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The Last of the Vostyachs [Paperback]

Diego Marani , Judith Landry

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Book Description

Nov. 1 2012 Dedalus Europe 2012
The Last of the Vostyachs won two literary prizes in Italy: The Premio Campiello and The Premio Stresa. As a child, Ivan and his father work as forced labourers in a mine in Siberia, the father having committed some minor offence against the regime. Ivan's father is then murdered in front of his young son, after which Ivan - who is a Vostyach, an imaginary ethnic group of whose language he is the last remaining speaker - is struck dumb by what he has witnessed. Some twenty years later the guards desert their posts and Ivan walks free, together with the other inmates. Guided by some mysterious power, he returns to the region he originally came from...

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 168 pages
  • Publisher: Dedalus Limited (Nov. 1 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1907650563
  • ISBN-13: 978-1907650567
  • Product Dimensions: 19.6 x 12.4 x 1.8 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 181 g
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #526,930 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description


"A 'genius' Helsinki mystery with a touch of The Killing."--Nick Lezard in The Guardian

"Marani is obsessed by language and how it defines us. Here's a gifted European linguist also gifted at describing who we are as Europeans."--Rosie Goldsmith in The Independent

About the Author

Diego Marani was born in Ferrara in 1959. He works as a senior linguist for the European Union in Brussels. Every week he writes a column for a Swiss newspaper about current affairs in Europanto, a language that he has invented. His collection of short stories in Europanto, Las Adventures des Inspector Cabillot has been published by Dedalus. In Italian he has published seven novels, including the highly acclaimed New Finnish Grammar and The Last of the Vostyachs.

was educated at Oxford where she obtained a first class honors degree in French and Italian. She teaches and translates fiction, art and architecture. Her translation of Marani's New Finnish Grammar won the Oxford-Weidenfeld Translation Prize and was shortlisted for The Best Translated Book.

Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 3.2 out of 5 stars  9 reviews
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars clever, funny. moving April 23 2013
By Cloggie Downunder - Published on
The Last of the Vostyachs is the3rd novel by Italian author, Diego Marani, and the second to be translated into English. When Russian linguist Olga Pavlovna, stranded by a blizzard in a remote Siberian village, stumbles across a wild man speaking a strange language, her boredom is instantly transformed into enthusiasm: Ivan is speaking in a tongue thought long extinct. Could he be the last of the Vostyachs? Olga naively shares her discovery with her Finnish colleague, Professor Jarmo Aurtovo, certain he will share her excitement. Consequently, when she entrusts Ivan into the self-serving Aurtovo's care, she has no idea of the magnitude of her error. To the aforementioned elements add: a scorned ex-wife who is determined to be rid of her husband's dog; a Police officer who just wants to watch the ice hockey final; a bar-owning Laplander pimp; a cold snap that freezes the seas in the Gulf of Finland; the XXIst congress of Finno-Ugric languages; an island cabin complete with sauna; zoo animals loose on the streets of Helsinki; an aging, overweight Russian prostitute; and a bunch of people who get excited over the lateral affricative with labiovelar overlay and you have a novel that is a combination of murder mystery, comedy, tragedy, tongue-in-cheek linguistic text and spiritual tale. Readers who find the philological jargon heavy going should persist, as the truly delicious irony of the ending is well worth it. Flawlessly translated by Judith Landry, this is a brilliant novel which will have readers seeking out Marani's other works. Clever, funny and moving.
4.0 out of 5 stars What can we learn from a dying language? Feb. 6 2014
By Ralph Blumenau - Published on
Format:Kindle Edition
For twenty years Ivan, arrested together with his father for poaching, had been in a Soviet Gulag in far north of Siberia. After his father had been killed trying to escape, Ivan had not spoken a word. Then, one late autumn day, the soldiers had gone, the inmates left the camp and scattered, and Ivan trudged on alone, for a long time not meeting a soul, surviving by using his old trapping skills. With a home-made drum or flute he can summon, charm or check wild animals. He has the occasional mystical vision. He belongs to the Vostyach tribe, which many scientists believed to have become extinct, and he spoke its near-extinct language.

