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2018 Book Discussions > Laurus - The Book of Journeys - end of novel (spoilers allowed) (Jun 2018)

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message 1: by Carol (new)

Carol (carolfromnc) | 452 comments This topic is for open discussion of the second half and whole book. Spoilers are permitted in this thread about any topic. This section starts with The Book of Journeys.

Feel free to share links to your reviews here, as well. For those who have read Laurus previously, what did you most appreciate about it? Has your perspective on it remained the same over time, or has it changed as it has receded into your rearview mirror?


message 2: by LindaJ^ (new)

LindaJ^ (lindajs) | 2439 comments My review is at https://www.goodreads.com/review/show....

What did I most appreciate about it? This is a tough question. The richness of the book, I think. It was like a full-bodied, nuanced red wine with edgy tannins.


message 3: by Bretnie (new)

Bretnie | 702 comments This is the type of book that solidifies my practice of finishing most books. If I was the type of person to give up on books early, I might have put it down after Ustina's death. But his journey just kept making the story better and better and the ending kind of blew me away. The last lines might be some of my favorite of all time.

I have so many thoughts about the end - I'll have to come back with with them a little more organized in my brain!


message 4: by Carol (new)

Carol (carolfromnc) | 452 comments Bretnie wrote: "This is the type of book that solidifies my practice of finishing most books. If I was the type of person to give up on books early, I might have put it down after Ustina's death. But his journey j..."

Please do, Bretnie.


message 5: by Hugh (new)

Hugh (bodachliath) | 2833 comments Mod
My strongest memory of the book is the battle of the holy fools, which was very entertaining. I am not sure that the occasional lapses into the modern world worked, but it is undoubtedly very original.


message 6: by Bretnie (new)

Bretnie | 702 comments Ok, a few more thoughts about the ending.

1 - The whole theme of time not being linear but happening all at the same time came together better for me at the end and made me appreciate the book much more. I think the first 2/3 of the book I was struggling to find things that were relatable to me in 15th century Russia. But the overall goal of trying to live a worthwhile life was compelling. Trying to find answers in a world where you'll never really make sense of the tragedy that happens.

2 - I saw a few comparisons of this book to The Name of the Rose, which I loved, and at first didn't really see the connection. Both were a bit of work if I'm honest. But both came together well for me in the end.

3 - Why did Arseny die after he saved Anastasia? Was it him forgiving himself/atonement, or something more complex? Why weren't any of the other people he saved over his pilgrimage enough for atonement? Is the ending too easy and obvious? Or kind of perfect?

4 - I'm not religious, so for some of the book I felt very impatient with some of the Christian rigidity and blind faith and hypocrisies. I appreciate how Christianity in that time provided some rules and structure and hope for a time that was pretty damn bleak. The balance of his philosophical discussions with Ambrogio were really interesting. Free will, mysticism, prophecies, trying to find answers in such a weird world.

5 - I loved how fickle the Rukinets community became in the end. Did Arseny really lose his healing powers? If no one comes to him for healing, does it matter if he still had his healing powers? Our powers to help others depend on others trusting our ability to help. Why do the people turn on him when he is at a point of finally forgiving himself for Ustina? Do they just need a scapegoat? I love that last line "Of course, we, too, do not understand."


message 7: by Jessica (new)

Jessica Izaguirre (sweetji) | 122 comments Bretnie wrote: "Why did Arseny die after he saved Anastasia? Was it him forgiving himself/atonement, or something more complex?..."

I really liked how Arseny died after helping Anastasia deliver her baby. I felt it was kinda poetic and a nice resolution for his own atonement. I think maybe his pilgrimage still didn't feel enough for him to feel he had offer everything he could in his life for Ustina's life. But saving Anastasia did that.

Bretnie wrote: "I loved how fickle the Rukinets community became in the end. Did Arseny really lose his healing powers?..."

The Rukinets turning on him was sad in my opinion. He did so much for them and just having one cloud of doubt about his character made them not trust him. I think that as he said, he still had his powers but if they didn't trust him then they were meaningless. I am glad everything got sorted out in the end and his memory could be honored.


message 8: by Carol (new)

Carol (carolfromnc) | 452 comments On the topic of time, I encountered this statement online today and wanted to see what you all thought about it.

