'Laurus' ("Лавр"): Evgeny Vodolazkin in Conversation with Josie von Zitzewitz

Cult author Yevgeny Vodolazkin talks to Josie von Zitzewitz of Cambridge University about his prize-winning cult novel Laurus (Лавр), the story of the redemptive journey through Medieval Europe of a Russian orphan and healer, at the UK launch of the book in English.  Talk in English, followed by drinks.

It is the late fifteenth century in rural Russia, a time of plague and pestilence. A young orphan lives by the forest with his elderly grandfather, the local healer. From him he learns the secrets of herbs and remedies, and soon follows in the old man's footsteps. But this knowledge proves powerless to save his beloved, who dies in childbirth. Overcome with guilt and seeking redemption, he embarks on a journey through plague-ridden Europe, offering his healing powers wherever he goes. But this is no ordinary journey: it is one that spans ages and countries, and brings him face-to-face with a host of unforgettable characters and legendary creatures from the strangest medieval bestiaries. Now old, and having addressed his wrongs, he returns to his home village to live out his days as a hermit – not realizing that it is here that he will face his most difficult trial yet.

Winner of two of the biggest literary prizes in Russia, Laurus is a rich novel about love, loss, self-sacrifice and faith, from one of Russia's most exciting and critically acclaimed novelists.

‘Vodolazkin succeeds in walking a thin line, achieving a fine balance between the ancient and archaic, and the ultra-modern; between the ironic and the tragic' Time Out Moscow

'Unobtrusively translated, the novel's narration flows limpidly, touching humane depths...Vodolazkin handles his unpredictable, sometimes-mystical saga and its diverse content with confident purpose...with flavours of Umberto Eco and The Canterbury Tales...affecting, idiosyncratic...an impressive achievement' Kirkus

Eugene Vodolazkin was born in Kiev in 1964 and has worked in the department of Old Russian Literature at Pushkin House (the Institute of Literature of the Russian Academy of Sciences) since 1990. He has numerous academic books and articles to his name and has been awarded research and lectureship fellowships in Germany from both the Toepfer and Alexander von Humboldt Foundations. Vodolazkin’s debut novel, Solovyov and Larionov, was shortlisted for the Andrei Bely Prize and The Big Book Award. Laurus is his second novel; he lives with his family in St Petersburg.

Josephine von Zitzewitz will show excerpts from “The Gulag: People and Fates” [Гулаг: Люди и судьбы, Director: Aleksandr Slobodsky], a documentary that grew out of a recent oral history project undertaken by the Research and Information Centre “Memorial” (St Petersburg). She will introduce the project and also report on the present efforts of “Memorial” to maintain and publicise archival and museum collections at a time when funding is scarce and suspicion rife. Josephine von Zitzewitz is Leverhulme Early Career Fellow in Russian Studies at the University of Cambridge, having previously held appointments at Oxford University. She specialises in the literature and culture of the late Soviet Union, in particular samizdat and Leningrad culture of the Brezhnev era. Her book “Music for a Deaf Age: Poetry and the Leningrad Religious-Philosophical Seminar” will be published in 2015. Josephine von Zitzewitz has been a voluntary research associate with the Research and Information Centre “Memorial” since 2004.  Her new book on religion in Leningrad samizdat poetry will be published in November.

Translator, writer and editor Lisa Hayden lived and worked in Russia between 1992 and 1998 and now lives in Maine. She has a blog on Russian literature, Lizok’s Bookshelf.

Free entry, but space is limited so an RSVP is essential to guarantee a place: please email office@pushkinhouse.org.uk .

Doors open 6.30pm; talk at 7pm; drinks at 8pm.