Laurus Audible Audiobook – Unabridged
It is the late 15th century and a village healer in Russia called Laurus is powerless to help his beloved as she dies in childbirth, unwed and without having received communion. Devastated and desperate, he sets out on a journey in search of redemption. But this is no ordinary journey: it is one that spans ages and countries, and which brings him face-to-face with a host of unforgettable, eccentric characters and legendary creatures from the strangest medieval bestiaries.
Laurus's travels take him from the Middle Ages to the Plague of 1771, where as a holy fool he displays miraculous healing powers, to the political upheavals of the late 20th century. At each transformative stage of his journey, he becomes more revered by the church and the people, until he decides, one day, to return to his home village to lead the life of a monastic hermit - not realizing that it is here that he will face his most difficult trial yet.
Laurus is a remarkably rich novel about the eternal themes of love, loss, self-sacrifice, and faith, from one of Russia's most exciting and critically acclaimed novelists.
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|Listening Length||13 hours and 17 minutes|
|Author||Lisa C. Hayden - translator, Eugene Vodolazkin|
|Narrator||James Anderson Foster|
|Whispersync for Voice||Ready|
|Audible.com Release Date||September 20, 2017|
|Best Sellers Rank|| #27,685 in Audible Books & Originals (See Top 100 in Audible Books & Originals) |
#53 in Christian Historical Fiction (Audible Books & Originals)
#640 in Christian Historical Fiction (Books)
#1,470 in Literary Fiction (Audible Books & Originals)
Top reviews from the United States
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“Laurus” is a complex novel. It’s not complex in the sense of being opaque—in fact, the writing is very clear, and on the surface, the story is relatively simple. It’s complex in that the relatively simple story is not so simple, and becomes less simple both as you progress through the book and as you ponder the book. And it’s complex in the ideas and concepts raised by the story, many of which are both timeless in their relevance and timely for today’s society.
Those ideas and concepts are profoundly Christian, more precisely Russian Orthodox Christian. One basic theme is redemption. This is the backbone theme of the story, and obviously a backbone theme of Christianity itself. Another is man’s response to suffering—without directly discussing the topic, much of the book constitutes a refutation of those who think the theodicy problem somehow discredits Christianity. (I’ve never understood that position, that the existence of suffering somehow militates against the existence of an all-powerful, all-good God, but it seems compelling to many intelligent people, so there must be something to it.)
A third theme, one which I have always found personally compelling, is the ultimate ambiguity, or unreality, of time. Not to man, for whom time is an (apparent) reality, but to God. (This is of course a basic Christian concept, essential to understanding the Christian concept of eternity.) Oftentimes, in this book, the timelessness that God inhabits seeps through to the story. Vodolazkin does a masterful job of weaving moments of temporal fluidity and permeability into the story so that they seem simultaneously natural and ethereal.
This is not in the trite, New Age sense that “groovy, we’re all one.” Nor is it in the cold Buddhist sense of nirvana, a dissolution of self in a timeless whole. Rather, it is in the sense that the ultimate goal of man is a seamless, boundless unity with God, in which we are still ourselves, but infinitely connected. As Dreher quotes a Dante scholar, “It is to experience oneself as attributeless, extensionless, immune to all contingency: one with the ontological ground that spawns and knows all possible object of experience as itself. It is to know oneself as everything, and as nothing, which is to love all things literally, and not just metaphorically, as oneself.”
“Laurus” is not in the least a political book. Most of it takes place in the Fifteenth Century and is rooted there in a very evocative way. It does not address modern controversies, or really any competing philosophies. Nonetheless, its vision is profoundly opposed to both Gnosticism, largely the belief that that material world is to be spurned and the world of pure spirit sought; and to materialism, the belief that what matters most is, as Mitt Romney would have it, a lower marginal tax rate.
As to Gnosticism, the spiritual world of “Laurus” is embedded in the material world. The protagonist is a healer, who heals simultaneously with herbal remedies and spiritual remedies. Where one ends and the other begins is not clear even to him. But those remedies, and everything else about the material world, are not things to be shed, but rather essential components of each person’s life and growth. Man is totally rooted in the material world and this is not a barrier to spiritual growth.
As to materialism, the modern failure to appreciate that people are not ultimately seeking mere, or primarily, material happiness is one source of the current failure of the Republican Party. It is, or should be, a commonplace that all people seek transcendence. For example, the Marxist idea that economics are the main driver of human behavior is silly and facile upon even a moment’s reflection. Not that people don’t seek economic advantage, but ultimately most people care primarily about meaning.
