21st Century Literature discussion

Laurus
This topic is about Laurus
66 views
2018 Book Discussions > Laurus - Prolegomenon – The Book of Renunciation (spoilers allowed) (Jun 2018)

Comments Showing 1-40 of 40 (40 new)    post a comment »
dateDown arrow    newest »

message 1: by Carol (new)

Carol (carolfromnc) | 452 comments This topic is for open discussion of the first half of the book: the Prolegomenon, The Book of Cognition and The Book of Renunciation. Spoilers to events in this part are allowed, but please do not talk about the second half here. Note that the second half begins with The Book of Journeys.


Bretnie | 702 comments A few initial thoughts.

1 - The medieval language slowed me down not because it was difficult but because I kept thinking about this book written in 2016 about 15th Century Russia, translated into English. Unfortunately I don't have anything deep to say about this, just that it took me a while to reconcile in my brain that I found it both annoying and impressive and fascinating.

2 - After Ustina's death I really wasn't sure I was going to like the book. I could imagine that the rest of the story might be about Arseny's attempts at redemption, but his treatment of Ustina was immensely frustrating and the post-death scenes were intense and I wasn't sure I'd be able to forgive him for that. (I did, and I liked the rest of the book a lot more once I got into it)

3 - I want to read the book again with a map so I can trace all of the places Arseny. Have any of you traveled to any of the places he visited or lived? I love books that have a strong sense of place, and I think I struggled with some of it because I just don't have a good picture of the places he traveled.

More thoughts later!


message 3: by Lyn (new) - rated it 3 stars

Lyn | 42 comments It took me awhile to become engaged (almost to Book of Renunciation), and I almost quit, but I'm engaged now.

I know, Bretnie, a lot of the first places he travels to are not on the map in the front of the book (I love maps), but I finally got to where he's in B...., which is on the map.


message 4: by Carol (new)

Carol (carolfromnc) | 452 comments Bretnie wrote: "A few initial thoughts.

1 - The medieval language slowed me down not because it was difficult but because I kept thinking about this book written in 2016 about 15th Century Russia, translated into..."


Bretnie,

1. I had the same positive reaction to the intermingling of spellings reminiscent of medieval spellings and terms like, "pal". It worked for me in every instance and I'm not at all certain why it did.

2. Ustina. I was appalled at his denying her Communion. Both of them had seen plenty of death and were well aware of the risk of dying in childbirth. His not contacting a midwife was only a small step behind in terms of foolishness.

On a different topic, I quite enjoyed the early chapters and how they explained to us the mindset of the time regarding the work of a healer and his prescribed herbs and other consumables: saying words over the ill and dispensing herbs, but believing that God worked through the words and the herbs, e.g., they didn't necessarily have any healing power independent of God's power.

On pages 10 - 11, Christofer's vision of the log house through the ages - even up through 1947 reminded me of the relationship these communities have to the land and the village. Similarly, there is a passage later where Vodolazkin tells us that the headstones in the cemetery bear no names because they don't need to. Those remaining know who is buried where. Once they die, it doesn't matter.

Those early (pre-Ustina) chapters were enchanting to read.


message 5: by Nadine in California (last edited Jun 03, 2018 10:09PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Nadine in California (nadinekc) | 477 comments Carol wrote: "Bretnie,

1. I had the same positive reaction to the intermingling of spellings reminiscent of medieval spellings and terms like, "pal". It worked for me in every instance and I'm not at all certain why it did..."


I also like the intermingling of medieval spellings/speech (used relatively little as the book goes on) and modern english, which occasionally morphs into comic teen speech. For example, in the Book of Renunciation, when the holy fool Karp is asking some townspeople to travel with him to Jersusalem, they reply "Jerusalem, that is like, you know, really far." In another example, Foma the holy fool says to the Mayor "Take it easy; jeez". I'd love to hear the translator talk about these decisions.

Although this book can be gruelling, there are slapstick moments that remind me of the Three Stooges or Monty Python. Especially the scenes between the Foma and Karp. Delicious!


Nadine in California (nadinekc) | 477 comments Carol wrote: "2. Ustina. I was appalled at his denying her Communion. Both of them had seen plenty of death and were well aware of the risk of dying in childbirth. His not contacting a midwife was only a small step behind in terms of foolishness.,..."

