Book Review: Vita Nostra

I had never heard of this book until someone mentioned it in my book club. After A Deadly Education I had a magic school hole in my heart, so thought I’d give this novel a go – a translation from Russian. I didn’t know what to expect, but I was drawn in to a one-sitting read that I just had to finish before I went to sleep! Full of existential despair, I felt like I was reading a really complicated mathematical proof and if I stopped I’d lose the plot.

Star rating: 5 stars

Sasha Samokhina is on holiday when she is first approached by a stranger, Farit Kozhennikov . He tasks her with strange challenges with no explanation, such as swimming in the sea at 4am and running laps around the park. At the end of the summer, he tells Sasha she has been accepted into the Institute for Special Technologies, a school out in the sticks that nobody has ever heard of. With no other college acceptances after failing the entrance exam, Sasha convinces her Mom and new boyfriend to let her go.

The Institute is unlike any other school. Sasha has strange teachers that can be harsh and cruel, is set weird homework to try and read and memorise gibberish, and the second year students are all more than a bit peculiar. Sasha makes friends and enemies among her fellow classmates, including romances. But she works hard despite the confusion, making progress that impresses her teachers and elevates her above the rest of the class.

The world-building is very strange – and the characters even stranger. The meaning is open to interpretation which I love, I could think about this book for a good while. I enjoyed Sasha’s personality, enjoyed the mystery of the world, enjoyed its outlook on what it means to exist.

Without a doubt the book is dark, and very abstract in its nature. I can understand why some people might finish it and be like whaaaat??? that’s for sure. But for me it was addictive and a fascinating read, and I can’t wait to read it again just to see what my second take on that ending will be.