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Laurus by Eugene Vodolazkin

Laurus (2012)

by Eugene Vodolazkin

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Laurus brings the reader into another world, one that perhaps is much like our own. The Russian Orthodox world is beautiful, harsh, full of wrath and mercy. It is fascinating how the heavenly mixes with the earthly; for, the orthodox experience God a much closer to everyday existence, it seems. The sacred and profane share a common space.

I will re-read this someday.

This book is hilarious as well. ( )
  cambernard90 | Apr 12, 2017 |
Laurus is a very interesting historical novel set in medieval Russian that won a lot of awards in Russia and then garnered a lot of attention in certain parts of the English internet when the translation was released last Fall. It's an interesting book, both stylistically and plot-wise. Arseny (he's not going to be Laurus until page 330) is born in the Rukina Quarter of Russia in 1440. His parents soon die of plague and he is raised by his healer grandfather, Christofor. Arseny too becomes a healer, but when his lover dies in childbirth without the benefit of marriage or confession, he is so overwhelmed by guilt that he spends the rest of his life in penance trying to help her soul obtain salvation.

You learn a lot about medieval Russia as well as Russian folk beliefs, as Arseny spends more than an entire section of the book as the holy fool Ustin (after Ustina, the aforementioned dead beloved) in Pskov. My favorite character is probably Ambrosio, the Italian seer who is interested in identifying the time of the end of the world and travels with Arseny to the Holy Land.

Structurally the novel is interesting in that the author is constantly inserting archaically-spelled words and sentences even as he also sticks in obviously modern terms as well. There are also visions of the future seamlessly inserted into the plot, jumping the narrative suddenly decades if not centuries for a paragraph or two. The best of these is probably that of the 1950s historian who visits Pskov and meets the girl of his dreams.

Laurus is a great book over which ponder the meaning of life. It's infused in a particular kind of Orthodox spirituality that makes it specifically Russian in character. An American or Briton could never have written this book. Highly recommended for fans for novels with interesting construction, those who enjoy fiction with a spiritual message, or those interested in modern Russian literature. ( )
  inge87 | Dec 31, 2016 |
I hope this doesn't come across as meaningless hyperbole - this book is extraordinary and the translation is brilliant.

This is the story of Arseny, a humble 15th century Russian who begins life as the orphaned grandson of a village healer. After his grandfather dies, he saves an orphan girl and takes her in, but when she dies while giving birth to their stillborn son, he begins a series of travels and adventures as a form of penance, becoming increasingly saintly in the Russian holy fool tradition. The story follows many of the conventions of mediaeval myths, so we are expected to take all sorts of miracles at face value, and also says a lot about Russian orthodoxy and what it demands of its saints. Things get stranger when his Italian travelling companion appears, since he has detailed visions of the future including many 20th century events, some of which shed light on the author's own motives, and allow him to discuss ideas with the knowledge of 20th century science. The story frequently lapses into archaic speech, for which the translator has cleverly found old English equivalents.

I am probably just scratching the surface of what could be said about this book, all I can say is read it for yourself. ( )
  bodachliath | Nov 15, 2016 |
I have been totally lost in Eugene Vodolazkin´s novel Laurus about the boy Arsenij, who becomes the holy fool Ustin, who becomes the monk Amvrosij, who becomes the eremit monk Laurus.
Arsenij was born in the village Rukina in Russia may 8 the year 6948 after the Creation or the year 1440 after the birth of our Lord Jesus Christ. He leads a tragic and strange life but a life so full of love - to God, to Jesus Christ of course and also to all those who comes in his way. He helps, heals and share what he have. You can´t imagine the sufferings he endures, but the novel is not sorrowful but uplifting and full of faith, hope and love, without being sentimental or silly. It´s full of strange things and miracles and perhaps you could categorize it as magical realism, but it´s really about life! ( )
  Amsa1959 | Jan 6, 2016 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Eugene Vodolazkinprimary authorall editionscalculated
Hayden, Lisa C.Translatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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It is the late fifteenth century in rural Russia, a time of plague and pestilence. A young orphan lives by the forest with his elderly grandfather, the local healer. From him he learns the secrets of herbs and remedies, and soon follows in the old man's footsteps. But this knowledge proves powerless to save his beloved, who dies in childbirth. Overcome with guilt and seeking redemption, he embarks on a journey through plague-ridden Europe, offering his healing powers wherever he goes. But this is no ordinary journey: it is one that spans ages and countries, and brings him face-to-face with a host of unforgettable characters and legendary creatures from the strangest medieval bestiaries. Now old, and having addressed his wrongs, he returns to his home village to live out his days as a hermit – not realizing that it is here that he will face his most difficult trial yet.

Winner of two of the biggest literary prizes in Russia, Laurus is a remarkably rich novel about the eternal themes of love, loss, self-sacrifice and faith, from one of the country's most exciting and critically acclaimed novelists. [Amazon.co.uk]
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