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Vita Nostra I have SUCH conflicting thoughts about this book because it was crazy and interesting and groundbreaking and suspenseful and fucking weird and lacking antagonists and personality and structure and chapter breaks but it's so intriguing and different and beautiful and gross and almost too smart and then maybe not smart at all and enthralling and annoying and I want to clutch it to my chest and throw it at the wall at the same time AHAGAHSGAHSDGASGASDGJASHDGASGH How is this baffling esoteric paranormal weirdness also the most accurate depiction of higher education I've ever read? The definitive English language translation of the internationally bestselling Ukrainian novel—a brilliant dark fantasy with the potential to be a modern classic Lev Grossman combining psychological suspense enchantment and terror that makes us consider human existence in a fresh and provocative wayOur life is brief While vacationing at the beach with her mother Sasha Samokhina meets the mysterious Farit Kozhennikov under the most peculiar circumstances The teenage girl is powerless to refuse when this strange and unusual man with an air of the sinister directs her to perform a task with potentially scandalous conseuences He rewards her effort with a strange golden coinAs the days progress Sasha carries out other acts for which she receives coins from Kozhennikov As summer ends her domineering mentor directs her to move to a remote village and use her gold to enter the Institute of Special Technologies Though she does not want to go to this unknown town or school she also feels it’s the only place she should be Against her mother’s wishes Sasha leaves behind all that is familiar and begins her educationAs she uickly discovers the institute’s special technologies are unlike anything she has ever encountered The books are impossible to read the lessons obscure to the point of maddening and the work refuses memorization Using terror and coercion to keep the students in line the school does not punish them for their transgressions and failures; instead their families pay a terrible price Yet despite her fear Sasha undergoes changes that defy the dictates of matter and time; experiences which are nothing she has ever dreamed of and suddenly all she could ever wantA complex blend of adventure magic science and philosophy that probes the mysteries of existence filtered through a distinct Russian sensibility this astonishing work of speculative fiction—brilliantly translated by Julia Meitov Hersey—is reminiscent of modern classics such as Lev Grossman’s The Magicians Max Barry’s Lexicon and Katherine Arden’s The Bear and the Nightingale but will transport them to a place far beyond those fantastical worlds Who in the world wrote this book's blurb comparing Vita Nostra to of all things Katherine Arden’s The Bear and the Nightingale? I know they both are set in Russia but what do they really have in common? Snow? Don't be fooled and if you want to pick up Vita Nostra because you liked The Bear and the Nightingale just don't ok? If you need another fix of Russian bear fur hats and balalaikas nonsense Leigh Bardugo can supply those Vita Nostra was written by Russian authors about post Soviet Russia and although this portrayal is not exceedingly complex it is not a fetishized version of Russia but a truer one in all its vodkaundies drying on a heating unitretrograde views on sex and relationships gloryVita Nostra is a completely different kind of beast a mind trip if you will It's a book of ideas rather than a plot or character driven narrative In the beginning you think you are reading a story about a girl coerced into going to a magic school where nobody explains to her what she is studying and why And then gradually you learn along with this girl and go through a metamorphosis of your own and yes you understand that the annoying teachers that kept telling Sasha that one day she'd be ready to comprehend what the final goal of her education is are correct Dyachenkos' novel reminded me of Ted Chiang's work whose strength is in ideas rather than character development Story of Your Lives offers similar type of mind expanding concept IMO Vita Nostra is by no means a crowd pleaser but I did enjoy this trip Sometimes a book is so custom made for me that I am unsure whether I can reasonably recommend it to anyone or if the reading experience was incredible just because the book hit all my favourite things This is one of those times Combining some of my greatest loves in fiction dark fantasy inspired by Russian literature set in the middle of nowhere with plenty of snow combining boarding school tropes with unconventional storytelling this book was everything to meThis book follows Sasha whose life is changed forever when she is approached by an otherworldly man who tells her she is stuck in a time loop and the only way to change this is to get up at four in the morning never missing a day and nakedly swimming in the ocean She does so every day vomiting up weird gold coins afterwards Returning home and to what she thinks will be normalcy she is approached again having to follow new sets of rules always throwing up gold coins afterwards She does not feel she has a choice when the man tells her she will be attending a rural university instead of the one she had planned for all her lifeThis book is a wild ride and for the vast majority of its duration it stays opaue and the reader is left in the dark just as much as Sasha is I did not mind this one bit and I loved this introspective weird book a whole lot There is a