"The way time moves (or doesn’t) in Laurus is reminiscent of Slaughterhouse-Five, with Arseny 'unstuck' in time. Whereas Vonnegut’s clock-play evokes an underlying banality to life, what Vodolazkin achieves is more akin to prophecy—unfolding reality with a rising spiral of metaphysics."

Agree or disagree?


message 9: by Carol (new)

Carol (carolfromnc) | 452 comments Another fascinating essay asserts that Laurus has more in common with Hindu thought (Brahmin, in particular) than Christian thought.

https://www.firstthings.com/article/2...

While my knowledge of Hinduisim is insufficient to debate the author's theological points, I loved that he considered and challenged one of the assumptions likely held by 98% of Laurus' readers - the novel's underlying Christian nature and spirit.

A brief excerpt follows:

"... Certainly ­Arseny is a version of the yurodivy, or holy fool, but he is not precisely a fool for Christ. Indeed, Jesus Christ does not play a large role in Arseny’s consciousness. He is in constant conversation not with his God but with those dear to him who have died, and this seems to be related more to his temporal dislocation than to any faithful hope for the resurrection of the dead. His constant proximity to what certain Celtic spiritual traditions call the “thin places,” where the boundaries between this world and another are porous, doesn’t seem to be related to any particularly Christian ideas. When another such porous one, traveling with ­Arseny through Eastern Europe, comes upon the future site of Auschwitz and senses the evil yet to come troubling the ­medieval air, we shudder along with him; but such disruptions of ­conventional realistic narrative—and there are many of them in Laurus—seem, in this reader’s mind anyway, to owe little to any iden­tifiably Christian understanding of the supernatural. This is not a criticism of the novel but rather an attempt to describe how it works.

Likewise, the path that Arseny follows in his life does not track any distinctively Christian model of holiness, but it does, oddly enough, track very closely with a Hindu model, that of the four ashrama, or stages of life: Brahmacharya (student), Grihastha (householder), Vanaprastha (forest-dweller) and Sannyasa (hermit). These stages have provided the basic structure for other notable novels, including, most famously, Hermann Hesse’s Siddhartha and R. K. Narayan’s neglected masterpiece The Guide. Though Laurus is comprised of four parts, in each of which Arseny has a different name, and each of the parts is, I think, connected in some way with the traditional ashrama, Vodolazkin does not obviously follow the standard chronology. For instance, though the novel’s first part is called “The Book of Cognition,” which neatly identifies the “student stage,” its second part is called “The Book of Renunciation”—and renunciation should be the third stage. Yet perhaps the chronology holds after all, because the very brief period of Arseny’s life in which he is a family man, a “householder,” comes early on and is fully contained in the first “book.” (More could be said about these correspondences, but not without revealing too much.)

The structural oddity, we can now see, comes in the novel’s third section, “The Book of Journeys.” For what Vodolazkin seems to have interpolated into the standard model of the ashrama is the medieval Christian idea of the centrality of pilgrimage, its constant emphasis that Christians are wayfarers in this world, its insistence that our necessary condition is the status viatoris. ...."

Does the author have a valid point? I am still not finished but even before reading the linked essay, I was truck by one of the essayist's points - that Arseny's relationship is with God and Jesus isn't really pertinent to his search or belief.


message 10: by Bretnie (new)

Bretnie | 702 comments Jessica wrote: "The Rukinets turning on him was sad in my opinion. He did so much for them and just having one cloud of doubt about his character made them not trust him. I think that as he said, he still had his powers but if they didn't trust him then they were meaningless. I am glad everything got sorted out in the end and his memory could be honored."

I found it sad also, but loved that that's how the author wrote it. It made the ending more real to me and was an interesting reflection of humanity - the public is so quick to judge and to abandon those who help us.


message 11: by Bretnie (new)

Bretnie | 702 comments Carol wrote: "On the topic of time, I encountered this statement online today and wanted to see what you all thought about it.

"The way time moves (or doesn’t) in Laurus is reminiscent of Slaughterhouse-Five, w..."


