A first English translation of short fiction by the great Estonian author (The Czar's Madman, 1993; Professor Martens' Departure, 1994), who begins to look more and more like a prime Nobel Prize contender. These six long pieces, all written between 1979 and 1986, record the ordeals of Kross's countrymen from the onset of WW II through its immediate aftermath, first under German, then Soviet occupation. The stories are about the dynamics of political commitment and the mechanics of personal survival, as explored by their common protagonist Peeter Mirk (manifestly his creator's alter ego), a sophisticated young law student and leftist intellectual who has--in his own words--``tried his hand at various things: writing poetry, bragging, searching for the truth, conspiracy, and . . . lecturing.'' Complex and densely woven, these are tales that take in a broad range of experiences, relationships, and exchanges of opinions; people's whole lives are skillfully telescoped and analyzed in relation to the specific actions in which they're involved. ``The Wound'' and ``Lead Piping'' describe variously abortive efforts to leave Russia-dominated Estonia and emigrate to Germany (at Hitler's invitation), vividly denoting their characters' complicated political allegiances. ``The Stahl Grammar'' and the troubling title story, both set in prisons, unforgettably show how the power politics of such sealed microcosms exactly mirror the larger conflicts of the world outside. ``The Conspiracy'' in particular reveals the ease with which people who think they're neutral slip into accommodation with injustice and evil. And the wonderful tale ``The Day His Eyes Are Opened'' confronts Mirk with the chastening spectacle of a survivor of the forced-labor camps whose political courage shows up the shallowness of Mirk's own ``suffering.'' An informative introduction by Kross's (exemplary) translator offers a solidly detailed context for this invaluable opportunity to sample further the works of one of Europe's greatest living writers.