Rein Raud

The Plague Train



Anton Hansen Tammsaare Award
Virumaa Literary Award


"After Jaan Kross, there have been few Estonian novelists who could be compared with Rein Raud in equal mastery of creating characters, crafting a story and telling it in a clear, yet eloquent language…. “The Plague Train" is a play of imagination on what might have been, executed so convincingly that when you close the book you can say: this is what was." — Kai Aareleid

"An extremely captivating story, each chapter of which is like stop in an unknown and dangerous place, measured to the precision of a second." — Martin Algus

Published by Salv in 2023.

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It is 1911, and Jakob Immanuel Sarapik has just graduated from the medical school of the imperial Russian army. Together with a group of fellow students, he is dispatched to Manchuria, where a plague epidemic is raging The year is 1911. Jakob Immanuel Sarapik has just graduated from the school of field surgeons of the Imperial Russian Army, when he receives an offer: join a squad of people to go to Manchuria to deal with the results of the outbreak of bubonic plague. Jakob accepts, and so do several of his former co-students. In a brand new small train, they set out from the city of Harbin to move along the Chinese-Eastern Railway, a joint venture between the empires of Russia and China that connects Siberia to the harbours of Vladivostok and Port Arthur. Many things happen on that journey, some of them terrible, and some even funny in a morbid and absurd way…
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Twenty years later, Jakob Sarapik has come back from Manchuria, fought in the Estonian War of Independence, found a good job and got married. Everything looks good in spite of the political clouds rising in European skies — Stalin and Hitler have not yet come to terms, but both of them are attracting supporters also in the countries they will later invade. And then Jakob suddenly loses his house, put up as collateral for his brother’s bank loan, and has to apply for the post of a medical officer in the Central Prison of Tallinn — the only place found in haste that comes with a service apartment. There, an encounter awaits him with someone from his past, which will force him to look very deep into himself for answers to questions he has been afraid to ask over the years.
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The novel is based on events that have actually occurred in the life of the author’s grandfather, Joosep Alfred Pervik (1886-1956), although the hero of the book is someone quite different as a human being and the main part of the storyline is entirely fictional. The novel contains quite a few plot twists on the one hand and philosophical discussions on the other. Reviewers have also pointed out both the meticulous research, which has made the book credible in historical detail, and the psychological precision that characterizes the relations between various characters. And yet, perhaps the main topic of the book is none of these, but pathology — something that can take over a separate human body, or a human mind, or sometimes even whole societies…