menacing undercurrent here that is made even spell binding as we closely follow Sasha and her fears without ever really being in her head at all I found the use of third person narration worked really well here and made the book all that compulsive for meWhile Sasha is definitely the heart of this book and I adored her prickliness and her focus and her love for her family I have to admit my favourite characters were the two main teachers and her mentor the latter one being so very fascinating and awful and just everything I wanted him to beI do want everybody to read this for one thing because it is brilliant and one of the highlights of my reading but also for another totally selfish reason I want it to be successful enough that the second book gets translated as soon as possible I want to spend time in this world and with this characters and I have very many theories where this might go nextI received an ARC of this book courtesy of NetGalley and HarperVoyager in exchange for an honest reviewYou can find this review and other thoughts on books on my blog There are concepts that cannot be imagined but can be named Having received a name they change they flow into a different entity and cease to correspond to the name and then they can be given another different name and this process— the spellbinding process of creation— is indefinite this is the word that names it and this is the word that signifies A concept as an organism and text as the universe I don't think there's a word in this entire universe that can be spoken that can be said that can be even thought ofto explain the feeling I had reading this book This was like a composing song flitting to one musical note to the next— a percussion of colors and sound that was so encompassing and transcending It was so so fulfilling I feel lived I lived entire lives traveled through different dimensions and cosmoses and come out through myself in and out again Transformation It doesn't really make any sense It doesn't have to make sense It just doesI don't even think I'll be able to explain what this book is even about The Goodreads synopsis doesn't even come close to explaining anything what this book is about As it should I think it's something that should be experienced as you read It could become clear Or it could notIt's only the February the second fucking month of this year and I already have a new found favorite God bless Luminous dust folds into a flat silver curve with two soft spiral armsLet the metamorphosis begin Vita Nostra Our Life Will never be the same5 STARSTwitter | Bookstagram | Youtube | This is a most unusual novel especially for Western readers It's strange and thoughtful and dark full of psychological twists and turns metaphysical tangents and the desperately humorous shenanigans of young adults carrying on at a grim Russian boarding school that is turning them all into what they do not exactly knowI described Marina and Sergey Dyachenko's novel The Scar as swords sorcery if written by Fyodor Dostoevsky I don't think I'm stretching the Russian lit analogy too much to call this book Harry Potter if written by Leo TolstoyI liked The Scar so much that I sought out other works by the Dyachenkos translated into English Sadly there are was only one Vita Nostra the first book in their Metamorphosis cycle And it's only available on as an ebook According to the afterword it was translated by a Russian born fan living in the US which explains why the translation didn't read with the same professional smoothness as the Tor published The Scar The Scar with its themes of morality and conseuences punishment and redemption reminded me of Dostoevsky Vita Nostra is an even darker story with occasional flashes of humor surfacing in the dark waters of a story that seems to be dragging you along toward some unknown unknowable fate with characters who have few choices who know they exist only to act out their predefined roles They resist this predestination even knowing that resistance is futile This valiant effort to find hope in the face of crushing inevitability reminded me of that grim old sourpuss Graf TolstoyAlexandra Sasha Samokhina is a 17 year old straight A student preparing to apply to university She's been a good girl a dutiful daughter to her single mother Then one day a stranger appears while she and her mother are on vacation at the beach and makes an unusual demand of her He demands she swim naked out to a bouy every morning at exactly 4 amFollowing some instinct Sasha complies and each morning after her swim she vomits up gold coins She soon learns that the world is indeed fragile and that refusing Farit Kozhennikov's demands has a heavy priceFarit's unusual tasks continue when Sasha and her mother go home Sasha finds herself alienated from her friends and distanced from her mother who does not understand what strange pressures her daughter is under It only gets worse when Sasha informs her mother that instead of the university they both planned on she has to attend the Institute of Special Technologies a technical school no one has ever heard of in a small town that's practically off the mapAren't you tired of books being called Harry Potter for adults? But I'm sorry it's such an easy comparison to make and Vita Nostra may deserve that label albeit it's set in an adult unworldly boarding school in a very Russian vein Sasha has to ride a train to the middle of nowhere to arrive at Torpa where the Institute of Special Technologies is located but the Institute is no Hogwarts The teachers are sometimes warm and friendly sometimes cold and demanding but they all force