Tuesday, 5 June 2018

Kross, Jaan "Professor Martens' Departure"

Kross, Jaan "Professor Martens' Departure" (Estonian: Professor Martensi ärasõit) - 1984

I meant to read a book about Estonia for my project "Travel the World Through Books".

And I read a book about Estonia through the life of an Estonian diplomat under the Russian Czar, Friedrich Fromhold Martens. So much history there. Professor Martens wrote a lot of books about international law and was highly involved in establishing what we would call International Law now. He was among those politicians who negotiated after the end of the Russo-Japanese war and was even falsely reported of receiving the Nobel Prize for Peace which he certainly would have deserved. But he received various other prizes and honorary degrees. One of his major achievements was the establishment of the World Court in The Hague.

So, even though this claims to be a novel, it reads as a biography and it is probably more accurate than many others who claim to be one. It doesn't take long while reading this book that you want to know more about the character and whether he really was as described. Google is full with articles about him. And this book is full with details, a very rich tale of an interesting life in an area we still don't know enough about.

From the back cover:

"Widely read in Europe, the Estonian novelist Jaan Kross is considered one of the most important writers of the Baltic region, and is an often-named candidate for the Nobel Prize.

His new historical novel, Professor Martens’ Departure, is written in a classic elegiac style reminiscent of Giuseppe di Lampedusa’s The Leopard, and it evokes the complex world of czarist Russian society at the turn of the century. The character of Professor Martens is based on an actual official of the czarist reign, a distinguished Estonian jurist curiously reminiscent of Henry Kissinger.

Faced with a dire financial crisis in Russia, Professor Martens orchestrates a major loan from the French government to stave off famine; as time passes, however, he realizes that he has managed to perpetuate a brutal regime that keeps its political prisoners in chains.

This fictional memoir, written at the end of Martens’ life, finds him reliving his past and questioning the degree to which he has sacrificed himself to maintain a corrupt regime, one that ultimately disdains both him and his people. Considered an outsider by the czar’s adviser, Martens is nonetheless needed for his skills. Still, he is marginalized and kept in the shadows.

Far more than just a political or philosophical novel, Professor Martens’ Departure is an astonishing reconstruction of czarist Russia."


  1. International law is an interesting subject. I would also find the czarist Russia angle intriguing.

    1. I find it totally interesting, as well. Might have passed that on to both my sons since they both studied international relations and European studies respectively. ;)