Rights sold: Russia - NLO
Longlisted for the 2021 Piatigorsky Award
The three characters of the title are the central characters of three separate stories, united only by the title of the book – and yet… In the afterword to the book Medvedkova writes:
"What do they have in common? At first sight nothing... three stories, three epochs, three different countries; three ways of life, thought, feelings; three modes of narrative, proper to those countries and to those times.
A medieval princess is for some unknown reason taken somewhere, and she finds herself in a totally different world, in a Renaissance Italy, and there she meets with…
In mid-eighteenth century a smart widow conducts, deftly and tastefully, her publishing business in a provincial French town. Everything follows a well-thought-out plan and suddenly…
A Polish philologist, born in London at the end of the nineteenth century, looks out the window of his Roman flat at the Aventin hill, dreaming about something. Then, at the risk of his life, goes down the stairs and out in the street, and…
So what do they have in common ? Just one thing: in the turmoil of events and circumstances all three search for love and immortality."
This is a highly unusual book. Deeply human, even when it is cruel, and human in a universal way. It is so elusive that a good way to describe it is by saying what it is not. It is not concerned with social, historical, or psychological “problems," it does not try to stir up the past or peek into the future, it is not a utopia or dystopia, nor is it a murder mystery (there is a murder in one of the stories, but there is so much more), nor a love story (one of them is a wonderful love story, but so much more), nor an intellectual riddle (one of them is about an intellectual quest, but again, there is so much more). It portrays, with a very light touch, characters who live – each in his/her own way, tragically or happily – through something like a revelation or transfiguration. It is as if a miracle happened to each of them, a miracle along the lines indicated in the title.
It is useless to retell these stories, because there is a mystery in them that will evaporate in retelling. The narrative is not a subject with its logic leading from a beginning to an end; it works rather as a special sort of freedom, a gift of chance, not a fatum that follows the rules of a genre. All three stories end well. Not in the sense of a ‘’happy end’’, although there is that, too, but in the sense of the heroes’ secret yearnings being fulfilled.
Medvedkova’s prose is refined without being highbrow. The language of each of the novellas is a stylization done as a conscious playing with the tradition of European prose. And yet it does not leave one with the feeling of an intellectual excercise or of superficial brilliance; rather it feels like a true picture of human life, with all its fragility and its force.
At the same time there is not a drop of sentimentality in these stories. They are told soberly and poetically, in a dream-like language that feels like a translation from every language into Russian. It takes place, as the author herself says, “in wonderful in-between spaces, in which the characters live and breathe freely.”
There is a universality in this book that touches the minds and resonates in the hearts of all sorts of readers, from the simple and naive to the most sophisticated. Readers react as if all three heroes are our contemporaries.The publication of the book in Russia, in the fall of 2020, has been followed by a flood of responses, personal and on social platforms, from all sorts of people. And also by a host of positive reviews in newspapers, internet magazines, and platforms. The publisher has presented it for the “Big Book” award, a prestigious prize for the best book of the year.
Yes, immortality, immortality… that’s the whole point, and it seems that the author herself seeks for it, while sending her heroes, her scouts to reconnoiter… And, above all, she does find what she's searching for! -- Olga Balla-Gertman, Colta.ru
...what comes to the forefront is the level of the writing itself. In Medvedkova it is magic, supple, precise, wise. It is adorned with the precious stones of finely chiseled metaphors. One can see that the author knows more than what she writes, and understands more than she knows. -- Dmitry Bavilsky, literary critic
There is in Medvedkova’s refined prose… the sense of European culture as her own and alien at the same time. This own-alien quality does not convey the habitual Russian drama of alienation, but there is in it the feeling of a special mischievous happiness that is granted to people who know how to wear masks (in this case the masks of foreign languages) while remaining themselves under them. -- Igor Gulin, literary critic, Kommersant.
The ability to create a world on the tips of her fingers, a world that is subject to love and at the same time is absolutely indestructible as it touches immortality – this is what constitutes uniqueness of Olga Medvedkova’s writing and reminds readers of the important possibilities of life and literature. -- Anna Berseneva, writer, Noviye Izvestia.
The book is originally written in Russian and has around 64.000 words.