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Set in wartime Estonia, this was the last novel by Peter Vansittart, one of the greatest historical novelists of the 20th century.
Erich’s odyssey begins when his Estonian childhood is ended by the outbreak of the Second World War. He arrives in Paris, where in 1945 his life seems full of promise. But a love affair drives him to England to work for the Estonian government-in-exile.
His imagined island of monarchs, Churchill and ‘gentlemen’ evaporates into one of scornful youth, insular adults and an underground of spies, political crooks and fanatics. Sojourns in Europe further underline that war and corruption are not extinct and that, in his own life, the most profound shocks are those of friendship and love. Beneath the drift towards a united Europe Erich realizes that treaties do not always end war, that solemn rites cannot guarantee love and that the inevitable can fail to happen.