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Excerpt from Vita Nostra by Marina and Sergey Dyachenko, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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Vita Nostra by Marina and Sergey Dyachenko X
Vita Nostra by Marina and Sergey Dyachenko
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  • First Published:
    Nov 2018, 416 pages
    Sep 2019, 416 pages


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Book Reviewed by:
Kim Kovacs
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Vita Nostra

The prices—oh, the prices were simply ludicrous! In the end, Mom rented a tiny room in a five-story building twenty minutes from the shore, with windows facing west. The other room in the one-bedroom apartment was occupied by a young couple, with whom they would have to share the kitchen, bathroom, and toilet. "Those two are on the beach the whole day," reasoned the landlady. "They are young ... They don't need much. The sea is right there, you can almost see it out of your window. Pure paradise."

The landlady departed, leaving behind two keys: one for the main entrance and one for the door to their room. Sasha dug her faded, last year's swimsuit from the bottom of the suitcase and changed quickly in the bathroom, where someone else's underwear was drying on the space heater. She felt joyful and giddy: just a few more minutes, and hello sea, here we come. Waves, salt on her lips, deep khaki-colored water—all that was forgotten during the long winter. Transparent water changing the color of her skin to yellow-white. Swimming toward the horizon, feeling the sea glide over her stomach and back, then diving deep down, staring at the rocks on the bottom, seaweed and tiny speckled fish ...

"Should we eat first?" Mom asked.

She was exhausted by the long trip in the stuffy economy class seats, the apartment search, negotiations with potential landlords— none of it was easy.

"But, Mom ... we came to spend time at the beach."

Mom lay down on a couch, a pack of fresh linen under her head substituting for a pillow.

"Want me to run down and get some doughnuts?" Sasha aimed to be a dutiful daughter.

"We're not going to live on doughnuts here. We have a decent kitchen."

"Can't I at least take one little dip?"

"Fine." Mom closed her eyes. "Get some eggs and yogurt on the way back. Oh, and bread, and some butter."

Not hesitating—lest her mother change her mind—Sasha threw a sundress over the swimsuit, slid her feet into a pair of sandals, grabbed a beach bag and one of the towels provided by the landlady, and ran outside, into the sunshine.

She had no proper names for the blossoming trees that grew in the yard, but decided to call them "peacock trees." Behind the unevenly trimmed bushes began the street that led to the shore. Sasha decided it was going to be called just that—the Street That Leads to the Sea. The street sign bore the real name, but it was plain and insignificant. It happened so often—beautiful things had stupid names, and the other way around.

Swinging her bag, she walked—no, ran—down the street. People moved in a thick throng, some carrying inflatable mattresses and large sun umbrellas, others burdened only with a beach bag. Children, as expected, were covered by melting ice cream, and their mothers scolded them, wiping faces and shirts with their crumpled handkerchiefs. The sun had toppled over the zenith and now hung above the distant mountains, choosing a place to land. A languid smile on her lips, Sasha walked toward the sea, hot asphalt burning through the soles of her sandals.

They'd made it.

They'd made it despite the lack of money, despite Mom's problems at work. They'd made it to the seaside, and in only fifteen, no, ten minutes, Sasha would dive into the water.

The street twisted. The sidewalk was almost entirely blocked by advertisements for tourist attractions—the Swallow's Nest, Massandra, Nikitsky Botanical Garden, Alupka Palace ... The din of video games filled the air. A mechanical voice coming from a metal contraption in front of the arcade offered palm reading. Sasha ignored it all and instead stood on tiptoes ...and finally saw the sea.

Restraining herself from breaking into a gallop, she ran down a steep hill toward the high tide, toward the happy squeals of children and the music of beachside cafés. So close.

Excerpted from Vita Nostra by Sergey Dyachenko and Marina Dyachenko. Copyright © 2018 by Sergey Dyachenko and Marina Dyachenko. Excerpted by permission of Harper Voyager. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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