At last he stumbled on a village inn, and by chance, temporarily marooned there by deep snow, was Olga, a Russian linguist who was making a study of the local languages. She recognized his language, had some Vostyach vocabulary herself, and made recordings of him. She is thrilled to discover that this language is a link between the Finnish and the Eskimo-Aleut language, proving the contested idea that in antiquity the same language group was spoken from Siberia to North America. (There is a good deal of technical discussion about this.) Ivan, for his part, is delighted to be able to communicate with her. Olga was about to attend a congress on the Finno-Ugric languages in Helsinki, and persuaded him to come with her. Needless to say, he was utterly bewildered and frightened by trains, planes, and cities. A commitment makes her send Ivan ahead of her and ask Professor Aurtova, who will be running the Congress, to look after him for a few hours until she arrives.

Up to this point, the story is powerful, poetic, and captivating. But it then changes tone.

Aurtova is a Finnish patriot, hates anything that comes out of Russia, and so has an ideological resistance to the idea that there was any connection between the Finns and the Voystyachs (or, for that matter, between the Finns and the Algonquin Indians). The Finns, he will argue, have long refused to learn neighbouring languages, and he wants this to continue to maintain the purity of their language. Field-Marshal Mannerheim was his hero, and it also emerges later that he hates democracy. Aurtova is also a vile and ruthless scoundrel (he is detested by his ex-wife), and he will go to extreme lengths to prevent Ivan or Olga appearing at the Congress. The descriptive passages are as powerful as ever, but the novel becomes a melodramatic thriller. There are murders. The animals in a zoo are set free and roam the city. Coincidences abound. At first I found this change of tack disconcerting, but because the descriptive passages are as powerful as ever, I adjusted to it, and found the thriller gripping. It does not quite lose sight of the language question, and it reemerges strongly near the end of the book. There is a wonderfully symbolical scene on a liner from Helsinki to the Aland Islands. It is hard to believe, but its development will make for a satisfying conclusion to the novel.

(See also my Amazon review of Marani’s earlier novel “New Finnish Grammar”)
4.0 out of 5 stars A great ride Sept. 8 2013
By Chris Nelson - Published on
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
This is a well crafted book that survives translation beautifully. It's a fast paced story that despite the arcane knowledge of languages peoples and dialects keeps you interested.
3.0 out of 5 stars Very dense prose June 9 2013
By Andrew J. P. Maclean - Published on
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
The prose is dense, but well written, with rather long quotations in places that don't really add to the story. Other than that, it is an interesting take on how exploitation by academics can happen in relation to someone who is the last of his tribe. The twist at the end is good but I would have thought that Ivan (the last of the Vostyachs) would have been more fluent in the other languages that surround him, humans are pretty efficient at communicating.
3.0 out of 5 stars crazy quilt April 16 2013
By monica - Published on
Another post here gives an excellent summary of the novel. It's a book I've a few reservations about, though. I'd read very enthusiastic reviews of it, expected a bit better, and hope to forestall the slight disappointment other readers like me might feel.

Last of the Voystachs held my attention, was occasionally touching, and passages and strands in it might prove memorable. But I wish Marani had written another draft before publishing, one in which he'd managed to achieve consistency of tone or, better still, harmony of tones. It wouldn't be impossible for a writer so good as he to mix humour with pathos, the absurd with the weighty, and violence with nostalgic yearning; here, though, those elements are irregular patchwork rather than coherent whole. And because they were they competed with, even undermined, each other: The compassion Marani makes the reader feel for Ivan is lessened by the attention given the sit-com ex-wife; the wonderful descriptions of nature and weather are weakened by the account of the Laplander's anxious drive to the beach; the thoughtful passages about linguistics lose a lot of their impact when followed by the attempt to get drunk a woman with a hollow leg. Moreover, changes in viewpoint sometimes also have this patchy quality; the account of two professors meeting in a summer cottage is often awkward because Marani shifts point of view without making clear enough whose viewpoint is being given.

I think this book might have a special appeal to fans of a certain strain of British comedy: It has a far-fetched, very plotty, terribly broad treatment of the humourous. But there's much more to it than the farcical and I'd recommend it to anyone as a book well worth reading: It's a very good novel that could with more care and better balance have been a very powerful one.

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