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Laurus Paperback – August 9, 2016
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Janet Fitch, author of White Oleander and Paint It Black, in The Los Angeles Review of Books
"For Russian literature, the glorification indeed sanctification of the irrational is anything but new, but here it is delivered with great aplomb and narrative charm. Indeed, the most infectious element of Eugene Vodolazkin’s book may be its faith in language as a kind of charm.... Many readers are likely to find the book enchanting, if not palliative."
Boris Dralyuk in The TLS
Vodolazkin is a beautiful storyteller His fluctuations and riffs on language are entertaining and enriching carefully transmuted into English by the able Lisa Hayden and Arseny’s journey is a rumination on what it means to be human, to be Russian, to spend a lifetime seeking atonement. This is an epic journey novel in all the best traditions. There are countless colorful characters, exciting twists of fate, and profound truths in the protagonist’s words and deeds. And, through it all, there is a distinctly Russian flavor” something like The Idiot meets Canterbury Tales meets The Odyssey. Highly recommended.”
Russian Life Magazine
A novel about the life of a 15th-century Russian monk might sound an unlikely bestseller, but Eugene Vodolazkin’s extraordinary tale Lavrus became a literary sensation, won Russia’s Big Book award in 2013, and was shortlisted for numerous other prizes.... So what’s the appeal? Vodolazkin’s spiritual odyssey transcends history, fusing archaism and slang to convey the idea that 'time is a sort of misunderstanding.' Vodolazkin explores multifaceted questions of Russianness’ and concludes, like the 19th century poet Fyodor Tyutchev that Russia cannot be rationally understood. This is what leads him, with a gradual, but unstoppable momentum, to place faith and the transcendent human spirit at the center of his powerful worldview.”
Russia Beyond the Headlines
"Steeped in religion, Arseny is a character who is almost too good to believe, and his supernatural diagnostic and healing powers too simplistic. Yet for all that, LAURUS is a gripping, weirdly fascinating read very Russian, perhaps, in its fundamental outlooks and presentation, and certainly very carefully and well crafted (so also in Lisa Hayden’s English rendering.) B+, odd but compelling."
"Vodolazkin succeeds in walking a thin line, achieving a fine balance between the ancient and archaic, and the ultra- modern; between the ironic and the tragic."
"Medieval Russia was a land trembling with religious fervor. Mystics, pilgrims, prophets, and holy fools wandered the countryside . A new novel by the Russian medievalist Eugene Vodolazkin, LAURUS, recreates this fervent landscape and suggests why the era, its holy men, and the forests and fields of Muscovy retain such a grip on the Russian imagination.... In LAURUS Vodolazkin aims directly at the heart of the Russian religious experience and perhaps even at that maddeningly elusive concept that is cherished to the point of cliché: the Russian soul."
Ken Kalfus in The New Yorker
"What kind of novel makes you want to enter into contemplative prayer after reading from its pages? I’ve never heard of one. But LAURUS is that kind of novel. It induces an awareness of the radical enchantment of the world, and of the grandeur of the soul’s journey through this life toward God. ... Holiness illuminates this novel like an icon lamp.... This is not a book about good and evil, but about what is real and eternal and what is false and temporal...Vodolazkin is himself a kind of wonder-worker, and LAURUS is without a doubt one of the most moving and mysterious books you will read in this or any other year. The world of its characters is spiritually spellbinding, and the reader should not be surprised to find that it evokes within himself a desire to pray, and thereby take what feeble steps he can to walk alongside the humble healer Arseny on his life’s pilgrimage."
The American Conservative
"Winner of Russia's National Big Book Prize, this saga of 15th-century Russia captures both its harshness and its radiant faith in a narrative touched by the miraculous. Arseny is born in 1440 near the Kirillo-Belozersky Monastery and raised mostly by his grandfather, who teaches him to be a healer like himself. Plague takes the remaining family, and after further tragedy our hero launches on a pilgrimage across Europe, surviving violence, princes, and holy fools before becoming Brother Laurus. VERDICT Engaging sweep; for all readers.”
LAURUS is, in one breath, a timeless epic, trekking the well-trodden fields of faith, love, and the infinite depth of loss and search for meaning. In another, it is pointed, touching, and at times humorous, unpredictably straying from the path and leading readers along a wild chase through time, language, and medieval Europe. Vodolazkin’s experimental style envelopes the reader, drawing them into a world far from their own, yet indescribably intimate.... Kaleidoscopic in his language and reach, Vodolazkin takes us on a journey of discovery and absolution, threaded together through the various, often mystical lives of Arseny as a healer, husband, holy fool, pilgrim and hermit.... Love is shown through loss; death through agelessness; words through silence; the human in the divine. In life’s extremities, Vodolazkin has found a subtle balance and uses it to impressive effect."
