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International bestseller

Nearly 250,000 copies sold in Russia

Andrei Rublev meets The Name of Rose in this profound tale, a spectacular literary achievement.

An expert in medieval history and lore, Eugene Vodolazkin writes on the eternal themes of love, loss, self-sacrifice, and faith with the resonating force and gripping energy of a masterly storyteller.

“If you write a fictional story, it must be a story that can make readers shed tears”, says Eugene Vodolazkin.

Laurus is a fable in the form of a biography. It tells of a late 15th century village healer who is powerless to help his beloved, watching her die in childbirth, die in sin — unwed and without having received communion. The protagonist, a desperate man, sets out on an exhausting journey in search of redemption. On this journey of privation and hardship in the service of the people, a journey that spans ages and countries, the hero undergoes a painful personal transformation.

The protagonist sheds his names at every step of this metamorphosis: in the beginning of the story he is Arseny, a gifted young healer in a small village. After the loss of his beloved, he takes her name and becomes Ustin, wandering through the land as a holy fool (called “yurodivy” in the tradition of the Orthodox Church), and displaying miraculous healing powers during the great plague. Laurus is the protagonist’s name when he, by now an old man and revered by the church and the people, returns to his home village to lead the life of a monastic hermit and face his most difficult trial yet.

The narrative mode recalls medieval fables and tales. Rich in detail, the story enumerates the countless wonders and healing miracles displayed by Ustin along his journey. The chronicler carefully fixes all the minutiae of the habits and deeds of the medieval doctor and the holy fool, assembling a gallery of profound portraits. Readers observe Ustin’s patients, his fellow travelers.

Orthodox monks and local governors, and learn about legendary creatures from the strangest medieval bestiaries. The most colorful characters shaping Ustin’s personality on his ascent through the hierarchy of Christian martyrdom follow him on an epic journey to Jerusalem. These include a Franciscan monk, a comic character recalling Chauser’s heroes, and a young scholar with a visionary gift, a clear homage to Umberto Eco’s Baudolino.

This tale, sprawling across time and place, unites carefully researched historical fact with the fantasy of a postmodern space. Vodolazkin baffles his readers with sudden shifts in the manner and pace of the discourse. The reader gets accustomed to the narrative mode of a medieval tale replete with archaic words and anachronisms, when characters exchange modern day vulgarities or switch to bureaucratic jargon. The protagonist kicks aside plastic bottles and litter as he walks through empty streets in villages devastated by the plague. Laurus’s friend and companion, a young scholar from Italy, watches human dramas from the 1960s or 80s in his colorful dreams.

Nevertheless, however meticulously depicted the panorama of the Middle Ages in Vodolazkin’s novel, the author’s message stands in clear contradistinction to that of a historical chronicle. For him, time is irrelevant, while the notion of man’s devotion and self-sacrifice for the sake of love is universal.

A quirky, ambitious book ... Eugene Vodolazkin succeeds gloriously.

— Janet Fitch, the author of The White Oleander, for LARB 

In Laurus, Vodolazkin aims directly at the heart of the Russian religious experience and perhaps even at that maddeningly elusive concept that is cherished to the point of cliché: the Russian soul.

— Ken Kalfus in The New Yorker 

Laurus is written with ease and flair. <…> This is a highly appealing story, filled with gentle humor, tranquility, and quiet love.

— Vyacheslav Kuritsyn, a writer

[The novel] Laurus insists that time can be otherwise, can get scrambled or disappear altogether, and is in fact of no importance; what is essential, however, is the space that generates certain human types. <...> Laurus is a novel that can uncork the soul’s most hermetic vessels.

— Lev Danilkin for Afisha

A timeless epic... pointed, touching, and at times humorous, unpredictably straying from the path and leading readers along a wild chase through time, language, and medieval Europe.

— Asymptote Journal

Laurus is without a doubt one of the most moving and mysterious books you will read in this or any other year.

— The American Conservative

In a sense, Laurus develops the literary trend [set by Mikhail Shishkin’s Letter Book]. This is a profound and passionate love tale, where love itself is taken beyond the limits of the narrative. <…> There’s a unique mixture of postmodern play and classical tradition; of dry, academic expertise and warm, intelligent irony — this makes Laurus a book you enjoy discussing and pondering, a book you want to carry around with you, opening it and re-reading it in chance places, a you want to present as a gift and recommend to your friends.

— Itogi Magazine

For Russian literature, the glorification — indeed sanctification — of the irrational is anything but new, but here it is delivered with great aplomb and narrative charm. Indeed, the most infectious element of Eugene Vodolazkin’s book may be its faith in language as a kind of charm... Many readers are likely to find the book enchanting, if not palliative.

— The Times Literary Supplement

Brilliant storytelling... a uniquely lavish, multilayered work.

— Booklist

Vodolazkin succeeds in walking a thin line, achieving a fine balance between the ancient and archaic, and the ultra-modern; between the ironic and the tragic.

— TimeOut

Love, faith, and a quest for atonement are the driving themes of an epic, prizewinning Russian novel that, while set in the medieval era, takes a contemporary look at the meaning of time... With flavors of Umberto Eco and The Canterbury Tales, this affecting, idiosyncratic novel... is an impressive achievement.

— Kirkus Review

Book details

Elena Shubina Publishing (AST)

Novel, 2012

352 pp

Rights sold

  • World English One World Publications

  • German Doerlemann

  • French Fayard

  • Italian Elliot/Lit Edizioni

  • Swedish Ersatz

  • Serbian Draslar Partner

  • Latvian Janis Roze

  • Estonian Kunst

  • Lithuanian Gimtasis Zodis

  • Macedonian Antolog

  • Romanian Humanitas

  • Polish Zysk i s-ka

  • Albanian Fan Noli

  • Finnish Into Kustannus

  • Slovenian Cankarjeva zalozba

  • Arabic Al Mada

  • Bulgarian Prozorets

  • Czech Dobrovsky

  • Malayalam Green Books

  • Japanese Sakuhinsha

  • Georgian Palitra

  • Turkish Alfa Kitap

  • Spanish/Latin America Poklonka

  • Croatian Naklada Ljevak

  • Hindi Prakashan Sansthan

  • Dutch Glagoslav

  • Slovakian Petrus

  • Simplified Chinese Orient Publishing

  • Bulgarian Panorama

  • Spanish Armaenia

  • Greek Potamos

  • Korean EunHaeng NaMu Publishing

  • Portuguese Pilgrim

  • Hungarian Helikon

  • Simplified Chinese CITIC Press

Literary awards

  • A New Statesman Book of the Year 2016 (USA)

  • The Gorky Prize, Sorrento 2016

  • Double winner of the Big Book Award 2013 (1st place) and the Readers’ Choice Award (3rd place)

  • Winner of Yasnaya Polyana Prize 2013

  • Shortlisted for the National Bestseller Prize 2013

  • Shortlisted for the Russian Booker Prize 2013

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