It’s the summer of 1846, and a group of friends have rented a summer house in Sokolovo, outside of Moscow. Natalie Herzen - wife of the upstart revolutionary Alexander Herzen - sits with Nicholas Ogarev, who is reading to her. Also at the house is aspiring novelist Ivan Tugenev, Alexander’s friend Nicholas Ketscher, a historian called Granovsky, and Natalie and Alexander’s children: Sasha, Tata, and Kolya. Natalie and Ogarev discuss matters of the heart, including the estrangement of Ogarev’s wife, Maria, who has taken up with a painter in Paris. Natalie and her husband are also suffering marital strain, as Alexander recently confessed to an affair.
Alexander and Granovsky return from collecting mushrooms, just in time for Ketscher to also return to the estate with a new coffee pot. Alexander has been quarrelling with everyone: he and Granovsky have had a “discussion” that leaves Granovsky cold, and he and Ketscher have been arguing about the best way to make coffee. Ketscher
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