The Green Book; or, Freedom Under the Snow (Maurus Jokai, 1897)

A fictionalized account of the final years of Tsar Alexander I and the conspiracy to assassinate him — “the green book” being a list of conspirators all desirous of overthrowing the current government, but all for different reasons, and with contradictory goals. The indecision delays and hinders the plot, but what ultimately spells its doom is that, while the oppressed masses have their grievances and can easily be goaded into a fight, what they haven’t got is an understanding of the abstract notion of “freedom” that the conspirators expect them to die for, and any rebellion based on freedom alone must fall apart (namely the failed Decembrist Revolt).

Many of the characters are taken from or inspired by history, but wholly fictional is the ringleader of the conspiracy, Zeneida Ilmarine. Zeneida fights against Russia’s subjugation of her home country, Finland, but realizes that she and the other conspirators face almost certain death and she wants to keep her beloved Pushkin out of it. Pushkin, the poet, very much believes in capital-F Freedom. The greater part of the book focuses on Zeneida’s complex but successful plot to remove Pushkin from the danger he would plunge himself into.

The book ends with the coronation of Nicholas I and the author observing that freedom is like tree roots under the snow — invisible, but growing, and ready to spring forth when the time is right. Jokai  wouldn’t live to see the revolution, which was still 21 years in the future when the book was published, but after that line, you can’t help but mentally substituting Nicholas II for Nicholas I in those final pages and marveling at how prescient Jokai was.

No inscriptions on this book. The start of chapter six is dogeared — perhaps that’s as far the original owner got.


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