A novel about the life of a 15th-century Russian monk might sound an unlikely bestseller, but Eugene Vodolazkin’s extraordinary tale Lavrus became a literary sensation, won Russia’s Big Book award in 2013, and was shortlisted for numerous other prizes. This fall it’s published in English.
So what is the appeal? Vodolazkin’s spiritual odyssey transcends history, fusing archaism and slang to convey the idea that “time is a sort of misunderstanding.” Towards the end, the eponymous hero “Laurus”, a medieval doctor, holy fool, pilgrim and - finally - hermit, is leaning on an old pine tree. The ants are swarming over the bark and through the monk’s beard, embodying the idea that he has almost become part of the forest he lives in. The image is typical of Vodolazkin’s poetic vision.