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The Aviator by Evgenii Vodolazkin
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The Aviator (2016)

by Evgenii Vodolazkin

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6813267,892 (4.28)10
From award-winning author Eugene Vodolazkin comes this poignant story of memory, love and loss spanning twentieth-century Russia A man wakes up in a hospital bed, with no idea who he is or how he came to be there. The only information the doctor shares with him is his name: Innokenty Petrovich Platonov. As memories slowly resurface, Innokenty begins to build a vivid picture of his former life as a young man in Russia in the early twentieth century, living through the turbulence of the Russian Revolution and its aftermath. Soon, only one question remains: how can he remember the start of the twentieth century, when the pills by his bedside were made in 1999? Reminiscent of the great works of twentieth-century Russian literature, with nods to Dostoevsky'sCrime and Punishment and Bulgakov'sThe White Guard,The Aviator cements Vodolazkin's position as the rising star of Russia's literary scene.… (more)

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I loved Vodolzakin's [b:Laurus|24694092|Laurus|Evgenij Vodolazkin|https://images.gr-assets.com/books/1429675607s/24694092.jpg|24667251] so much that I read this book without first reading any reviews, or any info beyond the first paragraph of the publisher's blurb. Not typical for me, but I'm so glad I did - it let me experience all of Innokenty's discoveries along with him, in 'real time'. Although time is not a simple concept in this novel, and neither is memory, history, justice, and just generally how to live. Which makes this sound like a novel of ideas, which it is, but it also has strong plot and characters and is very readable. And it's left me with an urge to read [b:Robinson Crusoe|2932|Robinson Crusoe|Daniel Defoe|https://images.gr-assets.com/books/1403180114s/2932.jpg|604666] asap. Kudos to the translator too! ( )
1 vote badube | Mar 6, 2019 |
I got about 1/3 into this and bailed. It wasn't bad, but it was moving really slowly and I wasn't finding it very engaging.
  Gwendydd | Jan 27, 2019 |
The premise of this story is gradually revealed, so don’t read the following if you prefer not to know anything at all before reading this book.

A Russian man born in 1900 is cryogenically frozen as a part of experiments carried out on prisoners in the Solovki labor camp during the Stalin era, and is then miraculously revived in 1999. He gradually remembers episodes in his life, and in giving us these in fragments, we piece together his story. It’s an effective technique from Vodolazkin, which also allows us to survey the events of 20th century Russia, some of which are horrifying, as if from a distance, like an aviator over the earth. The book touches on mortality, memories, and changes in the world over time, and not always in the way you might think. Little things, like smells and sounds, are more important to him than the ‘big things’ commonly recorded by history. In a set of very touching and powerful scenes, he finds that the love of his life is still alive, but just barely, and goes to see her. It’s moving, to say the least.

The book was headed for an even higher rating from me, but lost some of its steam in part two, which I found wasn’t as effective, at least, until its ending, which is fantastic. The rest could have used tightening up, either in the use of multiple narrators, or some of the section which veer into either the banal, or into obscure aspects of the metaphysical.

Frankly, it’s also hard to believe the view the protagonist forms, that “the proportional level of evil is approximately identical in all epochs”, and that if it’s not present in authoritarian rule, then it presents itself through anarchy and crime. “Authoritarianism may be a lesser evil than anarchy,” he says at one point, and “there is “no such thing as undeserved punishment,” at another. Huh? You could argue that he almost takes a god-like, enlightened view of man in arriving at these views, but to not recognize that there are intervals – such as Stalin’s Terror – which are maxima in the ebb and flow of man’s inhumanity to man, even if it is never close to zero – seems ludicrous, especially for someone who lived through it. I was wondering if he was being a teeny bit deferential to the current Russian leader here, and if that was also why he chose the last year of Yeltsin’s term as the time of the revival, getting in a few barbs at Yeltsin in the process. Regardless, it just does not seem honest to someone who lived through that period – the denunciations, the loss of freedom, the murder and torture.

Still – a good book which I enjoyed reading, and will have to seek out more from this author.