I forgot about that - but now it makes sense, that Arseny would have had to do something that appalling to make his guilt so overwhelming that it turned him into a wandering penitent. I think it was his selfish desire to keep her all to himself and not let the other villagers see her that led him to deny her Communion and a midwife.


Jessica Izaguirre (sweetji) | 122 comments Carol wrote: "2. Ustina. I was appalled at his denying her Communion. Both of them had seen plenty of death and were well aware of the risk of dying in childbirth. His not contacting a midwife was only a small step behind in terms of foolishness"

I was very upset at his decision for denying her Communion. Really the way he treated her the whole time keeping her captive pretty much was very upsetting to me. He thought he was protecting her but he was being selfish, which showed in the end with her passing.


Bretnie | 702 comments Nadine, that's a funny comparison - I like it! I had forgotten about the "jeez" and "like, you know" language.

I got a little distracted by all of the language changes and would also love to hear from the translator about making those decisions. Later when I read more explanations about time in the novel I appreciated what he was trying to do - to quote Lark from the background thread "the idea that all moments in time must exist simultaneously since God already knows all things."

Jessica, I was more upset by his desecration of their bodies, but I can see how from a religious standpoint both are pretty bad. Took me until the end of the novel to get past the beginning of the novel.


message 9: by Carol (new)

Carol (carolfromnc) | 452 comments I'm around page 161. Arseny is going from village to village, healing and teaching the townsfolk how to (more) safely take care of one another and maximize the survivor rate. To the residents of each town Arseny was in at the moment he was there, each day Arseny stayed on resulted in more of their neighbors and family surviving. This portion of Arseny's travels reminds me of the New Testament, in which -- during Jesus' traveling ministry throughout Gallilee --. each town sought to prolong his stay in their town so that he would heal more of their citizens rather than heading on to the next town. He was forever needing to exit quietly and asking the healed to keep quiet about their happy news, almost sneaking out of town, in order to ensure that he could visit and impact as many Gallilean towns as reasonably possible.

To the non-Russian reader, the towns Arseny visits in this portion of the novel are a dime a dozen. Nothing distinguishes them from one another to readers because we don't know this countryside and sick folks we don't know all blend into one after the fifth or sixth town. To themselves, they are unique and their troubles paramount.


Bretnie | 702 comments Carol wrote: "To the non-Russian reader, the towns Arseny visits in this portion of the novel are a dime a dozen. Nothing distinguishes them from one another to readers because we don't know this countryside and sick folks we don't know all blend into one after the fifth or sixth town. To themselves, they are unique and their troubles paramount."

I like this Carol!


message 11: by Vicky (new) - added it

Vicky | 16 comments I think I’m going to have to bake on this one. Is Tina has died and her baby has been chewed on by rats and villagers have broken into the house ... I quite like depressing books but this one is grinding at my will to read! Maybe I will put it aside and come back to it...


message 12: by Carol (new)

Carol (carolfromnc) | 452 comments Vicky wrote: "I think I’m going to have to bake on this one. Is Tina has died and her baby has been chewed on by rats and villagers have broken into the house ... I quite like depressing books but this one is gr..."

Vicky, understood. FYI, you’re about to move on to an entirely different part where he starts traveling and the emotional drain ends, e.g., you’re through the Ustina portion. So when you return, the reading experience should be much improved.


message 13: by Vicky (new) - added it

Vicky | 16 comments Ok, I’m going to shift onto a fairly quick looking book I’m reading with a twin as a mental mouth wash, then try coming back to it


Jessica Izaguirre (sweetji) | 122 comments Vicky wrote: "I think I’m going to have to bake on this one. Is Tina has died and her baby has been chewed on by rats and villagers have broken into the house ... I quite like depressing books but this one is gr..."

Like Carol is saying, you're through the rough part of the book. This just shapes Arseny's character for the rest of his life and now his journey starts. The book is not really depressing or dark after this point. I'm glad I pushed through and finished the book and found it very interesting and thought provoking.


Nadine in California (nadinekc) | 477 comments Vicky wrote: "I think I’m going to have to bake on this one. Is Tina has died and her baby has been chewed on by rats and villagers have broken into the house ... I quite like depressing books but this one is gr..."

