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Publisher's Summary

Our life is brief....

The definitive English language translation of the internationally best-selling Russian novel - a brilliant dark fantasy combining psychological suspense, enchantment, and terror that makes us consider human existence in a fresh and provocative way.

Our life is brief....

While on holiday 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 a sinister air directs her to perform strange and uncomfortable tasks. He rewards her efforts 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 new 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 university, she also feels that somehow 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 maddeningly obscure, 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, filtered through a distinct Russian sensibility, this astonishing work - brilliantly translated by Julia Meitov Hersey - is reminiscent of a 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 fantastical and new.

©2018 Sergey Dyachenko and Marina Dyachenko, Julia Meitov Hersey - translator (P)2018 HarperCollins Publishers Limited

Critic Reviews

"I first encountered Vita Nostra in 2009, and then, as now, I was stunned by what I read - not just by the story, which was a revelation to me in itself, but also by the vividness and fluency and power of Hersey's translation. Vita Nostra has become a powerful influence on my own writing. It's a book that has the potential to become a modern classic of its genre, and I couldn’t be more excited to see it get the global audience in English it so richly deserves." (Lev Grossman, New York Times best-selling author of The Magicians)

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  • Kate
  • 10-18-21

What a wild ride!

To me this book is completely unique, and almost mesmerising, sort of in the ‘what the hell is going on’ type of way. You spend the majority of the book just trying to understand what they’re actually learning, even now I’m only beginning to get it. I hope they translate the sequels quickly so I can figure it out!

Beyond this though, the structure of the book is also nothing like anything I’ve read before, it’s very steady with few points of tension. The times you expect to see our character struggle for a long time actually end quite abruptly and without the payoff you expect in novels - but somehow it works perfectly here.

I would recommend you trying this, give it 100 pages or so at least.

PS, it’s really nothing like Harry Potter. I had that in my head when I started this story for some reason and it took a lot of time to readjust my mindset to the much darker, less structured reality of this world!

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  • Anonymous User
  • 01-10-21

Stunningly original, in a way only Russians can do

I was enraptured by the concepts explored, and lovingly fashioned into exquisite prose by the authors and translator. I still don't understand them completely, but I await the next installment with eagerness to hear them expanded nonetheless.

The narrator is also excellent, with a soft and comforting voice that can convincingly switch between characters, each imbued with a distinct intonation.

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  • V
  • 01-04-19

Wow!

Philosophical mind trip wrapped in a dark, post soviet era, school of magic narrative. Wonderful read.