I don't know if I have enough opinions to agree or disagree, but it's an interesting comparison!


message 12: by Carol (new)

Carol (carolfromnc) | 452 comments Bretnie wrote: "Carol wrote: "On the topic of time, I encountered this statement online today and wanted to see what you all thought about it.

"The way time moves (or doesn’t) in Laurus is reminiscent of Slaughte..."


I know. Right?


message 13: by Jessica (new)

Jessica Izaguirre (sweetji) | 122 comments Bretnie wrote: "Jessica wrote: "The Rukinets turning on him was sad in my opinion. He did so much for them and just having one cloud of doubt about his character made them not trust him. I think that as he said, h..."

That is true, it was well thought out of the author I think. It feels like how truly the masses would react to that kind of situation. It does make the ending better too. I liked the ending a lot.


message 14: by Jessica (new)

Jessica Izaguirre (sweetji) | 122 comments Carol wrote: "On the topic of time, I encountered this statement online today and wanted to see what you all thought about it.

"The way time moves (or doesn’t) in Laurus is reminiscent of Slaughterhouse-Five, w..."


Hmm this is very interesting. I even went back to read a little but of Slaughterhouse Five and the prologue of Laurus to comment here hehe.

I don't know if I agree with the comparison though. I didn't think of Vonnegut while reading Laurus. I think even though Arseny mentions time always happening and being always present, his timeline is pretty much linear and aside from Ambrogio's premonitions we know what happens to Arseny during his entire life. It is more of a spiritual concept than a scientific/mental phenomenon in my opinion.


message 15: by Lyn (new)

Lyn | 42 comments Bretnie wrote: "Jessica wrote: "The Rukinets turning on him was sad in my opinion. He did so much for them and just having one cloud of doubt about his character made them not trust him. I think that as he said, h..."

One thing that I felt was described well was how unreliable human beings can be (both in medieval times and now, and little about that has changed really), in ways good, bad, and everything in between. One never knows who will react with warmth and humanity and who with cruelty or disinterest, and the same person or persons can react completely differently at different times. We are a fickle species. I've learned that I need to hold tight to just that steady essence of life within me, and look at the rest of life's drama around me and inside of me with a little mellowness and detachment, as most of it is extremely changeable.

With Laurus as a whole, though, I must say that it is only personal persistence that made me finish the book. It won't go down as one of my great reads (or even a good read), and I would not recommend it as worth someone's time unless they are particularly interested in that time period of Russian history/folklore or something.


message 16: by [deleted user] (new)

Bretnie wrote: "Jessica wrote: "The Rukinets turning on him was sad in my opinion. He did so much for them and just having one cloud of doubt about his character made them not trust him. I think that as he said, h..."

Yes, and I think it might have been mentioned that he couldn't die while people still needed him. As well as giving atonement for Ustina, Anastasia was the last patient who needed him - the others were recovered or dead. It was heartwarming (...nearly needed a box of tissues). It was also nice that we followed him up to his 'non-burial' (after he died the author didn't just write, The End.).

On another note, who would agree with my theory that Ambrogio Fecchia would have made a more interesting main protagonist?


Nadine in California (nadinekc) | 477 comments Hugh wrote: "My strongest memory of the book is the battle of the holy fools, which was very entertaining. I am not sure that the occasional lapses into the modern world worked, but it is undoubtedly very origi..."

Me too. Reminded me of the Three Stooges. (Did they cross the pond?)


message 18: by Bretnie (new)

Bretnie | 702 comments Catriona wrote: "Yes, and I think it might have been mentioned that he couldn't die while people still needed him. As well as giving atonement for Ustina, Anastasia was the last patient who needed him - the others were recovered or dead. It was heartwarming (...nearly needed a box of tissues). It was also nice that we followed him up to his 'non-burial' (after he died the author didn't just write, The End.).."

I love this Catriona!


Nadine in California (nadinekc) | 477 comments Catriona wrote: "On another note, who would agree with my theory that Ambrogio Fecchia would have made a more interesting main protagonist? ."