Quotes:
On art, I took it as a metaphor for Russia, and perhaps mankind:
“Construction lines are the foundation of the work. You haven’t perfected composition of form, it’s too early to move on to the light-and-shadow model.”

On discourse in the modern world:
“After he left, I watched television, what they call, using English, a talk show. Everybody interrupts each other. Their intonations are scrappy and rather unrefined; it’s unbearably vulgar. Are these really my new contemporaries?”

On evil, I loved this one, which seems so appropriate to our own time:
“Because of my father, I thought about the nature of historical calamities – revolutions, wars, and the like. Their primary horror is not in the shooting. And not even in famine. It is that the basest of human fervors are liberated. What is in a person that was previously suppressed by laws comes into the open. Because for many people only external laws exist. And they have no internal laws.”

On independence:
“It seems to me that accomplished people have a defining trait: they depend little on those around them. Independence, of course, is not the goal but it helps achieve the goal. There you are running through life with the weak hope of taking off and people are looking at you with pity, or, at best, with incomprehension. But you take off and from up high they all seem like dots. That’s not because they have instantly diminished but because the view from above (lectures on the basics of drawing) makes them into dots, into a hundred dot-faces oriented towards you. With open mouths, it would appear. And you’re flying in the direction you chose and tracing, in the ether, the figures that are dear to you. Those standing below delight in them (perhaps envying them a little bit) but lack the power to change anything because everything in those spheres depends solely on the flyer’s skill. On an aviator splendid in his solitude.”

On memory:
“It would be boring if recollections reflected life like a mirror. They only do that selectively, which brings them closer to art.”

On old newsreels, and their relation to history:
“It’s simply that, in some strange way, the black-and-white figures darting around the screen stopped corresponding to reality: they are only its faded signs. Just as petroglyphic drawings in caves – animals and little figures of people – are hilarious and remind one of real people and animals but say nothing about life back then. You look at them but the only thing that is clear is that bison were four-legged and people two-legged, essentially the same as now.”

On Russia:
“Anything is possible in Russia, uh-huh. There is condemnation in that, perhaps even a verdict. It feels as if it is some sort of disagreeable boundlessness, that everything will head in an all-too-obvious direction.” ( )
1 vote gbill | Sep 7, 2018 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
I almost gave up on this book, finding it a bit tough to read, but managed to stay with it. So glad I did! After a major revelation, the story picks up the pace and I started to bond with the characters. Interesting look at life in Russia, blending historical references with a futuristic twist. Thank you to Librarything for the free copy of this book. ( )
  MBinSC | Sep 5, 2018 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
A man lies in a hospital bed. He's being cared for by a doctor and nurse, who have asked him to write down his memories as he regains them. Slowly, his life returns to him, but how is it that his memories are of events a century ago?

The Aviator by Eugene Vodolazkin tells the story of Innokenty Platonov, who spent his childhood in a comfortable Petersburg apartment and a summer dacha, until the Revolution took the life of his father and moved him, along with his mother, from their home into a room in the apartment of a professor and his daughter. As Innokenty's memories return, he also realizes that he is no longer in his time and the doctor explains that he was part of an early Soviet experiment in freezing living men and then thawing them. He survived frozen for eighty years. His recovery isn't just physical, but in learning how to live in a time not his own.

The Aviator is an odd mix of things; there's the look at the effects of being out of one's own time and the dislocation that results, there's the vivid descriptions of life in Russia before and during its most turbulent years, and finally there's the character study of Innokenty himself.

It took me a while to get into the rhythms of this book, but once I had, I enjoyed it very much. ( )
  RidgewayGirl | Jun 11, 2018 |
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A man wakes up in a hospital bed, with no idea of who he is or how he came to be there. The only information the doctor shares with his patient before urging him to write down every thought and feeling that comes to mind is the young man’s name: Innokenty Petrovich Platonov.

As Innokenty starts to write, out pours a kaleidoscope of images, faces and events, weaving the story of a young man in Russia in the early twentieth century, through the turbulence of the Russian Revolution and its aftermath. As Innokenty begins to build a vivid picture of his former life, only one question remains: how is he able to remember the start of the twentieth century, when the pills by his bedside were made in 1999? (Amazon.co.uk)
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