Timo von Bock's release by the Czar from nine years' incarceration does not spell the end of the Baron's troubles: he is confined to his Livonian estate to live under the constant eye of police informers planted among his own household, and is subjected to endless humiliations. It is claimed that he is a madman and in need of 'protection': a man would need to be insane, after all, to have taken a Czar at his word when asked for a candid appraisal of the state's infirmities. From the year of his release from prison and return to his wife Eeva, a woman of peasant stock to whom, with her brother Jakob, he has given a solid education, the Baron's life is recorded in a secret journal by this same Jakob, a shrewd and observant house-guest. Reconstructing the events leading up to the Baron's incarceration in 1818 and subsequent to his release in 1827, Jakob little by little brings to light mysteries surrounding the 'Czar's madman'. Was his madness genuine? What was the secret understanding between him and his boon companion Czar Alexander I, who committed him to prison?
In The Czar's Madman Jaan Kross weaves together the elements of intrigue surrounding those historical characters who survived in post-Napoleonic Russia, and by a skillful shifting of chronology and viewpoints, creates a superbly rich and moving narrative. Winner of France's Best Foreign Book Award.
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(216mm x 135mm x 26mm)
The Harvill Press
Publisher: Vintage Publishing
Country of Publication:
US Kirkus Review »
In a first appearance in English, Kross - an Estonian writer who paid his dues all too familiarly in Stalin's Gulag - here writes a long, leisurely, upholstered old-fashioned historical novel concerning a 19th-century Baltic nobleman, Timo von Bock, who was arrested and imprisoned for nine years (as Kross had been) after writing an utterly indiscreet cry for social justice to his close friend the Czar, Alexander I. Unconventional von Bock already had married beneath him - a peasant girl, Kitty - taking her and her young brother, Jakob (who narrates here from within the confines of a journal), back to the manor house with him. But his unaffected and stirring vision of liberty, too candidly expressed, is what has gotten him into the most trouble - and led to odd mental behaviors since his release. Is von Bock mad or is he craftily shamming, saying as gibberish what is too subversive to state rationally? Kross spins this out at length, but the novel never can work past the strictures of the once-removed narrator's diary form: It makes everything seem to happen just before we find out about it - and this saps immediacy from the book completely. Instead, it seems inert and repetitively one-noted. (Kirkus Reviews)
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Author Biography - Jaan Kross
Jaan Kross was born in Tallinn in 1920. He studied law at the University of Tartu and taught law until his arrest and deportation, with countless other Estonians, to Siberia in 1946. He, on his release in 1954, returned to Tallinn and devoted himself to poetry and to translating the classics, including Shakespeare, Balzac and Stefan Zweig. Later, his interest in Estonia's chequered history made him turn his attention to the historical novel, and he established his reputation as one of Europe's outstanding practitioners of this genre. He was regarded as an Estonian writer of world class. He died in December 2007. On its publication in France, The Czar's Madman won the Prix du Meilleur Livre Etranger.