This remarkable novel, hidden from the English-speaking world for more than 50 years, begins with the Red Army invasion of Belarus in 1939. Ivan Kulik has just become headmaster of School Number 7 in Hlaby, a rural village in the Pinsk Marshes. Through his eyes we witness the tragedy of Stalinist domination, where people are randomly deported to labor camps or tortured in Zovty Kazarny prison in the center of Pinsk. Ivan struggles to make sense of this new world, learning the politics of survival in the emerging Belarusian Soviet Socialist Republic and trying to sort out his personal life. His passion for Marusia, a green-eyed, unpredictable young woman, is a theme throughout the book.