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'It is a lovely Sunday morning in June, with a fresh and gentle northwesterly breeze blowing from the river and the sea.'

Jaan Kross's novel starts as Professor Martens, a diplomat, readies himself for travel and most of the novel takes place in flashbacks on his train journey. We read this recently in my book group and all agreed it was a very clever novel. Kross wrote it in 1984 under Soviet rule it is structurally interesting. Martens fancies himself an incarnation of a previous Martens because of his name and similarities at key moments of their lives. This allows Kross to reference his experinces of Estonia under Soviet rules with two incarnations of Martens and their experiences with Tsarist Russia and the Prussian regime. Martens is responsible for writing key treaties which prefigured World War 1 - yet because he is from Estonia, a small country overshadowed by its neighbour he therefore will never reach the heights of his ambition. There is a dark humour in the novel, and much to enjoy, but I cannot recommend it as a good read. I will look at his masterpiece The Madness of the Tsar though, I think.
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