Jaan Kross’ 100th Birthday – “Kross introduced new themes to our poetry of galaxies, electrons, Milton, Homer (and of course sputniks).”—Estonian writer Jaan Kaplinski on Kross
Today’s Doodle, illustrated by Tallinn, Estonia-based guest artist Mirjam Laater, celebrates Estonian poet and writer Jaan Kross on what would have been his 100th birthday. Widely considered one of the nation’s most internationally recognized and translated writers, his work was critical in illuminating the realities of Soviet occupation in Eastern Europe.
Born in the capital city of Tallinn on this day in 1920, Kross studied at the distinguished Tartu University and eventually became an assistant professor of international law. In 1946, like many of his intellectual compatriots, Kross unexpectedly caught the attention of Soviet security forces and was sent to Siberia. Throughout this eight-year exile, Kross wrote numerous poems and translated published pieces, sowing the seeds for his later success.
In the 1970s, Kross began to write historical fiction to mask his political criticism. “Kolme katku vahel” (“Between Three Plagues,” 1970) and “Keisri hull” (“The Czar’s Madman,” 1978) are often considered his masterworks, with the latter selling over 30,000 copies. These novels highlight themes of censorship and state-led repression and served to foster a sense of solidarity among Europe’s Soviet Bloc writers.
In 1990, Kross won the Prix du Meilleur Livre Étranger, France’s foreign book award, for “Keisri hull,” as well as the Amnesty International Golden Flame Prize. In 1992, Kross helped draft Estonia’s new constitution following their independence from the Soviet Union.
Palju õnne sünnipäevaks, Jaan Kross!
Guest Artist Q&A with Mirjam Laater
Today’s Doodle was illustrated by Tallinn, Estonia-based guest artist, Mirjam Laater. Below, she shares her thoughts behind the making of this Doodle:
Q: Why was this topic meaningful to you personally?
A: I remember first reading “The Czar’s Madman” by Kross in my early adolescence and the impression it left on me. It was one of those stories that stayed with you, even if the details began to fade over time. It takes a rare talent to recreate a character in a way that makes them feel not so much a part of history as someone relatable yet unique, whose life experience adds a point of reference to your own. I have immense respect for Kross for being able to do that.
Q: What were your first thoughts when you were approached about the project?
A: Being a fan of Doodles, I was naturally excited to join the ranks of so much talent. Given how most of my work these days is directed at international audiences, being able to create this Doodle about someone so celebrated in my own country makes it all the more personal.
Q: Did you draw inspiration from anything in particular for this Doodle?
A: I was already familiar with Kross’ writing, so I focused my research on the author himself, to better understand his nature, how and why he wrote the way he did. I was struck by the contrast of his life story on paper—the post-war years, being an intellectual in a time of censorship, and the surprising charm and playfulness evident from his photos and interviews. It seemed to me that writing itself was a form of freedom for him, a way of understanding life and its choices. I wanted to capture that joy and dedication, a life among books.
Q: What message do you hope people take away from your Doodle?
A: I hope people will be reminded to take up some of Kross’ books, perhaps revisit some old favorites. Be inspired by life with all its choices, create their own narratives.
Early concept sketch and draft of the Doodle
You can find more about Jaan Kross’ 100th Birthday on the official Google Doodle Page