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The Conspiracy and other stories by Jaan…

The Conspiracy and other stories

by Jaan Kross

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In an effort to widen the geographical spread of my reading, I picked a bunch of writers from random countries to try. One of them was Jaan Kross from Estonia. I’ll admit to knowing nothing about Kross, or indeed Estonian literature, when buying the book; and, to be honest, I’m not a great deal wiser now. Kross apparently specialised in historical fiction set in Estonia’s past, and his best-known work is the Between Three Plagues trilogy set in the sixteenth century. The stories in The Conspiracy, however, are set shortly before, and during World War 2, in German-occupied Estonia, and are told in the first person by Peeter Mirk, a stand-in for Kross himself. The stories are rich in period and place detail (so much so, each stories has end-notes… even though some of the glossed terms are later explained in the narrative). In one story, Mirk persuades an old university friend to desert the German not-so-voluntary Hilfswilliger levy corps, only for Mirk’s plans to see his friend off to Finland fall apart, but so putting his friend in his debt that the friend takes a stupidly risky route of his own choosing and dies in the attempt. In another, Mirk is attempting his own escape from Nazi-occupied Estonia, but the boat he is aboard is caught by a German patrol boat. Mirk has with him the manuscript of his first novel, which is highly critical of the Nazis. He throws his suitcase overboard, but the Germans manage to retrieve it. But there’s nothing in the suitcase to identify the owner (not even a name on the manuscript), except for… a collectible book given to him by a friend in lieu of payment for a debt moments before they boarded the boat to Finland which has an ex libris sticker giving that friend’s name. If Mirk says nothing, then his friend will be executed… There are half a dozen stories in the collection, and they’re well-written and interesting. I doubt I’ll dash out and buy something else by Kross to read – have you seen the size of my TBR? – but at some later date I might give something else by him a go. ( )
  iansales | Apr 13, 2017 |
Eric Dickens, the translator for The Conspiracy and Other Stories felt it was necessary to stress the fact these six stories were written then Estonia did not have independence. The political climate of World War II is woven into the fabric of every story. The title of each short story is a major plot twist in each tale. For example, "The Wound" is about Peeter Mirk's relationship with a woman named Flora. Flora suffers a life altering wound after taking a nasty fall. "Lead Piping" is another tragic tale involving a death by a lead pipe and "The Shahl Grammar" is a sad tale about a writer sacrificing his friend to save himself. ( )
  SeriousGrace | Aug 20, 2013 |
I read the first story - The Wound - on a train packed full of England rugby union fans. They're no better than football fans. The Wound was really good and depicted for me what must have been the unbearable tension and pressure in Estonia just before World War II. Gripping.
  jon1lambert | Nov 13, 2012 |
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"The Conspiracy and Other Stories" contains only 5 out of the 7 stories from the original Estonian language book "Silmade avamise päev" (Finnish "Silmien avaamisen päivä"/English "The Day Eyes Were Opened"). The stories "Rist" (The Cross) and "Väike Vipper" (Little Vipper) were not published in the English language edition. "The Conspiracy and Other Stories" also contains the story "Tuhatoos" (The Ashtray) which is not from "Silmade avamise päev", and which was instead first published in the Estonian literary magazine Looming.
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Contains: The wound -- Lead piping -- The Stahl grammar -- The conspiracy -- The ashtray -- The day eyes were opened
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