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The Italian Lessons


Full English translation available

Over 55,000 copies sold

Marina Stepnova, the national bestselling author of The Women of Lazarus, brilliantly weaves together a tragic love story and a Bildungsroman, resulting in a trenchant novel about a mad (and maddening) love, personal freedom, and the price one must pay for it.

We follow Ivan Ogaryov’s life, from his bleak love-starved childhood, through the army and a tragic deadly accident, to his career as a therapist with a large clientele at a Moscow private clinic. The status quo had always been repellent to Ogaryov, yet at 42 years of age he is living a superficial, formulaic, predictable life. He has his work in the clinic, joyless marriage and sex, Sunday visits to his wife’s parents, and Saturday shopping in a supermarket mall. One day is all it takes for this life to collapse into ruins – the day that Ogaryov meets Malya (24), a girl who is truly exceptional. Their mad love affair sweeps Ogaryov out of his dreary existence into a heady “Master and Margarita” world, where the only things that matter are verse, food, love and…Italy.


Ogaryov gives up his long-standing marriage, leaving his deeply loving wife crushed; he quits his job (a stab in the back of his friend, the clinic ’s owner). He frequently travels outside “the systematically alien, joyless“ country, relishing his new-found happiness. He is determined to protect their life together at any cost – but Malya chooses differently.


Told in a brisk manner, through shifting, masterfully paced sentences, the novel is rich in metaphor, and in both hidden and explicit quotes and allusions to Russia’s 20th century poetry and prose – from Vladimir Nabokov through Boris Pasternak to George Adamovich. In her third published novel, Marina Stepnova’s by now mature voice rings with exceptional strength and clarity.

It has struck a chord with a wide readership; the first printing of 7,000 copies was sold out two weeks after its release, reaching over 55,000 copies sold since publication. It also drew a lively response from the national critical establishment. Marina Stepnova in an interview for Vedomosti: “One always pays for freedom, and in Russia (and not only in the Soviet era) the price has always been exceptionally high. On the other hand, freedom is the only thing worth paying this price for. Ogaryov loses everything he has: his country, his job, the woman he loves and who loves him, his social status. But in return he achieves something heretofore unimaginable – at long last he can live the way he had always dreamed about but never dared attempt, because he was always dogged by that very social status, with its family expectations, responsibilities, debts . . . Ordinary life – alien and importunate.”

Marina Stepnova writes not simply well, but brilliantly: with ease, beauty, intellect, and authority. [She writes] generously, without constraint. Hers is an ample, weighted word, or rather a deposit of words, solid, juicy as apples, aromatic and definitive. Such a trove of words is a boon for any writer. Yet Italian Lessons offers more — this is a “novel with a key,” and with a key idea — and the idea is a sad one. The novel is so bitterly topical that it burns right through to the diaphragm.

— Vedomosti

Stepnova’s prose rightfully assumes special place in modern fiction. Her novels are lyrical experiences told in prose. Sad stories witnessing to simple yet very important things, such as that every person deserves to love and be loved in return. The Italian Lessons is the author’s new novel, and in it she remains true to herself and her chosen idiom. Aficionados of The Women of Lazarus will be happy to dive into the unconscious of her new characters, interpret their dreams, feel their pain. And, once again, to ascertain that Marina Stepnova’s work is an elaboration of the traditions of Russian classical writers down the centuries.


Book details

Elena Shubina Publishing (AST)

Novel, 2014

383 pp

Rights sold

  • World English World Editions (available)

  • Dutch De Geus

  • German btb (available)

  • French Les Escales

  • Hungarian Europa Publishers

  • Lithuanian Tyto Alba

  • Macedonian Antolog

  • Serbian Agora

  • Estonian Tänapäev

  • Latvian Janis Rose

  • Albanian Fan Noli

  • Slovakian Slovart

  • Malayalam (India) Green Books

  • Mongolian Nepko

  • Bulgarian Prozoretz

Literary awards

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