A History of the Island by Eugene Vodolazkin

A history of the islandSummary: A novel that I am not sure I fully understood. 

I am a big fan of Vodolazkin’s earlier novel, Laurus, so when I heard the general positive buzz about this new novel, I picked it up soon after it came out because I was in the mood for some fiction. But I think this novel requires more background knowledge to understand the satire than I have. After I started the book, Current posted a review. I try to avoid reviews until after I finish a book, but I read this one because I was a bit bored with the novel and needed some motivation to finish.

It meandered, and I could tell it referenced historical events, but I was unsure what the references meant. At least a part of the target of the satire is the myth of the progress of history. There is progress; we do not have half of our children die before the age of five. And the rate of absolute subsistence poverty has dropped. But progress has not brought about some other promises, radical egalitarianism, an end to poverty, more just institutions, etc.

The book opens as a medieval history written by monks of an island kingdom. After reading for a while, we realize that the commentary on the history is from the King and Queen, who are eventually introduced into the story when their lives are prophecied. They are born, married, and begin to rule. This is a book that slowly unfolds. Parfeny and Ksenia were born in a medieval world, but they have remained alive for over 300 years to also live in the modern world. From the vantage point of their long life, they have perspective. They ruled, and they were ruled, they lived in splendor, and they lived in poverty.

I was more engaged once I understood what was happening, but that took me a little while. It was less narrative than I would have liked because there was a mix of history and commentary on the history and then modern narrative alongside the history. I probably would benefit from reading it again and reading a brief overview of Russian and maybe European history before I do it again.

I have two more of Vodolazkin’s novels that I will get to eventually. His settings seem to have almost nothing to do with one another. So there is no hurry to get to the next novel before I forget the last one.

A History of the Island by Eugene Vodolazkin Purchase Links: Paperback, Kindle Edition, Audible.com Audiobook

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