Lukasz's Reviews > Vita Nostra

Vita Nostra by Marina Dyachenko
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it was amazing
bookshelves: all-time-favorite
Read 2 times. Last read April 4, 2018 to April 9, 2018.

In the beginning was the Word

Science, or more specifically - the school of magic - is a trope that's used a lot in fantasy literature. Not surprising. If done well it’s a joy to read. Have Diachenko’s succeeded?

Short answer - yes.

Vita Nostra twists the trope in most unexpected ways. It’s strange, thoughtful and dark tale about metamorphosis (both physical and metaphysical) that contains coming of age elements.

Sasha is a regular, high-school student who spends her holidays at the seaside. She enjoys the sun, fresh morning breeze, chill and happy atmosphere. Things change when a strange man with dark glasses approaches her and asks her to get up at 4 AM, go to the beach and swim naked to the buoy and back. Every single day.

In the beginning, Sasha wants to ignore the lunatic, but it turns out that she just can’t. For many reasons. When she finally agrees and does her first 4 AM swim a bizarre thing happens – she vomits golden coins. She does it every day after her morning training. Things develop a bit from here, and soon she finds herself forced to enter the Institute of Special Technologies in Torpa. It’s an Institute in the middle of nowhere. Students aren’t told what’s the purpose of their studies. However, a failure in school isn’t an option. When it happens, a students’ loved ones pay the price.

The students' fate remains unknown to them, but it seems they’ll change in significant and unexpected ways. For example, some of them will grow wings. Temporarily. And if you think it’s bizarre, you know nothing about bizarre. Happily, Dyachenko’s will educate you in a mind-blowing way.

Students at the University are regular (at least in the beginning) teenagers anxious about growing up. They drink, smoke and have sex. They were selected for this school for reasons they don’t understand, forced to come to Torpa and pursue impossible and incomprehensible classes that will allow them to gain a degree they know nothing about.

As a reader, you’re not in a better situation than students. Lack of information or at least some hints about studies' goal may be frustrating. We learn fast that students play with the fabric of the reality but how is a question I asked myself multiple times. Is it magic? What are they becoming? On the other hand, it's also one of the reasons why this novel is so fascinating and immersive. It's told in a way that allowed me to enter the world smoothly and imagine and experience impossible things. Occasional flashes of humor surface from time to time, but it’s not a joyful tale. Characters have few choices, and their existence serves a higher purpose known only be their mysterious and severe teachers.

The storytelling is influenced by modernism, and magical realism works. The story happens in the modern era - telephones and cell phones exist in this place but aren't as readily available as in real life. Torpa is in the middle of nowhere, and its inhabitants are just sketched. They don't play any significant role in the story.

Dyachenko's focus on their characters' psychology and inner metamorphosis. They touch philosophical and metaphysical questions with finesse and skill that made me reread the ending five times.

Why is being human so vital to you? Isn't it because you don't know anything else?

This book crafts wholly new vision of the world and the laws that govern it. As the story progresses, Dyachenko's share some insights into the world metaphysics and if you've ever been fascinated with the language and power of the words, you'll be satisfied with some of the discoveries.

I could go on, but I won't. Instead, I'll tell you this - it's one of the best books I've ever read. It combines fascinating adventure with philosophical depth, impossible metamorphosis with profound psychological insights. It's strange. It's amazing. It's brilliant.

Side note: I read Polish translation of the book. It seems there used to be an English version, but it's no longer available. Good news is that Tor will release a professional translation of Vita Nostra in November 2018.
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Reading Progress

Finished Reading
April 4, 2018 – Started Reading
April 4, 2018 – Shelved
April 4, 2018 –
page 0
0.0% "I'll be reading Polish translation of the book."
April 6, 2018 –
14.0% "Hard to put down (I'm reading Polish translation; hard to sat what'll be the quality of English one)."
April 7, 2018 –
27.0% "Excellent."
April 8, 2018 –
52.0% "Absolutely stunning. School of magic, metaphysics, immersive way of telling. I thought no book will top Grey Sister in the nearest future, but I may be wrong. Band news for English readers who have no mastery of Russian or Polish language is that they'll have to wait till November to read this book. I hope that English translation will be as good as Polish one. The translator did stellar job."
April 9, 2018 –
71.0% "If you read and enjoyed Kafka's Metamorphosis, you should be intrigued by what's happening here."
April 9, 2018 –
91.0% "It's brilliant book. Simply brilliant."
April 9, 2018 – Finished Reading
April 10, 2018 – Shelved as: all-time-favorite

Comments Showing 1-3 of 3 (3 new)

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wanderer (Para) I read the English one before it went poof and it's one of my favourites, glad to see you liked it so much too! Incredible, underrated book. I really hope the rerelease leads to them translating more of their stuff...

The Nerd Book Review Man i want to read this now! Great review!

Mayim de Vries Never heard about this book before! Adding immediately!

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