This is one reason why the past hundred years have featured many religion substitutes, from Christian socialism to Communism to Nazism to the worship of climate change. Each of these substitute religions is recognizable in skeletal outline in this book, in fact—their adherents ultimately seek meaning in the same way as Arseny, the protagonist. They are on a pilgrimage, just like Arseny, though unlike Arseny they tend to be totally closed to learning, being wedded to an ideology rather than an actual religion, which in the case of Christianity is infinitely more sophisticated than modern ideologies, which in their rigidity collapse when they are falsified. Such substitute religions are necessarily defective, and they are all, ultimately, the god that failed (usually with several million dead humans as a result).
This book, which is about nothing more than it is about transcendence, is a powerful corrective to materialism, and, indirectly, to religion substitutes arising from materialism. My guess is that many seeking transcendence through substitute religions would benefit from reading it—not so that they convert, but so that they see an alternate, more sophisticated path to addressing the human need for transcendence.
Top reviews from other countries
There is now another to add to that canon. It was published in Russia in 2013 and by last autumn it appeared in English, just one of more than 20 languages into which it has now been translated. It is Laurus - as in laurel, I think. It's author, Evegeny Vodolazkin, is a 51 year-old Russian medieval scholar and his own story is no less impressive or inspiring than the novel he has written for us.
It became a literary sensation when published in Russia and won its two major literary awards in that year. This, Vodolazkin’s second novel (though his debut in English), captures the religious and social flavour of fifteenth-century Russia, tracking the life of a healer and “holy fool”. It is described by some as a post-modern synthesis of Bildungsroman, travelogue, hagiography and love story.
From almost every angle in which you might position yourself to look at this novel, it is exceptional. It really is post-modern - but not in any of the multitude of senses in which that slippery term has ever been used before. Vodolazkin even questions the use of the term, because for him post-modernism is just a game that plays with quoting literature of the past, but has no grounding in anything real.
Vodolazkin certainly ignores narrative conventions. But he does so to create, not to confuse, disrupt or destroy. It's mission - whether the author's intention is missionary or not - is to liberate. And it truly does so. It often ignores the conventions by which we deal with time and place. But if it does, it does so to give us a deeper and more profound sense of both - eternal and universal.
Set in the late Middle Ages, its protagonist, Arseny, born in 1440, was raised near the Kirillov Monastery, about three hundred miles north of Moscow. He becomes a renowned herbal healer, faith healer, and prophet who “pelted demons with stones and conversed with angels.” He makes a pilgrimage to Jerusalem, encountering miracles, murder and mayhem on the way. He takes on new names, depending on how he will next serve God. His last name is Laurus. The people venerate his humble spirituality.
American columnist Rod Dreher describes this as "an earthy novel", a novel filled with the sounds, smells, violence, superstition, and fanaticism of the Middle Ages. It reminds one of Andrei Tarkovsky's cinematic masterpiece set in the same era, Andrei Rublev.
Vodolazkin has what we would probably call, borrowing from his own terminology, a personalist view of history.
Laurus is an exploration of the human condition in our own time but looked at with the wisdom of the people of another time. In truth, It reveals the deep humanism of the Middle Ages. For Vodolazkin this age was much more humanistic than modernity.
In one of the most moving passages in the book - and there are many of those - the medieval sensibility speaks to modern man showing us that there truly is nothing new under the sun.
The sequence, and the events which follow, are central in the entire structure of the novel and in it's spell-binding denouement.
In a year of great hunger, the young woman Anastasia came to Laurus after losing her virginity. She prostrated herself before Laurus, weeping, and said: I feel that I am carrying a baby in my womb but I cannot bear the baby without a husband. For when the child is born, it will be called the fruit of my sin.
What do you want, woman? Laurus asked.
You know yourself, O Laurus, what I want, but I am afraid to say it to you.
I do know, woman. Just as you know how I will answer you. So do tell me, why did you come to me?
Because if I go to the wise woman in Rukina Quarter, everyone will find out about my sin. But you can simply pray and then the fruit of my sin will leave me the same way it entered.
Laurus’s gaze rose along the tops of the pine trees and got lost in the leaden skies. Snowflakes froze on his eyelashes. The first snow had covered the glade.
I cannot pray for that. Prayer should carry the force of conviction, otherwise it is not effective. And you are asking me to pray for murder.
Anastasia slowly rose from her knees. She sat on a fallen tree and held up her cheeks with her fists.
I am an orphan and now is a time of hunger and I cannot feed the child enough. How can you not understand?