students to study things they don't even understand pursuing a degree they can't comprehend to do things after graduation that they can't even imagineThe oppressive lack of information and the constant undercurrent of foreboding the threat of sinister conseuences for failure makes the reader as frustrated as Sasha for much of the book What is the Institute for Special Technologies? Are they teaching magic? Are students learning to alter the fabric of reality? Are they being transformed into something inhuman? It's not really explained at all until near the end and even then it's very abstract and metaphysical Sasha undergoes transformations exhibits frightening powers and moves from a frightened confused First Year to a confused increasingly alienated Third Year one with a talent that exceeds that of all her classmates though her own teachers won't even tell her what her talent is and why she's so specialAll of this takes place in a fictional Russian town with a heavy flavor of magical realism There is a Sacco and Vanzetti Avenue The townspeople seem to tolerate without really accepting or understanding the Institute's students Sasha initially shares a dorm room with other students and as she's struggling with her bizarre incomprehensible subjects she's engaged in petty roommate conflicts college students getting illicitly drunk and eventually relationship drama The townspeople seem vaguely aware that Institute students are not normal but dismiss them as strange not entirely welcome visitors to their townIn a very real sense — real than most so called Young Adult novels — Vita Nostra is a novel for young adults It's about becoming an adult and discovering truly hard tasks where failure actually has conseuences and doing so amidst the swirling temptations of song dance parties alcohol and sex It's about the confusion of not knowing what you're going to be when you grow up of seeing yourself as a free willed individual with choices lying ahead of you and then discovering that you are at the mercy of forces you cannot control or negotiate with It's about trying not to lose the parent child bond even when you are forced to let go“You’ve just seen me?” Portnov sounded surprised “You manifest entities read highly complex informational structures and you’ve only just seen me?”Sasha managed a shallow nod and then shut her eyes trying to drive the tears back into her eyes“What’s the matter?” now Portnov sounded worried “Sasha?”“You are not human” Sasha whispered“So? Neither are you”“But I had been human I had been a child I remember that I remember being loved”“Does it matter to you?”“I remember it”This is not a traditional fantasy novel It defies Western genre labels It's as much horror as fantasy as much contemporary realism as it is magical realism It's rather hard to describe and it was sometimes frustrating to read and there are depths that I sensed lurking beneath this translation that might be evident to its Russian audience If you like dark fantasy I think you will like it If you like Russian literature and don't mind a fantastic element you will definitely like it But it's a very strange book and it doesn't follow a standard Western fantasy arc Things are described in vague esoteric terms and the relevance and meaning is never always made clear to the reader which forces you to swim in the same existential confusion afflicted upon the charactersPlease folks go buy this ebook It's only 299 Yeah I know it's Someone should tell them how to sell ebooks on other sites But I want you to read it and I want people to buy it because I want of the Dyachenkos' work to be translated into English You may not love this my final rating is 45 stars for a somewhat raw translation and many moments of befuddlement but if you want something different from the same old same old fantasy novel these are some authors who deserve a wider audience Weird in the best of ways a bit scary and bizarrely magical this book somehow captures the experience of what happens to you in college better than anything else I knowIt's cliche to say that fantasy can deal with big issues better than standard fiction but this one really gets at the experience of your world getting shifted around by education And then it adds some big weird things on top that somehow enhance the message I haven't read anything uite like it since Lev Grossman's Magicians series which is one of my favoritesI actually wish the Ukrainian elements were played up? Like this definitely takes place in Ukraine but it feels generalizable That's both good and badIt took me a while to get into going but by the midpoint I was hooked I hope we get translated seuels At the start of this novel 16 year old Sasha Samokhina is on a seaside vacation with her mother where after a few days she finds herself stalked by a mysterious man with pale skin and dark glasses She is eventually confronted by this stranger who entreats Sasha to wake up at 4 am every morning go to the beach take off all her clothes and swim to a buoy and back She reluctantly agrees to this strange task and as soon as she's back on shore that first morning she starts to vomit gold coinsThus begins the wildly unconventional journey that the Dyachenkos take the reader on in Vita Nostra which has safely earned its distinction as the most unorthodox book I have ever read This doesn't follow any kind of narrative formula that will be familiar to many western readers it's bizarrely lacking in conflict resolution plot twists and structure But it's also the most singular and enchanting and darkly horrifying book I have ever readHonestly the marketing team