Sign me up for that! I'm eager to read more Vodolazkin, but a little disappointed that his other books translated into english don't have medieval settings.


message 20: by Jessica (new)

Jessica Izaguirre (sweetji) | 122 comments Nadine wrote: "Catriona wrote: "On another note, who would agree with my theory that Ambrogio Fecchia would have made a more interesting main protagonist? ."

Sign me up for that! I'm eager to read more Vodolazki..."


I don't know if Ambrogio would've worked as the protagonist of this book, I did enjoy Arseny's life and all the transformations that he went through. That said... Ambrogio was my favorite character and I was very sad when he died, I couldn't believe it. I wish he had a longer story and we could see more of where those premonitions lead him to. Maybe we can have an alternate story with him?!


message 21: by Joy D (new)

Joy D | 27 comments I finished this book yesterday. Overall I thought it was a well-crafted book but it took quite a bit of concentration, especially for all the metaphysical concepts. I wouldn't call it "enjoyable" but I admire the author's (and translator's) skill.

Link to my review: https://www.goodreads.com/review/show...


message 22: by Caroline (new)

Caroline (cedickie) | 384 comments Mod
I just finished this and enjoyed it, though parts of it were a bit of a challenge - some of the super religious sections got to be a bit much after a while.

The Book of Journeys was by far my favorite section of the book and I especially loved Ambrogio. Though Arseny continues to cling to the memory of Ustina throughout the book, Ambrogio turns out to be his most important and valuable companion (at least in my opinion). I loved Brother Hugo and his donkey (to keep him humble!) too.

I appreciated some of the injections of modern times, though they made me question the idea that Arseny is not placed in any one time, or that time becomes cyclical for him. Towards the end, Arseny retells a vision Ambrogio had shared with him, of Francesca - a presumed relative of Ambrogio - who dreams of Ambrogio during her life in the early 20th century. Yes, Ambrogio was able to see the future (or believed he did), but the modern pieces made me think that all of our stories stem from people who came before.

At the end, I wondered whether Arseny finally died after Anastasia gave birth because the situation sort of brought him back to earth. One of my favorite scenes in the book is when Arseny is trying to speak with a woman with leprosy. Neither of them understands the other so they carry on a conversation that doesn't make much sense on either side. Arseny assumes he knows what her problem is - that she's pregnant and unmarried - and doesn't realize what's really the problem until the end of their interaction. I saw this as a slip on Arseny's part. He eventually recovers his other worldliness but not until after he reveals his own assumptions. With Ustina, Arseny denied her an outside existence and kept her to himself, in large part to protect his reputation. After she dies, he swears to redeem her by claiming to live his life as hers and to do all the good that he can on her behalf. However, it's only after his own reputation is tarnished by Anastasia's lie and the baby is born (and both Anastasia and the baby live) that things sort of become right and he can die. That's my initial take anyways!


message 23: by carissa (new)

carissa Carol wrote: "Another fascinating essay asserts that Laurus has more in common with Hindu thought (Brahmin, in particular) than Christian thought. "

He becomes a wandering sadhu, for sure. Isn't it Joe Campbell who wrote about how the hero always begins the journey with/for a reason that really has nothing to do with the outcome of the journey...each person is triggered by something that takes them outside of their solipsistic personal pursuits and onto the path of service.

For me, the time thing was more about how human life just keeps happening...and it only seems different/unique because of one's limited perception. The outer trappings may vary...through time...and in different places during your "own" time...but, things really are kind of the same/same, especially from an internal perspective.

I loved that few of the Italian's visions were of profound events...he was seeing mostly banalities...not to the person who's life he was seeing, but in the greater world. He was no Rasputin or Nostradamus ;) He was the real deal...!


message 24: by carissa (new)

carissa Carol wrote: "On the topic of time, I encountered this statement online today and wanted to see what you all thought about it.

"The way time moves (or doesn’t) in Laurus is reminiscent of Slaughterhouse-Five, w..."


