The author writes with his trademark wit and deep understanding of human nature, and we find ourselves in the company of a vast gallery of larger-than-life characters who jostle, scheme and argue over both trivialities and the great issues of the human condition. They may do the latter out of their own intellectual narcissism or simply for the joy of debate, but the ensuing dialogues rival those of the great Russian novelists.
Indrek is a story of moving to the polyglot city and abandoning the countryside which at that time was the heartland of the Estonian language. This new environment is a vortex of prejudices and national rivalries nevertheless held together in practice by a strange and very human tolerance.
The boarding school is as dysfunctional as any Dickensian one, but it is a great deal more benevolent. Russians, Germans, Poles, Latvians and Caucasians mix with the Estonian majority, and somehow compromises are nearly always arrived at in spite of – or possibly because of – some extraordinary theatrics, in which Mr Maurus must outperform not only all the other characters in the book but all other celebrated headmasters created by European literature over the centuries. Indrek not only has to come to terms with this world so utterly unsuited to his shy and innocent rural upbringing, but he also has to deal with his first encounters with love and death.