has my sympathy for this one because I don't think I've ever read another book that so staunchly defies categorization There are recognizable elements from traditional coming of age novels but it isn't a bildungsroman; there are hints and whispers of magic but it isn't really fantasy; there are some classic Magical School tropes but it isn't remotely comparable to Harry Potter; and it's filled to the brim with philosophical references but its maddeningly esoteric approach is strangely alienating even to readers who are interested in its central themes A large part of this book is just stumbling blindly alongside Sasha and waiting for everything to be made clear which it never really is It's proving to be uite the challenge to explain what the appeal exactly is of a book like this and I fully accept that this isn't going to be for everyone This isn't really for readers who need to be entertained by plot or readers who need to be invested in complex character dynamics This is for the readers drawn eually to a compelling atmosphere and big ideas; readers who are both thrilled and terrified at the idea that their own worldview is limited than they ever could have imagined This book mesmerized me from the very first page and proved to be the most unexpected reading experience I've ever had At times it's frustrating and incomprehensible but never for a single moment does it fail to stimulate This is one of the most exceptional things I have read in a very long time and one of those books that will absolutely reward the effort you put into it Thanks so much to Harper Voyager for the copy provided in exchange for an honest review Instagram || Twitter || Facebook || || PinterestI've been wanting to read VITA NOSTRA ever since the English translation was released and I heard about the dark magic school premise This novel is part of a trilogy that was originally published in Ukraine and it's one of the strangest most fascinating most inevitable books I have ever read It actually reminds me a lot of R Lee Smith's book SCHOLOMANCE The pacing is very slow and you just have to bask and immerse yourself in the cold winters of Torpa and the sinister misty springs Everything is richly described from the school itself to the course work to Sasha's struggles and feelings Even though this is a translation the English is lovely and the authors use such imaginative metaphors that certain phrases just stick in your headThe best way to describe this book is to picture a magical system where everything has a cost sometimes a very sinister one Sasha is scouted at a beach while on vacation by a sinister figure who tells her that she must train herself to go to this special school or bad things will happen She doesn't take the warning as seriously as she should and sure enough bad things happen This is a prevailing theme in the novel as you'll see where if students disobey the mandates of the faculty they find themselves at the mercy of something that seems a bit too sinisterly deterministic to be fateSasha the heroine is very ambitious and hard working She starts out somewhat naive and frightened and it's fun and harrowing to see how she changes over the course of this novel Picture Hermione Granger's slightly evil twin and that's basically Sasha Her mentor Farit is like an evil Dumbledore He gives her good advice but she also fears him because terrible things happen when she doesn't do what he says She also ends up sort of making friends with some of her fellow students whether it's her doomed relationship with Kostya her frenemy relationship with her two roommates or the underclassmen she meets as a senior who she mentors and terrorizes in eual measureMagic in this book changes the people who use it with devastating effect The whole book builds up to something terrible and I've never read a book that really carries you along with the protagonist the way this one does You really relate to Sasha because you experience everything from her eyes in real time whether it's the agonizing frustration of studying for seemingly impossible exams the slow and claustrophobic terror of being trapped in a school that's literally in the middle of nowhere or her sense of drive and determination once she decides that she's going to seize her fate by the horns Go SashaThis book definitely is not for everyone and I think if you don't like long slow paced books you probably won't like VITA NOSTRA Ditto if you're put off by scenes of body horror of any kind or morally grey characters you probably won't like VITA NOSTRA Luckily for me that's all catnip to my inner reader and I devoured this the way the students devoured the fruit compote in their dining hall It looks like the publisher is beginning the grueling process of translating these talented authors' works to English as they have another one coming out soon called DAUGHTER FROM THE DARK Sadly it's not related to this trilogy when's book 2 getting translated??? ahhh but after being so impressed with VITA NOSTRA I'd read anything from this fantastic duoDefinitely recommend for fans of R Lee Smith and Tanith LeeThank you Deidra for reading this with me 45 to 5 stars

About the Author: Marina Dyachenko

Марина ДяченкоMarina and Sergey Dyachenko co authors of novels short fiction plays and scripts They primarily write in Russian and in the past also in Ukrainian with several novels translated into English and published in the United States These include Vita Nostra 2012 The Scar 2012 The Burned Tower 2012 and Age of Witches 2014 The primary genres of their books are modern spe

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