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Vita Nostra

A Novel
Narrated by: Jessica Ball
Series: Vita Nostra, Book 1
Length: 18 hrs and 21 mins
4.5 out of 5 stars (124 ratings)

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Publisher's Summary

The definitive English-language translation of the internationally best-selling Russian 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 that 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.

©2013 Sergey Dyachenko and Marina Shyrshova-Dyachenko; translation © 2013 Julia Meitov Hersey (P)2018 HarperCollins Publishers

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  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    5 out of 5 stars

Dark but beautiful

I think it's inevitable that people will compare this to Harry Potter or Lexicon - but I argue that the similarities are entirely superficial. Vita Nostra is an original take on an intriguing (if not entirely unique) theme, and the writing is absolutely beautiful. The attention to detail is just exactly enough to paint a crisp picture of each scene without short-changing your imagination. The characters are all so good, ranging from sympathetic to frightening. The atmosphere is pretty dark, for sure, but it's inviting and threatening in equal measures. I felt this story in my head and in my bones, and I enjoyed every minute of it. I hope Julia Meitov Hersey is already working on translating the Dyachenko's other works, because I'm definitely ready for more!

5 of 5 people found this review helpful

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wow

Kept me hooked thru the very last page. Isn't always a comfortable story. The story is cerebral, experiential, it will work your empathy and expand your mind.

Since finishing the book I've thought about it's themes and moments daily and at length. This book is wonderful. I'm a sucker for magic and magic systems, and that influenced me liking this book so much.

3 of 3 people found this review helpful

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In the begining was the word

This is a brilliant fever dream of a novel. We meet Sasha as a 16 year old who lives with her Mum, loves swimming and wants to be a philologist when she grows up. Which is appropriate because fate, in the form of a man who wears dark glasses, seems impervious to time and will never ask her to do anything “impossible” takes her by the throat and shoves her toward her destiny, which is all about the words.

This intricate mind bending book is very well written and well read. Fair warning. There is a magical school, but it’s not Hogwarts by a long shot and a “grown up Harry Potter” this is not.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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    2 out of 5 stars
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Pointless, albeit fun, romp

I enjoyed every moment of this book. Except the end. It was building to something the entire time, and I was so excited to find out what that would be. Then it just ended with some Bible verses. Maybe there’s a sequel that will explain this horribly abrupt ending. Or maybe I’m just too dumb to understand the meaning. I’ll admit I was lost several times throughout, but overall I was invested in Sasha and felt as though I was growing right alongside her. Then I was dropped off a cliff. I HATE books that end so abruptly.

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Love the mystery

I just started part 2, and I just absolutely love the mystery of this plot.

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Words can't express . .

It's difficult to find words to express my reaction to this book. Sasha's plans to study philology (in the sense of language as used in literature) seemingly get sidetracked-but then, not really. Maybe philology as taught at the Institute of Special Technologies is the knowledge of society or culture as understood through language. The Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis always intrigued me in college, as did philosophy classes. This book brought me back to both experiences with Sapir-Whorf gone gobal (an inadequate word) and philosophy at advanced classes that I never took. For me, this was a fascinating and challenging book. I greatly enjoyed the characters and the story line but I wish I could have better appreciated some of the mental gymnastics involved. I suspect that reading this in Russian would have provided a different experience, but I also think that the translator, Julia Meitov Hersey, deserves great praise and expressions of appreciation for what must have been a Herculean task. I completely understand the review extremes for this book and, for that reason and others, I would hesitate to recommend it to family and friends. Sometimes I tell folks that they will know by the first several chapters if a book is for them, but not with this one. I think this is a very individual "like/dislike" and I can easily understand the extremes. I can only say that I'm very glad I gave it a chance.

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Strange, Surreal, Original

This is definitely a book worth reading if you like strange, philosophical slow burn dark fantasy that leaves you with as many questions as it does answers. Disregard the blurbs comparing this to Harry Potter. The only similarity is that both stories involve young people going to school. This is no Hogwarts and you could easily argue that no magic is being taught at this college. If you like all of your plot points to be wrapped up and resolved by the end, you may want to look elsewhere. There is a lot of ambiguity and much room for interpretation to the conclusion and the overall meaning behind the story. Much, much better than I ever expected. I read an interview with the authors (who have written over 30 books) and Vita Nostra is their favorite out of all of them. Mind bending, trippy, dark, at times horrific, and deep. I can't recommend it enough.

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Sadly one of the worst book i have read

Words in from one ear out the other. Concept is ok but no story line at all. no character build up..was hoping something will come in end. to see it just suddenly stops. maybe its intentional ..but i sure didnt get it 😂

1 of 2 people found this review helpful

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    4 out of 5 stars
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Somewhat enchanting, tedious at times

Overall, this book is okay. I do like the everyday life feel of it, even though Sasha’s life is anything but ordinary. At first, the plot of Sasha entering a mysterious school was intriguing. However the endless parts with Sasha doing impossible mental exercises got realllllly boring. I’m just meh about this book. The narrator was really nice; she has a beautiful voice and managed to make each male character’s voice distinct.

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Glorious

The cover of this audiobook is an amazingly accurate depiction of how my head feels now I have finished it, whoever designed this cover deserves some kind of illustration award! I just finished this book and honestly I do not understand the ending, usually this would annoy me but with this one it doesn’t matter, I will listen again and again to the last chapter until I get it, it is that worth it. I really related to the main character, I found her studiousness, her determination, and her kindness (most of the time) extremely refreshing. This is a school of magic type story so ‘studying’ over the shoulder of a character with genuine curiosity was a delight. Her changing relationships and philosophical development were very familiar from my own years of college, I think a lot of readers will feel similarly. The philosophical element of the story was what I really really loved, it was so nice to have the main character enjoy that part too.