In a first appearance in English, Kross--an Estonian writer who paid his dues all too familiarly in Stalin's Gulag--here writes a long, leisurely, upholstered old-fashioned historical novel concerning a 19th-century Baltic nobleman, Timo von Bock, who was arrested and imprisoned for nine years (as Kross had been) after writing an utterly indiscreet cry for social justice to his close friend the Czar, Alexander I. Unconventional von Bock already had married beneath him--a peasant girl, Kitty--taking her and her young brother, Jakob (who narrates here from within the confines of a journal), back to the manor house with him. But his unaffected and stirring vision of liberty, too candidly expressed, is what has gotten him into the most trouble--and led to odd mental behaviors since his release. Is von Bock mad or is he craftily shamming, saying as gibberish what is too subversive to state rationally? Kross spins this out at length, but the novel never can work past the strictures of the once-removed narrator's diary form: It makes everything seem to happen just before we find out about it--and this saps immediacy from the book completely. Instead, it seems inert and repetitively one-noted.