, outside Tallinn.”
He rustled and snapped his newspaper, as if strong-arming disappointment, then looked away, but not before giving her a small salute, while the simply dressed, elegant woman who had originally asked if she might help bustled forward. In her arms, she carried books: The Czar’s Madman, The Forest Brothers and A Brief History of Estonia.
“These might interest you,” she offered.
Sophie bought all three titles, along with an Estonian flag in blue, black and white.
“The colours of Estonia,” the woman said, as she wrapped the package smartly, in a way that Sophie thought quaintly antiquated, in natural twine and brown paper. “Deep blue for the sky,” the woman went on, “black for the forest on the horizon and white for endless snow.”
“Eat in the cafeteria, if you wish,” she offered.
“I will,” Sophie said, as she checked her watch, realising she might shortly be missed at the office.
The warm bread served in the café was cut from a dark loaf, oval-shaped, homemade and tasting of another century. The soup, fresh and made of cabbage, carrots and caraway seeds, reminded Sophie of someplace cold and remote. The square napkins, thin and red, along with the coffee, thick and black, served in a heavy porcelain demitasse, spoke of the Soviet Union, the North and frugality. Cinnamon flavoured her coffee, and Sophie sat just for a moment savouring Estonia in the canteen’s semi-darkness. “
Estonia, Tallinn in particular, might just be one of the most romantic places on earth. You would be hard pressed not to find a stunningly handsome (almost fairy tale-ish) young man with one long-stemmed red rose running past a medieval castle wall in order to meet an equally beautiful young woman. Some say when chivalry died out in the rest of Europe, it remained well and alive, forgotten, in Tallinn. I found this to be true.
Happy Valentine’s Day 2023.
Photo by iStock|YakobchukOlena