Pavel Vadimov

LUPETTA (Lupetta)



384 pp

Publishers: Ripol Classic; Prestige Book, Moscow

Agent: Julia Goumen at


In his brilliant literary debut, Pavel Vadimov writes of death and love with the confessional bitterness and buffoonish recklessness of one who has known both.


Love and death interweave here in the (true) story of Vadimov, a cancer patient, as he undergoes chemotherapy and tries to speak the unspeakable.


The novel is built on the juxtaposition of two alternating stories. In the first story, Vadimov is a 30-year-old guy who lives in St Petersburg, works as a project manager, and is in love with a young girl called Lupetta (the name means “she-wolf cub” in Italian). In the second story, Vadimov suffers from a form of cancer of the blood, receiving treatment in a hospital cancer ward, where he explores the lives of his fellow patients and his own disease, Lymphoma. The crystalline structure of the novel has a contagious metaphorical effect-the author throws readers from cold to hot, from the cancer ward to a cozy Petersburg cafй, from dying fellow-sufferers to a beautiful girl, from body to feelings, from «stealing beauty» to imminent death.


LUPETTA is an absolutely convincing attempt to find an adequate language in which to speak of taboo subjects. Through the voices of Moondog and Michael Nyman, Sartre and Bataille, Job and King Solomon, Ortega y Gasset, Hanns Heinz-Ewers, Thomas Hodgkin, Gottfried Helnwein and Jackson Pollock, citations from the Bible and from medical textbooks, an explosive postmodern text emerges, mixed with author’s own blood. This book, at once addictive and infectious, makes you empathize, weep and smile at Vadimov’s lighthearted humor. Yet the first thing you do afterwards is to grab a mirror to check for a lump in your neck.

About the author:

Pavel Vadimov was born in 1969 in Pushkin, outside of St Petersburg. He studied economics at St Petersburg Academy of Engineering and Economics. However, he has never tried his hand as an economist in his otherwise varied professional career. He has worked as an actor, a restaurant critic, a content-manager of Web projects, a real estate market analyst for a specialized magazine, and an art photographer. LUPETTA is Vadimov’s first novel. The text appeared on the Internet as daily entries in Vadimov’s Live Journal, and was discovered by the well-known critic, poet and prose writer Dmitry Bavilsky, who championed the publication of the manuscript. Visit the author’s website at


Praise for the novel: 

 In short, "Lupetta" is one of the most readable Russian books in recent memory, and the author managed to write about the ultimate things, love and death, without being trivial or pretentious. 

The Moscow Times

«Vadimov is Nabokov’s ally. Meaning for him does not lie in doctrines or truisms, but in the brilliance and precision of wording, in the play of chance, in the sphere where truth reveals itself through the beauty of form as an answer to an unasked question. <…> Baroque imagery, puns, comically realized metaphors-yet, there is no excess of images, nor do jokes seem far-fetched or banal. Everything is so out of place that it’s good. LUPETTA is probably cruder than THE MAGIC MOUNTAIN or INVITATION TO A BEHEADING, but it nevertheless clearly recalls these texts».


Afisha magazine



«A cold, refined text-probably the best novel of the year in Russia. When reading, you experience a wide range of responses: interest in the beginning, then boredom, then outright rejection, and, finally, almost a kind of rapture. From the middle the novel grows into a landslide, an avalanche, and you can only rush through the pages, without looking back - lest you should get crushed».

Knizhnaya Vitrina


«Tick-tock, tick-tock sounds the clock measuring the time left for the main hero. “Tick” is the triumph of life, a knockout love. “Tock” is death in its most abhorrent image of people rotting alive».



«On paper, LUPETTA looks different from its Internet version in Live Journal. The electronic form documented an invisible tragedy unfolding before our eyes. In its hardcover edition, LUPETTA turns to the reader with unmistakable literary values. This many-sidedness of the text is the first sign that it is real literature».

Dmitry Bavilsky,
the internationally recognized author


«Vadimov does not love, does not die - he hedges loving and dying, barely balancing on the edge of the abyss. Love and death appear as a dodge, as delay, as constant resistance to them».

                                                                                                                     Topos magazine


«This is a powerful and radically disillusioning book. For everyone who is not afraid to inhabit terra firma».