I think he's beyond his attachment to "his" time and has realized the similarity of all times...


message 25: by carissa (new)

carissa Jessica wrote: "The Rukinets turning on him was sad in my opinion. He did so much for them and just having one cloud of doubt about his character made them not trust him. I think that as he said, he still had his powers but if they didn't trust him then they were meaningless. I am glad everything got sorted out in the end and his memory could be honored..."

well...the Rukinets were being spurred on by the actual impregnator...so, that made it understandable to me, but not in a good way.


Nadine in California (nadinekc) | 477 comments Jessica wrote: "...I don't know if Ambrogio would've worked as the protagonist of this book, I did enjoy Arseny's life and all the transformations that he went through. That said... Ambrogio was my favorite character and I was very sad when he died, I couldn't believe it. I wish he had a longer story and we could see more of where those premonitions lead him to. Maybe we can have an alternate story with him?!"

Yes! What I'd like is not an entire book devoted to him, but more like the David Mitchell universe, where some characters reappear in several novels, often in minor ways, that hint that these reappearances are part of a bigger story that hasn't been revealed yet. I don't think many authors can carry this off, but Vodolozkin feels to me like he could be one of them.


message 27: by Kristina (new)

Kristina | 66 comments Whew, I have now finally finished Laurus and I agree with some of you, it was not always an enjoyable read. Some parts were so easy and interesting to read like the parts with the holy fools his journey to Jerusalem (I loved Hugos donkey.. great sidecharacter), and other made it hard for me to follow through and I had to push myself through these passages. Especially all these on religion.

Sometimes, I could not differentiate between Arseni and Ambrogio and I am not sure, if that is because I started to loose concentration over the harder-to-read parts or if this was intentional by the author, since Arseni later receives the name of Ambrogius.

The last sentences are a great ending and apply so much on nowaday russian culture, as far as I know, with all its contradictions, believes and pride.

All in all, an interesting read, but not the greatest or most enjoyable. I am not sure, if I would reread it or recommend it. But it got me thinking, what some parts were about and the language had its unique style, so I ended up with four stars.


message 28: by Kristina (new)

Kristina | 66 comments Jessica wrote: "Nadine wrote: "Catriona wrote: "On another note, who would agree with my theory that Ambrogio Fecchia would have made a more interesting main protagonist? ."

Sign me up for that! I'm eager to read..."


I also would have loved to have read more about his visions. In the end, they were mentioned again more often, but I have the feeling, something is missing about them. Not an explanation, because that would not meet the style of the book, but something...


message 29: by Sue (new)

Sue I finished Laurus yesterday.

It reminded me of some of the philosophy books I read in college. Not in content, but in the way the author tells a long rambling story to share a larger point. Which seems to be that time is cyclical and cycles back on itself, but at the same time nothing is ever truly repeated.

I thought the writing was wonderful. I found the story itself really grim. Overall very glad I read this. I'm hoping during some future read, someone will comment "this or that reminds me of Laurus" and I'll have a point of reference.


message 30: by Kathleen (new)

Kathleen | 292 comments carissa wrote: "Carol wrote: "Another fascinating essay asserts that Laurus has more in common with Hindu thought (Brahmin, in particular) than Christian thought. "

He becomes a wandering sadhu, for sure. Isn't i..."


I hadn't thought of Joseph Campbell and the hero's journey--yes! It's interesting though that, if I remember right, in Campbell's version, in the end, the hero comes back with an elixir for the society. In Arseny's journey, he heals the society all through his journey, and in the end, finally is able to heal himself.


message 31: by Kathleen (new)

Kathleen | 292 comments Carol wrote: "Another fascinating essay asserts that Laurus has more in common with Hindu thought (Brahmin, in particular) than Christian thought.

https://www.firstthings.com/article/2...

W..."


Thanks for sharing the article, Carol. I just read your excerpt, but agree what you say about God and Jesus not being the focal point of his quest. It was in a framework of religious belief, but the drive and the outcome were both unique to this individual. It was really a personal journey--maybe it always is.


message 32: by Kathleen (new)

Kathleen | 292 comments I think this is a book I will like more after--thinking about the ideas--than while reading it. I'm so glad it was a group read and really appreciate this discussion!

I think what I most appreciated were the surprises--the unexpected humor throughout the story. My favorite character was probably Brother Hugo (that scene with his donkey really broke my heart).

