The Aviator by Eugene Vodolazkin and Lisa Hayden (Translator)

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The Aviator by Eugene Vodolazkin and Lisa Hayden (Translator)

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Category: Literary Fiction
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: Louise Jones
Reviewed by Louise Jones
Summary: An intriguing plotline draws readers into this translation from the original Russian about a man displaced in time.
Buy? yes Borrow? yes
Pages: 400 Date: May 2018
Publisher: Oneworld Publications
ISBN: 9781786072719

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Innokenty Petrovich Platonov wakes up in a hospital bed with no recollection of who he is or how he got there. He is tended by a single doctor, Doctor Geiger, who gives him a pencil and notebook and encourages him to write down his observations and memories. The notebook is thick, like a novel. How can Innokenty fill it if he cannot remember anything? But slowly the memories start to return, memories of childhood holidays at the beach, of life in the dacha, of the airfield and the aviators...and the seems like some memories may be better left buried. He remembers that he is the same age as the century, born in 1900. But if that is the case, how is he still a young man when the pills by his bedside are dated 1999?

So begins The Aviator, which immediately draws the reader in with the mystery of who Innokenty is and how he managed to seemingly travel in time. His diary fluctuates between his current observations and old memories of pre-revolutionary Russia, concentrating more heavily on the latter. As the story progresses and we unravel the mystery of how Innokenty came to be in the modern world, the story focuses on his difficulties fitting in and becoming accustomed to what is essentially an alien environment for him.

The book raises some thought-provoking topics. Is there anyone still alive from his time period? Friends? Family? Or is Innokenty completely alone? How will he adjust to the technology of our modern world? To computers, or even something as simple as the humble ball-point pen? It is interesting how these themes are addressed, as it is revealed that the things Innokenty misses most are the small things; sights, smells and sounds that he will never hear again. The sense of loss is palpable; the slow realisation of his situation and subsequent wave of grief hit him like a sledgehammer.

The book is firmly in the Literary Fiction category, so don't expect an easy or straightforward read. A lot of the narrative is verbose and almost poetic in nature. As the story continues, Innokenty becomes fixated on the minutiae of life, which means that the path between the beginning and end of the story can be a long and winding one, with plenty of diversions along the way. As a reader, I did feel that my perseverance was rewarded, although some chapters did seem excessively wordy. It didn't help that the author uses the protagonist's three given names interchangeably throughout the text, which can easily cause confusion.

The book leaves the reader with a lot to think about after the final page. The ending is left purposely ambiguous so the we are left to fill in the gaps of how the story turns out. It's impossible to not imagine how WE would feel and react, propelled almost a century into our own future. Many thanks to the publishers for a unique and immersive read. Also thanks to the translators for bringing the story to life for a wider audience.

For a further insight into some of the historical events covered in the story, we recommend The World on Fire: 1919 and the Battle with Bolshevism by Anthony Read

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Buy The Aviator by Eugene Vodolazkin and Lisa Hayden (Translator) at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Aviator by Eugene Vodolazkin and Lisa Hayden (Translator) at


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