TimeOut magazine


Read excerpts from the novel in English, as translated by Andrew Bromfield


Pp. 148-151 

* * * *


He got the nickname the Crossword Man the very first day he appeared in the ward. I’d come across people who were crazy about crosswords before, but this was the first time I’d ever seen anyone as obsessed with them as he was. If not for the parchment colour of his face and the yellow crust round his eyes, he could have been taken for forty or forty-five years old. Like most of the rest of us, the Crossword Man had been diagnosed too late. The moment he came round after they’d stitched in the catheter, our new neighbour reached into a well-travelled blue sports bag and fished out a whole heap of newspapers and books just full of crosswords with all their little squares filled in. Paying no attention to all the drip-feeds flowing at different rates, he frowned in concentration, chewing on a well-chewed pencil and muttering something unintelligible. The Crossword Man was so completely self-absorbed that when he unexpectedly bleated in a high voice: “A device for testing eggs, eight letters, can anyone remember?” the whole ward jumped. He didn’t get any answer until a few minutes later Georgy Petrovich muttered: “Cunt. When my pair eggs stopped responding to it after the third round of chemotherapy, I realised the game was up”. The Crossword Man screwed up his scabby eyes and looked intently at his neighbour. “In the first place, there are only four letters in that word, not eight, in the second place, they don’t put swearwords in crosswords, and in the third place, I’ve already got the answer – an ovoscope.” Gennady Petrovich swore quietly and took a “Belomorpapyrosa out on to the back staircase for a smoke. No one took any more notice of the Crossword Man’s exclamations, but he still carried on proclaiming his stupid questions to the ward for several hours:

“An organism that lives in the absence of free oxygen, eight letters?”

“A painting in different shades of a single colour, eight letters?”

“The sucker used by a parasitical plant to attach itself to the host plant and extract nourishing fluids from it, nine letters?”

The chemotherapy didn’t have any noticeable effect, but the master of answers was not downhearted. “Did you get Friday’s? Let me have them, quick, where have you stuck them?” he bleated at his wife as soon as she appeared in the doorway. It was her duty to make regular deliveries of new crosswords to the ward.

“Solving crosswords when you were already at death’s door – what could be more stupid?” I thought. “You’ve only got months left to live, maybe weeks, and you can’t think of anything better to do than trying to trace the name of the volcano on the island of Hiunsiu or remember what the reproductive organ of mushrooms is called?” But later on I started to feel more sympathetic towards the Crossword Man, and even envy him a little. I realised that crosswords played more or less the same role for him as the Bible did for Kirill and vulgar talk did for Georgy Petrovich, or Moondog did for me. Maybe they were an even more effective treatment, bearing in mind that, unlike certain other people in the ward, the Crossword Man kept up a brave front: he didn’t cry, he didn’t groan and he didn’t complain about his lot. When you get right down to it, who would dare to claim that there’s only one valid way to while away the time in the last Waiting Room on earth? It wouldn’t surprise me in the least if, from the point of view of eternity, the idiotic crossword weighs heavier in the scales than words and music and all the sacred books taken together. What a laugh it would be if it turned out that what you need to do to get into heaven, or nirvana if you like, is not repent of all your deadly sins at your final confession, not piously learn off the Book of the Dead by heart or even meditate on a cockroach sitting on the wall, but simply guess a single six-letter word in some pathetic crossword. Just one single word.

When they took the Crossword Man away to the intensive therapy ward, out of idle curiosity I decided to take a look at the last crossword he’d solved. All the empty squares had been filled in, but not with the right answers … not even with words … just a senseless jumble of letters.


Pp. 179-184


* * * *


I didn’t even realise what was happening at first. It sounded as if some new part had appeared in the gentle flow of the Moondog Suite through the earphones. But that was nonsense, I’d listened to the music a thousand times. Was it just another side effect of the chemotherapy? Aural hallucinations were all I needed make my happiness complete! I carefully took off the earphones. Moondog disappeared, but the new melody sounded louder now. It was definitely a sax. But where was it coming from? I glanced around. The atmosphere in the ward was the same as always – lives slipping away. Georgy Petrovich was snoring indignantly under a newspaper. Kirill was muttering prayers at high speed. Vitalik was grinding his teeth with his face stuck in his pillow, and there wasn’t a sound coming from behind the screen. Ah, that was it! Why hadn’t I guessed sooner? I felt for my slippers with my feet, took hold of the drip stand and hobbled towards the window. I couldn’t make anything out at first, the heap of plastic bags full of food, sandwiched in between the double frames, got in my way. Trying not to overturn the drip stand, I carefully turned the handle to open the squeaky window frame, parted the plastic bags and stuck my face in the gap. A young guy in a blue jacket was standing on a sawn-off poplar stump right in the middle of the yard, puffing out his cheeks as he tormented an alto-saxophone that gleamed dully in the light. The melody wasn’t rendered too accurately, but at least it was played with feeling. I was just wondering who he was playing for when I heard Antosha’s hoarse voice screeching behind me:

“They brought his girlfriend in yesterday with luke after a bone marrow transplant. She’s in intensive. Rudolfovna said she needed positive emotions to improve the chances of chance of the donor’s marrow taking. So he’s out there tooting his flute for all he’s worth, trying to keep her cheerful … Listen, lend me your player, will you, just for a bit? You can listen to him tootling in the meantime, listen, he’s really good, and I’ll tune in to the radio, okay?”

“Luke” was what we called leukaemia. As usual, Charon knew about everything that was happening in the hospital. Without even answering him, I went back to my bed, settled down comfortably and stuck the earphones on again. “Bloody stingy bastard!” Antosha growled and walked out of the ward.