About the end, I also liked that Arseny died after Anastasia's baby was born. It fit in with the time ideas, that it wasn't the same but it was the same. We can't go back and fix things, but his pain about Ustina was so great that he couldn't rest until something soothed it. I think it was more about his personal atonement than any atonement sufficient for God or his religious order.


Nadine in California (nadinekc) | 477 comments Kathleen wrote: "About the end, I also liked that Arseny died after Anastasia's baby was born. It fit in with the time ideas, .."

I really liked the ending too. In a bad, or 'meh' book, this neat ending would look so trite and obvious, but here it just feels right and beautiful to me. Good literature is magic :)


message 34: by Franky (new)

Franky | 119 comments I'm not quite finished (about 50 or so pages away), but I'm liking the 3rd section the most as opposed to the first two parts, which seemed to meander and be a bit too scattered and random. I didn't really care for the 2nd part of the book, as things seemed to be too all over the place.

I definitely am enjoy moments of part 3 however, especially with the Arseny's pilgrimage and the various obstacles/challenges (either physical or spiritual) that he faces.

I thought some of the parts of Arseny's guilt were a tad overdone in the sense that he should just move on, but I guess this is what lead to his inner and outer journey.


message 35: by Carol (new)

Carol (carolfromnc) | 452 comments Franky wrote: "I'm not quite finished (about 50 or so pages away), but I'm liking the 3rd section the most as opposed to the first two parts, which seemed to meander and be a bit too scattered and random. I didn'..."

I’m about where you are, Franky, and agree with all of your points.


message 36: by Carol (new)

Carol (carolfromnc) | 452 comments By the way, thanks to everyone who participated in this group read. So many insightful comments and much food for thought. The thread will, of course, remain open for additional insights, questions, etc. so don’t hesitate to post your thoughts in future.


message 37: by Hugh (new)

Hugh (bodachliath) | 2833 comments Mod
Thanks Carol


message 38: by Carol (new)

Carol (carolfromnc) | 452 comments Hugh wrote: "Thanks Carol"

This was a treat, Hugh. Thanks.


message 39: by Bretnie (new)

Bretnie | 702 comments My reading of the book definitely benefited from the discussion, so thank you the thought-provoking comments and things I wouldn't have gotten otherwise!


message 40: by Marc (last edited Jul 24, 2018 06:04AM) (new)

Marc (monkeelino) | 2874 comments Mod
Like Laurus, life kept happening to me and I never made it back to this thread (I did throw some rocks at the house of my least favorite neighbor, but he didn't buy that I was just trying to scare the demons away)...

Was there significance to the world ending in 1492? Did that just happen to coincide with Columbus opening up the "New World" for more European exploitation discovery?


message 41: by Carol (new)

Carol (carolfromnc) | 452 comments Wait. I want to hear about how that rock-throwing incident turned out .....


message 42: by Marc (new)

Marc (monkeelino) | 2874 comments Mod
Well, he came out in his slippers with morning pastries in hand... I jumped up, snatched them in my mouth, and ran off. We haven't really spoken since...


message 43: by Carol (new)

Carol (carolfromnc) | 452 comments Marc wrote: "Well, he came out in his slippers with morning pastries in hand... I jumped up, snatched them in my mouth, and ran off. We haven't really spoken since..."

I'll call that a win for you!

Back to Laurus .... your explanation makes sense, but I hadn't truly thought about the significance of the end year. I'm curious what others thought about this, too.


message 44: by Kathleen (new)

Kathleen | 292 comments Ha! Holy fooling around I see. :-)

I like the idea that by using the year 1492 it's sort of flipping endings and beginnings.


message 45: by Marc (new)

Marc (monkeelino) | 2874 comments Mod
Kathleen wrote: "I like the idea that by using the year 1492 it's sort of flipping endings and beginnings."

Which does indeed play into how this novel toys a bit with time and our experience of it. It seems every generation thinks the world is coming to an end, although I'm sure trying to live through the plague might have been more convincing on this point than say, worrying about Y2K or the end of the Mayan calendar for us. Ah, but we have our nukes and self-inflicted environmental issues...


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