Brisbane: A Novel

Reviewed by:

G. Connor Salter, Professional Writing alumnus from Taylor University, Upland, IN.


Brisbane: A Novel


Eugene Vodalazkin (translated by Marian Schwartz)


Plough Publishing (first English language edition)

Publication Date:

August 30, 2022




343 pages


Gleb Yanovsky has everything. He is a world-famous guitarist and singer who spends much of his life going from limousine to luxury hotel to crowded concert hall. He also has a problem. He has Parkinson’s and must determine what to do with the time he has left. As he ponders his past—a childhood in Soviet-controlled Kiev, college years in Germany, his marriage and his complex heritage as a half-Ukrainian Russian—a new opportunity comes up. A woman from his past has a musical prodigy daughter with a fatal condition. As Gleb tries to fulfill the little girl’s dream before it’s too late, he remembers his mother’s lifelong dream: to visit Brisbane, Australia.

Eastern European and Russian Christians bring a different approach to writing about faith. They’ve written some of the most compelling portraits of faith’s beauty—for example, Dostoevsky imagines Christ meeting the Inquisition in The Brothers Karamazov—but usually contrasted against stark suffering. Much of the starkness has to do with the Soviet regime—Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn wrote brilliant but heartbreaking stories about his experience as a Christian opposing the regime, published in books like The Gulag Archipelago. Even the writers who saw the USSR fall tended to tell very bittersweet stories about faith—Krzysztof Kieślowski’s famous movie Three Colors: Blue starts with horrifying tragedy before it becomes a Gospel-enthused story about redemption.

Vodalazkin tells a story that starts during the Soviet period, extends to describe its defeat and the aftermath, never quite becoming a conventionally hopeful book. His character finds new freedom in the Christian faith his grandfather secretly baptizes him into but still experiences plenty of suffering. Even outside Russia, his life is an interesting mix of unexpected great opportunities and unexpected pain. Some people, like a music school crush, become obsessed with missed past opportunities. Others, like his mother, focus on an impossible ideal—Brisbane, which Vodalazkin said “is a symbol of being on the other side of the globe, the goal of dreams, of effort, which, of course, is unattainable.” Gleb seems to take life as it comes—rather like King Solomon at the end of Ecclesiastes. He doesn’t get all he wants, but what remains constant is his value for other people—even extending charity to those associated with great past pain.

Messy and complicated as these characters are, the story treats them all as interesting, inherently valuable human beings—a core Christian value. The result is a book that may not be conventionally heartwarming, but encourages in a way that “inspirational Christian fiction” never can. It makes no promises that everything will be fixed in this life, but it affirms that life still has value, whatever our circumstances.

A meaty, thought-provoking, intelligent book about what we put our hope in.


Rating (1 to 5 stars)

5 stars

Suggested Audience:

Christians who like literary fiction, especially ones dealing with remorse over the past and grappling with what it means to have faith when tomorrow isn’t guaranteed.

Christian Impact:

The author doesn’t talk about religion on every page, but the book is filled with a sense that life can feel so sad precisely because life is so precious. He also fills the book with a sense that even in life’s bleakest moments, life has value—a value clearly grounded in a Judeo-Christian worldview.



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