Keep the child and everything will turn out fine. Simply believe me, I know this.
You are killing both me and the baby, Anastasia said before leaving him.
“The massacres we have seen in the 20th century, no one in the Middle Ages could have imagined", Vodvolaskin has said. "Despite what you might have heard, a human life was estimated very highly in the Middle Ages. When they say that humanism appeared only in modernity, it is not true.”
He explains how it was a special kind of humanism. The humanism of modernity sees the human being as the measure of all things, but medieval people were convinced that this measure was given by God. For him, it’s an essential difference. Echoing his great compatriot Alexander Solzynitsyn’s critique of the Renaissance, and the subsequent moves to put man at the centre of the universe in the Enlightenment, he says that in modernity the human being is at the top of the hierarchy. In the Middle Ages, at the top of the hierarchy was God. “In our post-Christian society, God very often is not present in our life at all.”
In a seminar in London last Autumn, Vodolazkin described Laurus in this way: “To quote (Mikhail) Lermontov,” he said, “it is ‘the history of a man’s soul’.” The book’s subtitle is, intriguingly, “a non-historical novel”. He is quick to dissociate himself from historical fiction. It is ultimately “a book about absence,” he said, “a book about modernity”. There are two ways to write about modernity, he explains: the first is by writing about the things we have; the second, by writing about those things we no longer have. This is the way of Laurus and for those who have ears to hear it may be a way back to all that has been lost.
Vodolazkin was born and raised in the Soviet era. For him studying medieval history and literature was a way to escape from the gulag that was Societ Russia, a kind of emmigraton. For him medieval history was the only piece of reality where the Soviet mentality was absent in the 1980s when he was growing up.
His parents were agnostics and he was not baptized as a child. It was a period of my personal paganism, he says. "As a child, I asked someone, some unknown person, to help me, please. When I was 16, I was baptized; a movement inside me led me to that point. Where did it come from? When I was 14 or 15, I discovered death." Little children, he says, know that death exists, but they don’t believe it concerns them. They think that a death is a personal misunderstanding, or something that happens to this particular person who died. He experienced a terrible fear when he confronted death – not that he would die and would not be, but rather that everything is pointless without God.
In Laurus, its New Yorker reviewer tells us, Vodolazkin aims directly at the heart of the Russian religious experience. He may, but he does much more than that. He goes to the heart of the hunger for religion in every soul.
This is a book of great complexity, with archaic flourishes which sometimes baffle the reader but are all part of the meaning of the whole. According to one reviewer, “Laurus cannot be faulted for its ambition or for its poignant humanity. It is a profound, sometimes challenging, meditation on faith, love and life’s mysteries.”
It is truly astounding that just a few decades after Russia’s emergence from the bitter wilderness of soviet atheism, a voice and a spirit like this can speak to us with such authority, spiritual sensibility and wisdom.
Healing is a constant theme in Laurus. Laurus suffers when his immediate intuition is that nothing can be done for someone. We care too. He takes on the role of different characters as he ages and moves to different regions, towns and villages. It is set mostly in middle age Russia. His journey is not only physical but also spiritual. The author explains how the concept of time different back then and events and experiences of time was something fluid and changing.
Laurus lives a humble life but also experiences a profound love when he takes pity on a young hungry banished woman who visits him at a time of the plague. He holds tightly to their love keeping her secret but then is struck profoundly by events that unfold. He carries guilt for the rest of his life. He hopes that by healing those that come into his presence he can be forgiven. Laurus is a type of healer or middle-age doctor to the poor and rich alike. His skills and successes mean he quickly gains fame and reputation in the different abodes he takes. One mayor who awards him for helping heal some family members soon learns he used the money to buy bread for the village poor.
Another path he takes is with an educated noble Italian on a perilous pilgrimage to Jerusalem. For some reason they are convinced that some important secret about the date for the end of the world awaits them. This was a time where myths of people with heads in their stomachs and other folklore were strong. It is Laurus trust in his God that means he prays for shelter along their way.
This sense of a journey and way is constant throughout. The novel is set in middle age Russia and the text is comfortable, mostly well written and fluid. It is not as challenging as others here have suggested by using older English words.
You end up caring about Laurus and his life. You have empathy and compassion for those who come to see him. Even when a disturbed bear in winter arrives, Laurus offers his cave to but he quietly hopes this hairy visitor will soon find his own.
Recommended for people with an interest in the middle-ages, and nature. It is a glimpse into where modern society have come from. A gentle and interesting life story of a time where Laurus and his fateful powers were a light onto lifes dark shadows. His gifts are still relevant today.