I'll add my voice to the 'keep going' advice. Believe it or not, you'll smile or even laugh in parts.


message 16: by Lyn (new) - rated it 3 stars

Lyn | 42 comments I've finished the book at this point, but the Book of Renunciation had me asking myself, "Why am I spending my time reading this?" From my personal viewpoint, all the superstitions in the novel plus religious notions that involve taking this precious life and purposefully trying to make miserable suffering of it are just misguided and a sad waste of time - so it felt like I was perhaps wasting time by reading this.


message 17: by [deleted user] (new)

Nadine wrote: "Carol wrote: "Bretnie,

1. I had the same positive reaction to the intermingling of spellings reminiscent of medieval spellings and terms like, "pal". It worked for me in every instance and I'm no..."


I wonder if the translator was keeping close to the author's original text in this instance? The use of slang does show how the townsfolk were less educated than the others. This is 'American slang' from the American translator (stood out for me as I'm British and to me it sounds very "teenage American"). It would be interesting to see if it was close to the author's original Russian text. Anyone out there lucky enough to read this in Russian?


message 18: by [deleted user] (new)

Jessica wrote: "Carol wrote: "2. Ustina. I was appalled at his denying her Communion. Both of them had seen plenty of death and were well aware of the risk of dying in childbirth. His not contacting a midwife was ..."

I agree, this was an appalling section but necessary; Arseny would have learnt enough from Cristofer that he would have been very aware that his healing powers made him saintlike. He believed in his powers so confidently he thought he would never lose Ustina - of course he would have done things differently if he could have predicted the outcome because he loved her intently. He made a mistake for which he never forgave himself.

The psychology of keeping her hidden came from losing his parents and grandfather, which left him alone. Once he found her he was determined not to lose her - perhaps as a victim to the plague which might have become a risk if she'd mixed with the community. Again he paid for this mistake in the end - God reminded him that he was not all-powerful.


Kathleen | 292 comments I just finished this part, and find I'm enjoying the read very much. I agree with so many of these comments! The Ustina death was horrific, and like Bretnie, I was most upset by the description of their decaying bodies. Really awful stuff, and I was happy to move on.

I liked the holy fool parts, especially when combined with the slapstick (jeez) moments. They seemed to go together, as if the holy fools were on a different plane, in both their attitudes to appropriate behavior and to time.

The Renunciation section did seem to drag on though. As Carol said, I found the beginning chapters absolutely enchanting, and am hoping for more healing and less hair-shirting in the next section. :-)


message 20: by Marc (new) - rated it 4 stars

Marc (monkeelino) | 2874 comments Mod
Did anyone else start to think Holy Fool Karp was an actual dog? He says "Karp, Karp, Karp!" (like a barking dog), he steels food from the baker with his teeth and then runs off with it, etc. I have to double check my copy of the book, but I think the author even refers to his muzzle at some point. But otherwise, he's treated and referred to as a person. I was even wondering if he was supposed to be a cynocephalus (a word I learned while reading this book).


Jessica Izaguirre (sweetji) | 122 comments Catriona wrote: "Nadine wrote: "Carol wrote: "Bretnie,

1. I had the same positive reaction to the intermingling of spellings reminiscent of medieval spellings and terms like, "pal". It worked for me in every inst..."


Have you read the interview with Lisa Hayden, the translator, that Carol posted in the general discussion post? I am not sure how close the translation of this lines is to Russian but Lisa does mention that she worked closely with the author and they are actually friends now and she is translating another of his books. So I think at least the author must've approved of this translation.


Jessica Izaguirre (sweetji) | 122 comments Marc wrote: "Did anyone else start to think Holy Fool Karp was an actual dog? He says "Karp, Karp, Karp!" (like a barking dog), he steels food from the baker with his teeth and then runs off with it, etc. I hav..."

That's a really interesting point! I can definitely see Holy Fool Karp as a dog now that you mention it, although I didn't think much about it while reading. Specially the bread part, I didn't understand why he would only grab it using his teeth.


Kathleen | 292 comments Marc wrote: "Did anyone else start to think Holy Fool Karp was an actual dog? He says "Karp, Karp, Karp!" (like a barking dog), he steels food from the baker with his teeth and then runs off with it, etc. I hav..."

