Professor Martens' Departure

Jaan Kross

translated from the Estonian by Anselm Hollo
Harvill Press 1995 [1984]
A book review by Danny Yee © 1996
It is 1909, and Professor Friedrich Fromhold Martens is catching the train from his home town of Pärnu to St Petersburg. As he travels his mind wanders back over his life: over his rise from poor provincial student to Privy Councillor; over his career as an expert on international law, a drafter of treaties, author of learned tomes, and near recipient of the Nobel peace prize; over his marriage and his love affairs; and over his half-conviction that he is a reincarnation of German lawyer and diplomat Georg Friedrich von Martens. These meanders are revealing of both his failings and his qualities: even as he confesses his infidelities, he reveals the depth of his love for his wife; even as he justifies to himself his hypocrisies in the service of the state, his basic honesty and sense of justice are made apparent. The result is a complex, many-layered, and moving portrait of a man at the end of his life, a portrait almost elegiac in its effect.

With its formal elegance, skillful handling of stream of consciousness, and general narrative verve, Professor Martens' Departure impressed me even more than the other Kross works I have read. The unfortunate thing is that I will have to wait for more to be translated.

August 1996

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%T Professor Martens' Departure
%A Kross, Jaan
%M Estonian
%F Hollo, Anselm
%I Harvill Press
%D 1995 [1984]
%O paperback
%G ISBN 1860460046
%P 295pp