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The Aviator


Film rights sold

Full English translation available

From the award-winning and internationally bestselling author of Laurus comes this poignant story of memory, guilt, and an all-enduring love that survives time, chaos, and even death.

When the protagonist of the novel wakes up in a hospital, he is suffering from complete memory

loss — he cannot remember his name or age, identify his occupation, where he is, or what brought him here.

The only information that the doctor shares with his patient before urging him to write down every detail or image that comes into his mind is the young man’s name: Innokenty Platonov. He begins to register his memories as they appear, along with his current circumstances and experiences, with the diligence and vigor of an awakening consciousness. Platonov’s diary is a true page-turner, fascinating readers with chaotic, kaleidoscopic images, faces, phrases, and events, weaving the life story of a young man in Russia in the early 20th century.

The story that emerges is at the same time tender and sad, sensual and funny — and, above all, tragic.

Childhood recollections surface first: happy summer holidays at a dacha on the outskirts of St Petersburg, playing “aviators” with his cousin Seva, the warm yellow glow of the porch of the country house, a late-summer watermelon brought by his father, greeting his father on the platform each Friday evening during the holiday season as the train arrives from the city — and the day in 1917 when his father does not get off the train, because he was brutally murdered by a mob of drunken sailors at the train station. At the age of 21, Platonov moves with his mother to a communal flat in the city center, where he meets their new neighbors (former owners of the whole apartment), professor Sergei Voronin, and his daughter Anastassia, 15, who will become Innokenty’s love. Another neighbor is Nikolay Zaretsky, a worker in a sausage factory, whose denunciation of professor Voronin leads to Anastassia’s father’s arrest and quick execution. Zaretsky is soon discovered dead, and Innokenty Platonov is charged with this murder, as well as plotting against the state, and sentenced to a term in the Solovki prison camp.

But how can Innokenty remember his life in the early 20th century if the pills he takes in the hospital are dated 1999? Will Platonov succeed in adapting to a new reality and find a home in the strange world of the end of the 20th century? But the overriding question is: what force has brought him to life and tries to kill him again in 1999, after the miraculous resurrection from his death in the Solovki camp?

With a meticulous grasp of the details of everyday life and a brilliant ability to convey a whole spectrum of colors, scents and sounds, the narrator draws a vivid, panoramic picture of life in Russia at the beginning of the 20th century. The tragedy that besets the nation, and the social turmoil ripping apart the very fabric of the country, take on “flesh and blood” through the depiction of the personal history of a few residents of a single St. Petersburg communal apartment.

Vodolazkin demonstrates masterly control of the novel’s narrative structure. The brilliant storytelling, elegance of style, and the pervasive tenderness and sadness are reminiscent of Russian literature of the 1920s, recalling in particular Mikhail Bulgakov’s The White Guard.


Vodolazkin’s grip on this narrative is iron-tight... We should expect nothing less from an author whose previous novel, Laurus, was a barnstorming thriller about medieval virtue.

— Guardian

A fascinating, science fiction-tinged chronicle of a century in Russia.

— BBC Culture

An unabashed, panoramic view of the landscape of human consciousness... Draped in thoroughly Russian trappings, The Aviator speaks to common experience while soaring into realms that enfold the human drama below.

— Foreword Reviews (starred review)

Engaging... Those familiar with twentieth-century Russian history will delight in the swirl of memories that emerge over the course of the narrative.

— World Literature Today

Crisply focused, rich in sensory detail... The arc of the narrative is as simple and clever as a philosopher’s parable. But this is also a deeply emotional book... a quietly radical novel, animated by the spirit of Dmitry Likhachev, an academic who knew what it was to suffer the blows of history first-hand.

— Words Without Borders

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 Reviews

Evocative and enigmatic... despite this book’s gentle love story or its murder mystery or its sci-fi flourishes, it is, in many ways, a quintessentially Russian novel, as vivid and probing as they come.

— Booklist (starred review)

Book details

Elena Shubina Publishing (AST)

Novel, 2016

416 pp

Rights sold

  • World English Oneworld Publications  

  • French Syrtes   

  • German Aufbau  

  • Italian Brioschi Editore  

  • Korean EunHaeng NaMu Publishing   

  • Lithuanian Tyto Alba  

  • Macedonian Antolog  

  • Persian Nulifar  

  • Romanian Humanitas  

  • Vietnamese Nha Nam Publishing

  • Bulgarian List  

  • Chinese Ginkgo  

Previously sold (now available):

  • Albanian Fan Noli  

  • Azerbaijani Hadaf   

  • Czech Omega/Dobrovsky  

  • Finnish Into Kustannus  

  • Latvian Janis Rose  

  • Spainis Rubinos/El Corte Ingles  

  • Turkish Zenon Publishing Group  

  • Arabic Almada Group   

  • Croatian Naklada LJEVAK  

  • Estonian Postimees Kirjastus  

  • Indian/Malayalam Green Books  

  • Serbian Službeni glasnik  

Film rights sold

Literary awards

  • Shortlisted for the Russian Booker Prize 2016

  • The Big Book Award 2016 (second prize)

  • Shortlisted for the New Literature Award 2016

  • Shortlisted for the ABS Strugatsky Prize 2016

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