Title/Author: Disappearing Earth by Julia Phillips
In a nutshell: One August afternoon, on the shoreline of the Kamchatka peninsula at the northeastern edge of Russia, two girls–sisters, eight and eleven–go missing. In the ensuing weeks, then months, the police investigation turns up nothing. Echoes of the disappearance reverberate across a tightly woven community, with the fear and loss felt most deeply among its women.
Taking us through a year in Kamchatka, Disappearing Earth enters with astonishing emotional acuity the worlds of a cast of richly drawn characters, all connected by the crime: a witness, a neighbor, a detective, a mother. We are transported to vistas of rugged beauty–densely wooded forests, open expanses of tundra, soaring volcanoes, and the glassy seas that border Japan and Alaska–and into a region as complex as it is alluring, where social and ethnic tensions have long simmered, and where outsiders are often the first to be accused.
In a story as propulsive as it is emotionally engaging, and through a young writer’s virtuosic feat of empathy and imagination, this powerful novel brings us to a new understanding of the intricate bonds of family and community, in a Russia unlike any we have seen before.
Verdict: A well thought-out , chilling non-thriller, thriller!
One August afternoon, two young girls, sisters aged 8 and 11, who were just spending time together, doing their own thing, helped a guy into his car, then disappeared. Vanished into the vast landscape of the unknown. Just like that.
The first chapter, the introduction to the missing girls, blew me away. It was short, yet powerful and chilling. With that, my expectations of this book shot way up.
So it was only natural that I was hoping to find clues that’ll lead me to the kidnapper in the following chapters. I searched and searched and read and read, but found nothing except stories of people who seemed to be unrelated to the kidnapping. Where was the investigation? Is this case going to be investigated at all? Where were the police? I want the police in on this right now!
OK none. I was disappointed. Appalled. Reviews had been great but looks like I might be bailing on this. But I was curious how it got its glowing reviews. So I decided to give it another try and read it as short stories, as suggested by some reviewers. And wow the impact was really different.
Set in the Kamchatka peninsula, this collection of ‘short stories’ are of people, especially women, who are loosely ‘connected’ to the missing girls. The missing girls had sort of like a ripple effect on the lives of people living in and outside of Kamchatka, over the course of a year.
Some stories that stood out to me were the story of a friendship of two young girls torn apart because of judgment of another parent’s background and parenting; another was a young girl torn between two lovers; a married yet lonely lady who longed for attention; the one and only eyewitness of the case who lost her beloved dog, a woman who grew tired of her irresponsible husband; another missing girl, one that didn’t get any attention because she wasn’t white, and the mothers of the victims; each of them experiencing their own grief, fear, desperation, love, loss, and loneliness. Racism (white against the indigenous) was also portrayed in this story although not at its core.
The ending really caught me off guard. It was shocking but I loved it.
I can understand why this book may not work for some. Firstly, it revolved around many characters which will be mentioned again briefly in other chapters, so if you don’t follow closely you might lose track. But fear not, there’s like an index in the beginning of the book so it helps a lot if you somehow lose track of who’s who.
Secondly, because it revolved around many characters, one might not feel connected to them enough to be invested in their lives and stories.
So if those factors are important to you, this book may not be for you.
But if you enjoy short stories, read this, because as the story and mystery of the missing girls unravel, you’ll be amazed and blown away by how it all comes full circle. Well, I was. In fact, to me, it was the strongest point of this book.
‘Disappearing Earth‘ also made me want to visit Russia, Kamchatka peninsula particularly. The author’s depiction of the place, its people and culture was beautiful. It made me want to know more about the Evens and Koryaks. Their stories also piqued my curiosity about reindeer herding, and I want to watch the Koryaks’ traditional dance, live! Here’s a video I found on YouTube.
Have you read this book? What did you think? If you haven’t, do you intend to read it? Please share with me your thoughts!
Last but not least, thank you for stopping by and may the power of good books be with you always!