Well that is fascinating. Maybe! I wondered if the holy fools were related to time, with Foma seeing into the future (jeez, and screw that) and Karp seeing into the past, having more primal/animalistic knowledge?

Holy fools were supposed to be like prophets, right?


Nadine in California (nadinekc) | 477 comments Marc wrote: "Did anyone else start to think Holy Fool Karp was an actual dog? He says "Karp, Karp, Karp!" (like a barking dog), he steels food from the baker with his teeth and then runs off with it, etc. I hav..."

Marc, what a genius thought! So much of it fits, although I remember a point where Karp asks townspeople to travel to Jerusalem with him, but no one anwers. But then, that might have been because he's a dog......


Nadine in California (nadinekc) | 477 comments Jessica wrote: Have you read the interview with Lisa Hayden, the translator, that Carol posted in the general discussion post? I am not sure how close the translation of this lines is to Russian but Lisa does mention that she worked closely with the author and they are actually friends now and she is translating another of his books. So I think at least the author must've approved of this translation.

Yes, and this one from Ploughshares is good too....http://blog.pshares.org/index.php/the...


Kathleen | 292 comments Marc wrote: "Did anyone else start to think Holy Fool Karp was an actual dog? He says "Karp, Karp, Karp!" (like a barking dog), he steels food from the baker with his teeth and then runs off with it, etc. …I was even wondering if he was supposed to be a cynocephalus..."

Hmm. From pg 249, Brother Hugo says: "There are, I can report to you, many various creatures born into the world: some have dog heads …"

I haven't visited the last section discussion thread yet, perhaps there's more there about this idea?


Bretnie | 702 comments Kathleen wrote: "Marc wrote: "Did anyone else start to think Holy Fool Karp was an actual dog? He says "Karp, Karp, Karp!" (like a barking dog), he steels food from the baker with his teeth and then runs off with i..."

Man, I didn't pick up on any of this, but it's fascinating and I'm so glad you guys did!


message 28: by Marc (new) - rated it 4 stars

Marc (monkeelino) | 2874 comments Mod
Kathleen wrote: "I wondered if the holy fools were related to time, with Foma seeing into the future (jeez, and screw that) and Karp seeing into the past, having more primal/animalistic knowledge?..."

That would certainly be in keeping with the theme/approach as it relates to time in this novel, Kathleen. Didn't occur to me at all, but I was fascinated with the whole holy fools section/dynamic. It's like a mystical Three Stooges! :D

They do refer to Karp as a person, but he very well may have a dog head (thanks for tracking down Brother Hugo's comment)...


Beverly | 142 comments I am about 1/2 finished with Laurus.
I am glad that we are reading this book at this time of year (school is out for summer vacation in southern US) as this book reminds me of my past summer vacations while in high school when I feel in love with books that were historical fiction what so evoked a time and place that it just intrigued me and left me thinking about humanity and how people went about their world.

For me the translation feels so smooth and does not give me pause.
I did not mind the medieval language as it helped bring me back to the time period as a couple of times in the beginning the language felt a little too contemporay,

I was also heartbroken when Ustina and the baby dies - but it was definitely foreshadowed and when she said she wanted a midwife to attend the birth and Arseny does not want to do it, you knew it was not only to end well.

And yes it did cross my mind about Karp might be a dog because of his way of "speaking" and how others thought about him.
And I thought it went along with beliefs of the time and the reliance on "religion".

But at this point I will find the book to be delightful and and I am curious how/if Arseny feels he redeems himself and thus Ustina and their son before the end of the book.


message 30: by Sue (new) - rated it 4 stars

Sue Just finished the first half of the book.

I really didn't know what to make of the Holy Fools. I love the idea that Karp is a dog. That's got me really laughing!

I felt really disheartened by many of the things that have befallen Arseny. Orphaned - twice really if you count Christofer dying. The tragedy of Ustina and the baby.

And then just when it seemed that he might find love and family again, he flees, gets beaten up and robbed, and never really experiences life as a full person again.

It's a bit depressing, but I'm rooting for Arseny -where ever his winding path may go.


Kristina | 66 comments I was now able to read a major part of the book in the last days and I think first of all, I am going to write down my thoughts on how I felt towards the book and than read through this discussion and engage in it.