"Vodolazkin, an expert in medieval folklore, transforms the dreadful past into a familiar stage on which to explore love, loss, and fervent perseverance.... In a stroke of brilliant storytelling, Vodolazkin forgoes historical accuracy and instead conjures a cyclical, eternal time by combining biblical quotes, Soviet bureaucratese, and linguistic conventions of the Middle Ages (in this translation, rendered into Old English). The result is a uniquely lavish, multilayered work that blends an invented hagiography with the rapturous energy of Dostoevsky’s spiritual obsessions."
"Bold, rich and complex, LAURUS deals with large issues: the concept of time, love and death, love and guilt."
Historical Novel Review
"While it’s true that [Vodolazkin's] book manages to make the coarse, expansive, and frozen universe of the medieval Russia he reconstructs a seductive alternative to ours, this isn’t yet where it shines. LAURUS shines where it’s able to depict in vivid shades that elusory place where language and grace are indissolublyeven hypostaticallyone."
First Things Magazine
Love, faith, and a quest for atonement are the driving themes of an epic, prizewinning Russian novel that, while set in the medieval era, takes a contemporary look at the meaning of time. Combining elements of fairy tale, parable, and myth, Vodolazkin 's second novel is a picaresque story exploring 15th-century existence with gravity and a touch of ironic humor. ... Unobtrusively translated, the novel's narration flows limpidly, touching humane depths, especially when depicting sickness, suffering, and death, which is often. Vodolazkin handles his long, unpredictable, sometimes-mystical saga and its diverse content with confident purpose, occasionally adding modern visions to the historical landscape, part of a conversation about discontinuous time. Traveling across Europe and Palestine and then back to Russia, Arseny, who will become Ustin, Amvrosy, and finally Laurus, will eventually complete his long, circular journey and reach a place of repose. With flavors of Umberto Eco and The Canterbury Tales, this affecting, idiosyncratic novel ... is an impressive achievement.”
"Fifteenth-century Europe serves as the vast stage for a roving Russian healer who leaves his village on a journey of repentance, turmoil, and growth toward Jerusalem. Vodolazkin’s expertise in the medieval world rounds out this tale that defies the restrictions of this long-ago time and place in its treatment of universal human pains and regrets.”
Nota Bene pick, World Literature Today
About the Author
Lisa Hayden is a literary translator who lives in Scarborough, Maine. Her other translations from the Russian include Vladislav Otroshenko’s Addendum to a Photo Album and Marina Stepnova’s The Women of Lazarus. Her website, Lizok’s Bookshelf, focuses on contemporary Russian fiction. She received her MA in Russian literature at the University of Pennsylvania and lived in Moscow during 1992-1998.
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Now Ustin, he travels far and beyond, curing the victims of the great plague. The novel unfolds a story of a life devoted to love at its many layers. Vodolazkin portrays a magnificent range of life on the medieval road, in movement but out of time's joint. We follow the hero's life as a holy fool in the graveyard of a nunnery through to his pilgrimage to Jerusalem with an Italian Catholic seer. Ambrogio's visions throw us forward into a familiar Petersburg setting and farther into the unknown future; in constant searches for the time of the end of the world the novel leaves us on its pages frustratingly faced with the nonentity of time.
Vodoazkin's beautiful portrayal of holy fools demystifies, or rather mystifies, the concept of yurodivy associated with Russian Orthodoxy (but not unique to it). The writing is soaked in religious beauty without the least Orthodox bias. At times we are reminded of Hesse's Siddhartha, but then the novel flows in the spirit of the invincible Russian literary tradition of pathos and Dostoevskian depth; and at yet other times, it is a pure philological triumph.
Written with glimpses of medieval Russian tongue, the texture is rich with live and quaint depiction of medieval life. Vodolazkin exposes - in naked, vulnerable and crisp language - the magic and the grotesque of religion and the human soul. You are strained from the first page to the last. It can get obscure but is in no way a dry read. Vodolazkin's archaic seasoning is complemented by his sublime sense of humour. Lisa Hayden's beautiful translation in English manages to preserve the linguistic diversity of the novel as far as is possible without making it sound tasteless.
In the dusk of his life, Laurus returns to Kirillo-Belezorsky Monastery where he came from. The ending is chilling, repulsive and unexpected. Vodolazkin pushes us back into the medieval reality of the novel, the religious mystery and an unequivocal world of ugly holiness which we believe we have navigated a long way from - but have we?
See full review on HuffPost UK blog.