After that the alto sax played every morning. Even before Olenka had handed out the thermometers to every bed and changed the drips behind the screen, the young musician launched into his solo concert, which went on without a break for an hour or even longer. He was up on his tree stump before seven in the morning and never finished his performance later than half past eight – he must have been studying in the conservatory. After a few days we got so used to our brief morning serenade that when the horn player in the blue jacket was a bit late one morning, several of the walking patients spontaneously clustered round the window, watching for their morning songbird. Even though there weren’t any notable connoisseurs of classical music among us, the daily concerts changed the atmosphere in the ward quite remarkably. Georgy Petrovich stopped belting out “Russian Chansons” from his radio at full volume – only until lunchtime, it’s true, but that was already some kind of progress. Kirill developed an appetite for more than just spiritual food, and stopped refusing to eat his boiled grain in the morning – something his mum regarded as a miracle from God. Vitalik stopped grinding his teeth and even asked me for something to read. And the person behind the screen started breathing a lot more smoothly.

The fairytale came to an end after exactly two weeks. One fine hospital morning the stump under the window remained empty. No one asked any questions, but it was obvious that everyone was feeling nervous.

“He won’t be tooting his flute any more,” said Antosha, appearing in the doorway, “Rudolfovna told me that the blood marrow didn’t take. So the show’s off. They’ll be shipping his doll down to the basement soon.” Not a single word was spoken in reply. And then the next second, as if in protest against the sentence pronounced by Antosha, the silence was broken by a long, drawn-out howl from the horn outside the window. It came as such a shock, I almost jerked my catheter out. But instead of the usual classical programme, what we heard was a wild cacophony that sounded like some bird screaming in insane panic, Wagner’s Valkyries in a wild dive and the bugle at a Young Pioneer camp. It lasted for less than a minute and ended with a strange noise.

When we got to the window, the young man in the blue jacket was already gone. And there was a badly battered alto sax lying beside the tree stump


* * * *


“You know, I’ve been wanting to tell you for a long time … You’re amazing. No, you really are. You probably haven’t noticed what a private person I am. I’ve always found it hard to get close to people. To get to know them. I don’t know why. When you consider that I’ve never suffered any lack of attention from men, it might seem strange. I suppose I really am a bit strange. Not like all the rest, you know … Yes, they all say I’m beautiful. I know that anyway. They pay me compliments. But I don’t want compliments.  They look at me … they simply undress me with their eyes. But I think … I don’t just think, I’m certain of it … that they only see my outside – my face, my body, my legs, you know what I mean? They’re blind, blind … they can’t look any deeper, they don’t want to, that’s not what they’re after. And I don’t want to be just a body to anyone. I want to know, to know for certain that if I wasn’t like this … what they call “beautiful”, the man beside me, my man, would still find something worth loving in me. You know what I mean? That’s why I’m not interested in men my own age – none of them are like that … And I’m afraid of men who are a lot older than me. Maybe that’s because I don’t have a father. Now I’m talking nonsense, aren’t I?

You’re different. Quite different. At first I even thought you weren’t interested in women. You never look at me the way other men do. Like animals. The way they look makes me feel sick. It’s nothing but mindless lust and blind desire. But at the same time I can tell it’s not because you’re not interested. I like the way you see me as more than just a female, more than just a pretty face. You like to make conversation with me and argue about things … You enjoy it, I can tell you do … I like the way you talk, the way you smoke your pipe, I like the way you get worked up when you argue about something, how good you are at listening … I still don’t understand how we managed to find a common language so quickly. It’s not really typical of me at all … I’m starting to repeat myself, I’m sorry … What I want to say is that that from the very first time we met I felt like we’d known each other for a thousand years already, that we were ... from the same planet, you know what I mean?

In the Academy of Arts they made us do charcoal drawings of a rose, a standard plaster cast. I did try, I tried really hard, and I was sure I’d done it right, but when the teacher came to my easel, he didn’t say a single word, just took the charcoal out of my hand and drew a line right through my drawing … In a single movement. You know I’m no cry-baby, but that time I cried like I’ve never cried in my life. My eyes were wet for a week … Everybody thought I’d had had an unhappy love affair, that someone had dumped me, but it was just that the artist in me had been crossed out by that charcoal, and it hurt … It hurt very badly. So anyway, I always dreamed that the man I love would inspire emotions just as strong as that rejected drawing did. Only positive emotions instead negative ones. I suppose that’s setting the standard too high, I don’t know … but I still haven’t met anyone like that.

Of course, you know, you’re not quite the man I imagined always being beside me … I don’t mean the way you look, it’s something else … How can I explain … Like a little fool, I always dreamed of a personality … nothing concrete … I just thought that some day someone would arrive and I’d recognise him immediately. Now I’ve realised that’s all nonsense. Now what I want is someone like you … And I have to admit … you’ve probably guessed already … the thing is … I want you to be the first. Undress me … Only don’t forget the condom, please … Why are you looking at me like that? What on earth’s wrong with you?

Are you impotent, or something?


Read other excerpts from the novel in English, as translated by Mary C. Gannon   

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