I must confess, it took me some time to get involved in the story. At first, the old language and its prosaic writing style did not appeal so much to me. I liked though the description of the life of the people. Then, the part with Ustina came, and at first, I liked it, but then I was kind of glad, when his journey moved on from the death of her and the baby. Because, without revealing more of the story, I like the second part just so much more.


message 32: by Carol (new)

Carol (carolfromnc) | 452 comments Kristina wrote: "I was now able to read a major part of the book in the last days and I think first of all, I am going to write down my thoughts on how I felt towards the book and than read through this discussion ..."

I’ll be really interested to see your additional comments, Kristina, including your strong preference for the second part. I think that’s the majority view but so few of us articulate the why.


message 33: by Carol (new)

Carol (carolfromnc) | 452 comments Sue wrote: "Just finished the first half of the book.

I really didn't know what to make of the Holy Fools. I love the idea that Karp is a dog. That's got me really laughing!

I felt really disheartened by man..."


I definitely want to do more reading on holy fools. The concept is intriguing to me, even though this section of this book worked less well for me.


message 34: by [deleted user] (new)

Apparently the Russian film The Island (2006) is about a modern-day Holy Fool. I’m planning on watching it myself soon (it’s on Amazon Prime at the mo).


Caroline (cedickie) | 384 comments Mod
I finally finished Renunciation yesterday - like many of you, I struggled a bit after finishing the first book. I've enjoyed the prose the whole way through but those last few scenes of book one were brutal and hard to digest. Like others have said, I found Arseny's actions to be selfish, controlling, and abusive.

The Book of Renunciation seems to be many kinds of story rolled up in one. There's a fairy-tale element, with the prince's sledge coming across the ice to take Arseny to a new place. Then there's the bizarre, yet entertaining exchange between the holy fools - Marc, I love the idea that Karp is actually a dog. Kathleen - I like your idea too, that Karp looks toward the past and Foma sees the future. I definitely get the Monty Python elements Nadine mentioned - especially when Stinge shows up!

In other ways, I'm reminded of Don Quixote because he's got a vision of what he must do to atone for Ustina and goes to ridiculous lengths to achieve it. Is it Kseniya (sp?) that tells him that sometimes we neglect the living in order to honor the dead (or something along those lines)? She's pointing out that he's trying so hard to make up for what's happened in the past that he's ignoring the world around him, including the possibility of happiness for himself.

I'm curious to read the rest and see what everyone's said in the next thread!


Nadine in California (nadinekc) | 477 comments Caroline wrote: "In other ways, I'm reminded of Don Quixote because he's got a vision of what he must do to atone for Ustina and goes to ridiculous lengths to achieve it...."

I didn't think of Don Quixote, but now that you mention it, it is so apt. This really is a book that keeps on giving - so perfect for a group discussion!


Caroline (cedickie) | 384 comments Mod
Nadine wrote: "Caroline wrote: "In other ways, I'm reminded of Don Quixote because he's got a vision of what he must do to atone for Ustina and goes to ridiculous lengths to achieve it...."

I didn't think of Don..."


Indeed - there is so much to pick apart here. If I ever have time, this would be a good book to go back and re-read, especially once I've had a chance to read more about the book and the author.


Bretnie | 702 comments I'm reading his most recent book now, The Aviator, and the themes of time being circular/existing all at once, pops up and I'm very much enjoying that connection between the two otherwise unconnected books.


carissa Marc wrote: "Did anyone else start to think Holy Fool Karp was an actual dog? He says "Karp, Karp, Karp!" (like a barking dog), he steels food from the baker with his teeth and then runs off with it, etc. I hav..."

hahaha....yes I thought he was dog-like too. I saw him with really bushy muttonchops while reading. He held his arms behind his back, so I think he was human, but the author intended us to wonder about those dog-headed beings.


Kristina | 66 comments I think, what bothered me the most about the part with Ustina, that it felt static and Arseni's obsession with her, but without really caring for her needs like having a midwife, did not help it. So, yes, the scene with her and the baby decaying read horrible, but it is a really important point for the plot, since it causes Arseni to leave and start his journey.

I also liked the part with the holy fools. Forma provides Arseni with a new purpose as being also a holy fool. I am still not quite sure, that Karp is a dog. Although, it is an interesting perspective on his behavious.


back to top