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The Good Republic is an unnamed Baltic state. Its geography is important, sandwiched, for a hellish part of the twentieth-century, between two totalitarian behemoths, Nazi Germany and Communist Russia. The central character of the novel is Jacob Balthus, a sort of Everyman, neither hero nor villain, but, in the end, a tragic victim of the two tyrannies that, at different times, overran his country.
This was William Palmer’s first novel published in 1990. It was timely then, and because of its subtle and profound handling of perennial moral issues, is no less timely now. For those of us living in less turbulent times and in countries unused to invasion, it forces the uncomfortable question, ‘What would I have done?’.
The novel rightly attracted thoughtful, enthusiastic, and slightly conflicting reviews on publication.
‘Palmer is a master of his complex material. The Baltic country itself – the capital with its Old Town and Jewish Shops, the coast with its pine-fringes and little islands – is palpably there, and makes the moral drama of Jacob and his associates the more compelling. ‘ Paul Binding, Independent
‘The Good Republic is a powerful work … It is not, however, an uplifting tale. One is left with the conviction that the good republic can be defined as that which leaves its citizens to tend to their own vanities, trivialities and banalities. As Mr Palmer notes in the narrative: ”The Chinese say it is a curse: ‘May you live in interesting times.’ ” Jonas Bernstein, Washington Times
‘The achievement of the novel lies in the forgiveness it insists upon. Jacob does immense harm. But he is gentle and vulnerable. His anguished prevarications make him infinitely more likeable than the stronger and more principled characters who use and betray him. Jacob, too, is one of the victims of history.’ Dinah Birch, The Times
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