The Aviator

Written by Eugene Vodolazkin Lisa C. Hayden (trans.)
Review by Janice Ottersberg

Innokenty Platonov wakes in a Russian hospital bed with no memory of who he is or why he is there. Dr. Geiger is only willing to tell him his name because he wants memories to return naturally. He gives him a journal to record any memories that surface. As Innokenty writes, he begins to recall his life, people, and events. Then his nurse leaves a bottle of medication at his bedside, but the date on the bottle makes no sense: 1999. This can’t be, since he is sure he was born in 1900.

Innokenty’s life unfolds through his diary entries as he puts the pieces together and he tries to make sense of the strange world he now inhabits. He writes of his experiences living through the Red Terror, the Russian Revolution, and imprisonment in a Soviet gulag. Bittersweet are his memories of Anastasia—loving her then losing her. But how real are these memories? How can he reconcile these memories with what is now his reality? A young woman, Nastya, comes into his life, and they fall in love. Both Dr. Geiger and Nastya help him navigate and discover the modern world where he now finds himself.

Innokenty is an intriguing character who stoically and bravely faces what has happened in the past and what his life is now. There are two beautiful love stories: Anastasia, who he lost in the 1920s, and Nastya, who becomes a part of his life in the 1990s. This book also addresses the possibilities of science and what scientific advances can do to us as humans. I loved this story in diary entries, told mainly by Innokenty, but also by Dr. Geiger and Nastya. This format made the pages fly by. A brilliant, thought-provoking read.