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To the Lake aka Vongozero


International bestseller

Netflix TV show

Full English and French translations available

In her debut post-apocalyptic thriller Yana Vagner refers simultaneously to Stephen King’s The Stand, Cormac McCarthy’s The Road and the popular TV show Man vs. the Wild — and yet the author concocts a strikingly visionary survival story in its own right.

Written at the time of the H1N1 flu epidemic and coming out as weekly entries in Vagner’s blog, Vongozero — a haunting and arresting tale of a young woman who attempts to survive with her family during the throes of a pandemic — had already won thousands of readers before its publication as a book, setting off a heated auction among major Russian publishers.

It has since become a bestselling novel, translated into multiple languages and adapted into a Netflix series.

What begins as a flu epidemic rapidly transmutes into a national catastrophe; but in the first days there’s little panic.

Anya, the story’s narrator, 36-years old, was married three years before the events and now resides with her husband Sergei and her teenage son Misha in their country house outside of Moscow. They remain oblivious to the scope of the danger until the authorities send out troops to close down the major cities for entry, dooming their inhabitants to a swift yet painful death. Panic triggers violence, looting and devastation. Anya and Sergei have both left family members behind in Moscow, and while Sergei succeeds in rescuing his ex-wife with their 3-year old son, Anya’s mother gets infected and dies in the city under siege. Anya’s father arrives just prior to the appearance of the first looters in the settlement, a direct warning to the family.

They choose to flee to a shabby getaway house at the Vongozero lake near the Finnish border, where Sergei had stayed a few times on hunting trips. Born out of necessity, the expedition grows into eight adults and three children in four crossovers, loaded with belongings and fuel. Mortal danger draws together this weird and ill-assorted group of fellow travelers, speeding to the north of the rapidly deteriorating country.

Scheduled as a 48-hour journey, the road trip turns into twelve days of nightmare, dreary anticipation of grief, worry, and struggle. As this highway trip escalates into a test of ultimate survival, the fellow travelers have to find the strength and resources not only to fight against the looming external dangers, but to face the deepest corners of themselves. There are no guarantees, no rules, and no truths outside those that help them to survive.

The road challenges the limits of human nature, measuring compassion against the thirst for living, the strength of family ties against jealousy and exasperation — and forces each traveler to pay the utmost cost for survival. The sweeping avalanche of a road story stops short at the destination point: a tiny shelter on the shore of the ice-covered Vongozero lake in the freezing taiga forest.

The protagonists now have time to weep for those who failed to reach the final point and to attempt to build out of the ruins and rubble a new routine, a new code, a new life, and possibly new selves.

As horrifying as one’s worst nightmares, the novel reads as a very plausible scenario. Yana Vagner demonstrates outstanding writing skills and deep psychological insight as she sets out the simplest and at the same time the most complicated question before her characters and readers: what does it take to remain human in the face of mortal danger?

Book details

Eksmo, 2011

Elena Shubina Publishing (AST)

Novel, 2020

448 pp

Rights sold

  • English UK Skyscraper/original publisher

  • English UK Swift Press/new publisher

  • English US Deep Vellum

  • French Mirobole Editions

  • French paperback Poche

  • Swedish Ersatz

  • Slovakian Ikar/now available

  • Slovenian Mladinska knjiga

  • Czech Euromedia/now available

  • Polish Zysk

  • Lithuanian Alma Littera

  • Latvian Zvaigzne

  • Estonian Varrak

  • Mongolian Nepko

  • Arabic AS Publishers/now available

  • Serbian Publik Praktikum

  • Greek Livanis Publishing

  • Ukrainian Family Leisure Book Club

  • Hungarian Helikon

  • Bulgarian Labyrinth

Film Rights:

  • Art Pictures, Russia

  • TV show acquired by Netflix Originals in September 2020

  • TV series premiered April 2019

  • Fresh TV Fiction selection of 2020 MIPCOM

Literary awards

  • Longlisted for The New Literature Prize 2012

  • Nominated for The National Bestseller Prize 2012

  • Shortlisted for Prix Russophonie 2015

  • Shortlisted for Prix Bob Morane 2015

  • Finalist of the Grand Prix des lectrices Elle 2015

  • Financial Times Book of the Year 2021

  • Herald Book of the Year 2021

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