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Full English translation available

Brisbane, an intense psychological drama from the award-winning author of Laurus, is a captivating narrative about the life of a musical prodigy who is also a troubled man in search of inner peace when he faces an incurable disease. In Vodolazkin’s universe, this moving personal story resonates with galvanic force, as music and word merge, grasping for eternity.


At 50, Gleb Yanovski, an internationally celebrated guitar virtuoso, is diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. Gleb accepts an offer from a Russian writer, Sergei Nesterov (writing under the penname Nestor), to recount his life for a biographical book. They meet regularly for several years and Gleb recalls his life: childhood spent in Kiev, university studies in St Petersburg, and years in Munich, where Gleb lives with his German wife, Katharina. Munich becomes a platform for Yanovski’s rapid career development, first as a tutor of Russian and guitar at a theological collegium, later as a prodigy guitarist touring in major international venues.

Gleb’s life appears in these recollections as a continuous string of changing attitudes towards music and death, and the connection between the two grows tighter — clashing and balancing — over the years. And Gleb thus sees the case for his domra, the first instrument he learned to play, as a coffin that figuratively “poisoned his life”.

Witnessing a tragic accident with a drowned girl in the Dnepr River causes Gleb to abandon music school — for Gleb, death defies music, just like any other activity. Gleb’s life-changing discovery prompts his grandfather to bring him to church. It is then that Gleb learns to see music as a way to overcome time, as a path to eternity. This becomes the birth of Gleb’s extraordinary gift as a performer, something that will support him throughout his life, especially when his grandparents and the father pass away. This is likely why Parkinson’s disease shatters Gleb so severely: deprived of music as his guardian against death, the illness makes him especially vulnerable.

And then Gleb meets Vera, an exceptionally gifted thirteen-year-old musician, whom he — together with his wife — willingly embraces as a longed-for daughter. Vera, however, is dying of a rapidly developing kidney cancer, and their determination to fight the girl’s imminent death is not enough. In his phone conversation with the girl’s mentally ill mother, Gleb explains Vera’s absence by saying the girl departed for Brisbane, the dream city of Gleb’s mother, where she, too, once went.

Vodolazkin is loyal to his literary universe in his new novel: he dwells on time and eternity. In Brisbane, death is overcome not through music, since music gives up on the protagonist through illness, and not through love, since his new-found daughter, Vera, dies during an operation: death is defeated through memories. Ultimately, the only path to Brisbane, the world of Gleb’s dream, the world where time does not exist — is the word.

Using two narrative voices — Kyiv-born guitarist Gleb Yanovsky’s and his alcohol-sodden biographer Nestor’s — this novel counterposes past and present, self and other. It can be defined as an exercise in Dostoyevskian polyphony, and certainly few contemporary writers are as steeped in the Russian greats as Vodolazkin. But it’s also a sophisticated and frequently moving study in dissonance, dedicated to pointing out contrasts between art and life, beauty and decay, intention and outcome. And, yes, between Ukraine and Russia.

— Booklist

Vodolazkin, a Kyiv-born Russian who attended Ukrainian-language school before moving to St Petersburg as an adult, is steeped in ethnic and linguistic dualism. … Of Vodolazkin’s four novels, this is his most contemporary — and autobiographical… Brisbane is a richly polyphonic novel.

— TLS 

As the [war] has unfolded, Vodolazkin’s depiction of these two languages as part of one and the same person, as brothers and foes simultaneously, while not completely new for me, has introduced more nuance into my thinking. For an English reader less familiar with the relationship between Russia and Ukraine, the novel may well be a revelation.

— Marian Schwartz, LiteraryHub

Eugene Vodolazkin has emerged in the eyes of many as the most important living Russian writer. A literary scholar as well as a novelist — or, as he puts it, an ichthyologist as well as a fish —Vodolazkin draws heavily on the Russian classics in novels of ideas addressing what Russians call “the accursed questions,” including the meaning of life and, especially, the significance of death. For Vodolazkin, the key to all such mysteries is time. We must change our understanding of time, Vodolazkin believes, and that is what his novels try to accomplish.


With Brisbane, Eugene Vodolazkin, the artistic grandson of Dostoevsky, continues to develop his novelistic philosophy exploring how death contributes to life’s baffling meaningfulness.

— Englewood Review of Books

Book details

Elena Shubina Publishing (AST)

Novel, 2019

410 pp

Rights sold

  • World English Plough

  • French Syrtes (before publication)

  • Hungarian Helikon

  • Romanian Humanitas

  • Spanish Editorial Rubinos

  • Italian Brioschi Editore

  • Serbian Službeni glasnik

  • Armenian Vogi Nairi (now available)

  • Simplified Chinese Beijing Publishing

  • Macedonian Antolog

  • Arabic Al Mada

  • Albanian Fan Noli

Literary awards

  •  Longlisted for the International Dublin Literary Award 2023

  • The National Book of the Year 2019

  • Shortlisted for the Big Book Award 2019

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