TALLINN - Jaan Kross, the writer and poet whose novels portrayed the fate of the small Baltic nation, has died after a long illness, according to his family. He was 87.
A prisoner during Nazi rule in the early 1940s and a survivor of a Siberian labor camp, Kross was known for historical novels. "The Czar's Madman," an epic about a Baltic-German nobleman, is considered one of his major works and was translated into English and several other languages.
Although set in the 19th century the hero of the book, who was imprisoned as a traitor, was believed to reflect the author's own experience of eight years in exile during the 1940-1991 Soviet occupation, when thousands of Estonians were exiled and killed.
He was released from the gulag in 1954.
Born on Feb. 19, 1920, in Tallinn, Kross studied law at Tartu University, Estonia's leading academic establishment. He published his first novel, "Between Three Plagues," in 1970 — 16 years after becoming a professional writer. After Estonia regained independence in 1991, he served briefly as a lawmaker in 1992-93 but became frustrated by politics and resumed writing.
President Toomas Hendrik Ilves praised Kross Thursday, after the author's death the same day was announced, as a preserver of the Estonian language and culture.
"He was one of those who kept fresh the spirits of the people and made us ready to take the opportunity of restoring Estonia's independence," Ilves said.
For many years, Kross was Estonia's strongest candidate for the Nobel Literature Prize.
Kross, who wrote a dozen novels and was a prolific poet, was awarded several Estonian and international prizes, including the Amnesty International Golden Flame Prize in 1990.
He is survived by his wife, the writer Ellen Niit, and two children. No funeral arrangements were given.