Summary and book reviews of Vita Nostra by Marina and Sergey Dyachenko

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

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Book Reviewed by:
Kim Kovacs

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About this Book

Book Summary

The definitive English language translation of the internationally bestselling Russian novel - a brilliant dark fantasy with "the potential to be a modern classic" (Lev Grossman), combining psychological suspense, enchantment, and terror that makes us consider human existence in a fresh and provocative way.

Our life is brief ...

While vacationing at the beach with her mother, Sasha Samokhina meets the mysterious Farit Kozhennikov under the most peculiar circumstances. The teenage girl is powerless to refuse when this strange and unusual man with an air of the sinister directs her to perform a task with potentially scandalous consequences. He rewards her effort with a strange golden coin.

As the days progress, Sasha carries out other acts for which she receives more coins from Kozhennikov. As summer ends, her domineering mentor directs her to move to a remote village and use her gold to enter the Institute of Special Technologies. Though she does not want to go to this unknown town or school, she also feels it's the only place she should be. Against her mother's wishes, Sasha leaves behind all that is familiar and begins her education.

As she quickly discovers, the institute's "special technologies" are unlike anything she has ever encountered. The books are impossible to read, the lessons obscure to the point of maddening, and the work refuses memorization. Using terror and coercion to keep the students in line, the school does not punish them for their transgressions and failures; instead, their families pay a terrible price. Yet despite her fear, Sasha undergoes changes that defy the dictates of matter and time; experiences which are nothing she has ever dreamed of... and suddenly all she could ever want.

A complex blend of adventure, magic, science, and philosophy that probes the mysteries of existence, filtered through a distinct Russian sensibility, this astonishing work of speculative fiction - brilliantly translated by Julia Meitov Hersey - is reminiscent of modern classics such as Lev Grossman's The Magicians, Max Barry's Lexicon, and Katherine Arden's The Bear and the Nightingale, but will transport them to a place far beyond those fantastical worlds.

Excerpt
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 ...

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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

Vita Nostra by Russian authors Sergey and Marina Dyachenko is one of those novels that defies description. One might call it speculative fiction or magical realism, but those categories don't really capture the character of the book. Words that come to mind are more along the lines of "surreal" and "fantastic" and "sinister."   (Reviewed by Kim Kovacs).

Full Review Members Only (579 words).

Media Reviews

Booklist
Readers willing to challenge themselves and slowly digest this deep book will enjoy it immensely.

Library Journal
Recommended for readers who appreciate the intensity of student bonding in extreme situations, such as in Donna Tartt's The Secret History or Lev Grossman's The Magicians, and the magical realism of Neil Gaiman, Jorge Luis Borges, and Haruki Murakami.

Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. Hersey's translation is plain and straightforward, a wise choice that enhances the deep strangeness of this trippy, vivid novel.

Kirkus Reviews
Starred Review. Although it fits squarely in the popular school-for-magicians genre, this dark, ambitious, and intellectually strenuous novel will feel like a fresh revelation to fantasy readers glutted with Western wish-fulfillment narratives.

Author Blurb Lev Grossman, New York Times bestselling author of The Magicians
Vita Nostra has become a powerful influence on my own writing. It's a book that has the potential to become a modern classic of its genre, and I couldn't be more excited to see it get the global audience in English it so richly deserves.

Author Blurb Charlie Holmberg, bestselling author of The Paper Magician
Vita Nostra is utterly fascinating. It's like a drug; the more you read, the more you have to read. A unique premise, mind-blowing magic system, and spellbinding conclusion makes this one of the best reads of the year.

Author Blurb Aliette de Bodard, award-winning author of The Tea Master and the Detective
Amazing book. Dark Harry Potter on steroids with a hefty dose of metaphysics.

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Beyond the Book

Gaudeamus Igitur (So Let Us Rejoice)

The title of the novel Vita Nostra by Marina and Sergey Dyachenko comes from a verse in the Latin song popularly known as Gaudeamus Igitur ("So Let Us Rejoice"). The work's lyrics urge their audience to enjoy all the pleasure they can because all will end too soon, and they also praise the student lifestyle. Although most often considered jocular and sung with an air of joyful abandon, the lyrics can also be deemed fairly dark, a warning about the shortness of life.

Most Westerners would recognize the upbeat melody of this paean to academic life; it's been used in countless graduation ceremonies for decades, if not centuries. The tune has appeared as background music in many movies (such as the scene toward the end of the Wizard of Oz ...

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