cover image Vita Nostra

Vita Nostra

Marina and Sergey Dyachenko, trans. from the Russian by Julia Meitov Hersey. Harper Voyager, $26.99 (416p) ISBN 978-0-06-269459-1

The Dyachenkos’ 2007 novel takes the trope of young people selected for a school for magic and transforms it into an unnerving, deeply philosophical coming-of-age tale. A mysterious man asks 16-year-old Sasha Samokhina to perform a series of bizarre, potentially humiliating tasks that lead to her admission to the enigmatic Institute of Special Technologies. There, students are confronted with unreadable texts and demanding professors, and their obedience is enforced by threats of harm to their families. Sasha excels at the mind-bending, body-transforming “special technologies”; her prodigious talent links her to the hidden mechanics of time, space, and reality itself. But there are no comforting elements of wish-fulfillment in this school story. Her ordeals are frequently harrowing, and all too often she seems nearly powerless in the face of forces that are manipulating and shaping her into something beyond mere humanity. She is nevertheless a sympathetic heroine, and readers will gladly follow her fascinating, disturbing story to its transcendent conclusion. Hersey’s translation is plain and straightforward, a wise choice that enhances the deep strangeness of this trippy, vivid novel. Agent: Joshua Getzler, HSG. (Nov.)