The latest addition to my website is Eugene Vodolazkin‘s Лавр (Laurus), a superb Russian novel telling the story of a fifteenth century healer, mystic and quasi-saint. Arseny, as he is initially called, though he changes his name a few times, and ends up being called Laurus, lives with his grandfather, Christofer, from the age of seven, when his parents die in the plague. Christofer is a healer and a spiritual man and Arseny follows in his footsteps. When Christofer dies, we follow Arseny’s career, from his relationship with Ustina, who has escaped the plague and who dies in childbirth to his self-sacrifice in deliberately helping plague-stricken villages. He goes to Pskov, where he becomes a holy fool and then travels to Jerusalem with an Italian clairvoyant. Back in Pskov, he resumes his healing before becoming a recluse, first in a monastery and then in a forest, away from people. However, he cannot escape his role of helping people. Vodolazkin tells a first-class story, showing full sympathy to and understanding of Arseny and his ways, his close contact with nature but, more particularly, with God. He also gives us a colourful picture of late fifteenth century Russia but never mocks it or puts it down, but shows it as it was.

The Modern Novel

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