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A History of the Island


Over 80,000 copies sold in original edition since publication

Gulliver’s Travels meet History of the World in 10 1⁄2 Chapters in this witty and breathtaking parable about history and time from the prize-winning author of Laurus and a scholar of medieval literature, Eugene Vodolazkin.

This novel, named by many critics a coda to the internationally acclaimed Laurus, develops Vodolazkin’s approach to history and time. In his new novel the author chronicles the history of a fictional island, from the medieval to modern time.

Unlike in Laurus, Vodolazkin does not experiment with language but rather with an intonation — the novel is written as a medieval Christian chronicle.

The author in the novel does not concentrate on the Russian history nor does he exclude the Russian history from the European history: the island here is a fictional island, a small piece of land becoming a platform for events reminiscent of the Western European history through centuries. Chroniclers dutifully narrate about events they witness, that — like at all times in the history of the world — include national conflicts, quests for power involving betrayals, cunning schemes and complex riddles of blood relations; pandemics, bad harvests and an eventual months of starvation, invasions, revolutions, times of flourish, stagnation and decay. Objective and unbiased at most, medieval monks at times give way to their personal response to the events, in alternative chronicles, to be discovered centuries later in secret hide-outs. The complete array of these chronicles receives a commentary today, from a family couple and the island’s former rulers. Their Highnesses Prince Parthenay and Princess Ksenia have been invited to provide an expert opinion on a script of a feature historical drama, produced by a celebrated French film director. This elderly couple is truly extraordinary: born in the Medieval Times, having spent their long lives on the island, they turn 347 today — a life-span typical for Biblical heroes but not for common people. Living eyewitnesses of the island’s turbulent history, they offer clever, sharp-eyed but non-judging observations of the changing flow of time and of people, persistent in their delusions.

What has been keeping the royal couple alive for centuries? Is there a chance that an old prophecy comes true, and two righteous persons shall save the island at the face of an imminent catastrophe?

Vodolazkin is at his best speaking about world’s history, turbulent and often hard, even gleam,

times in a light-hearted, humorous way, resembling Julian Barnes’ attitude.

If I had to define in short what the novel is about, I would say it is about time. The readjustment of two speeds, two different scales, two different distances concotes an amazing optical effect of the novel. We see the world that Vodolazkin created as at once fluid and static, whole and fractional, changing and repetitive, and as you switch between the angles or rather employ both at the same time the reading becomes a totally breathtaking experience. This is an exceptional writer’s accomplishment, equal to that of Laurus. — Galina Yuzefovich, for
Compelling reading: brilliantly vivid and inventive, it combines magical-realist mischief with a compassionate, radically Christian perspective on the self-destroying idiocies of human history and political posturing. A masterpiece by one of Europe’s finest contemporary novelists. — Rowan Williams, former Archbishop of Canterbury
Vodolazkin is a contemporary writer only as by accident of time. ... He is more of a medieval than a modern, and many of the paradoxes that perplex us today are, in his hands, playthings. He juggles his symbols dexterously, weaving an airborne pattern that we thrill to follow, and then just when we begin to feel rather clever for seeing what he is doing, he slips in a line gently mocking us. —The European Conservative
Vodolazkin ironizes on the way this history is constantly being rewritten, according to each current political era. What we lack in writings on history today is the angle that was typical for medieval chronicles, i.e. seeing history as a battle between evil and good. Irish Sun

Book details

Elena Shubina Publishing (AST)

Novel, 2020

416 pp

Rights sold

  • World English Plough

  • Romanian Humanitas

  • Arabic Al Mada

  • Latvian Janis Roze

  • Macedonian Antolog

  • Hungarian Helikon

  • Serbian Sluzbeny Glasnik

  • Bulgarian Book Trend/List

  • French Syrtes

  • Armenian Vogi Nairi

  • Turkish Alfa Kitap

  • Estonian Postimehe Kirjastus

  • Albanian Fan Noli

  • Spanish Armaenia

Literary awards

  • Longlisted for the International Dublin Award 2024

  • Shortlisted for the Big Book Award 2021

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