Vita Nostra (Vita Nostra #1) by Marina Dyachenko, Sergey Dyachenko, Julia Meitov Hersey

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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 way.

Our 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 consequences. He rewards her effort with a strange golden coin.

As the days progress, Sasha carries out other acts for which she receives more 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 education.

As she quickly 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 want.

A 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.

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Rating: 3 out of 5.

Vita Nostra by Marina Dyachenko

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This was interesting premise. I certainly liked some of the elements presented. Had a lot of elements I typically don’t care for in a book, mainly magic school, academic settings and themes. But I was glad to have given this one a read. I think those who enjoy the magic school idea, of university life stage, and unusual musing will enjoy this one. This was fun one to discuss for book club.

I read this one for SunBeamsJess Book Club.

The Story

Explored elements of self-determination. Feelings of apathy.

Not a lot of joy in the book, it’s bleak and bizarre.

I enjoyed where it was heading, but was slow to get there and the end for me was a bit less satisfying.

There’s sort of this advocacy for morality but not much at stake whether personally or inter-relationally.

Reminded me a lot of philosophical asking, such as Dr. Spock and his movement in child psychology and child rearing. Mixed with newly exploration of intellectualism, like the kid with the propeller hat, a bit silly at times, while sometimes insightful.

Sometimes fun and with a bit of humor which I really enjoyed.

Felt like a day loop though. I think this, as a school setting and mainstay set of tasks, for my life stage and having completed 8+ years of schooling, there just wasn’t much for me to look forward to in what I was wanting to read and feel satisfied about for me personally.

Introspective but mostly task driven. And a lot of repetitive tasks. Made the point for the solid depiction of school atmosphere, but was a bit belabored for my taste. Every mention, even the student roll call was that feeling of okay, I get the point, which is not a feeling I felt was as insightful as to how this task actually feels, in prolonged, cumbersome form as portrayed, when you are in school. Every detail of eating, drinking, walking, and getting dressed. Repetitive and tiresome.

I liked the quests, especially ones with riddles, but again, overly repetitive.

It was caught up in the details, which at face value were interesting the first time around, but thereafter, there wasn’t much that propelled forward. Like people who tell jokes who are not funny in telling them, nor is the punchline. Where you’re like, okay, get to the point, ok that build up and joke delivery, ultimately delivery was lost on me.

All in all it eventually became this weird idea of mysticism with Biblical interpretation takes on what would otherwise be holy, divine, sacred, and set apart. Adding additional nuance and a presenting abstract ideas, deconstructing them down into a book about building a book of words in much the same which was the deciding factor of less enjoyment for me.

I definitely would have loved to have read in original language, that being Russian for comparison as some words in English, culture, and nuance is more difficult to interpret outside of translation.

The Writing
There was not a lot of payoff for me as a reader in the ramblings. Became a bit stilted and dull, but I was compelled to keep reading in some ways because of the mysterious sense that was very well done.

Characters
I liked how the character was quick to point out the perils and inconsistencies, not having to wait for a dum-dum to figure things out.

Character growth was more or less based on finding out the quest itself but not as much as her thoughts to her self, which teetered on philosophical, and I’m not sure if i found them enduring or annoying. Maybe it was because her desperation/determination did not make her stronger in what I hoped it would be. There’s not much connectivity or motivation for the main character, though she fledged onward, full-capacity which was the driving point in learning how her problem-solving would play out.

I really wanted to move beyond the details and find some satisfaction in the plot and where it was headed. Stilted in describing the physical characters if every person and every room was a hang up for me.

Some of the side characters lacked personality and depth. I don’t know if I saw the characters as they were assigned to be. Characters had a lot of ambivalence toward each other which made it a bit difficult for me to immersed in the moment, rather I found myself just impatient to see what the end will hold. Which would be okay, just is an exhaustive approach in my reading experience.

Teenagers doing teenage things, university students doing university things. Studying for exams, etc…

The ending lines is what got me, thinking this is what it all came down to? And there’s sequel? Nope, not for me, not feeling that invested.

The food sounded so good though!

View all my reviews

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