Book Review: Disappearing Earth by Julia Phillips (five stars)


Book Review: Disappearing Earth by Julia Phillips

(five stars)

“The authorities still have nothing to say about your girl? Here the Ministry of Internal Affairs and the Ministry of Emergency Situations have been looking for these Russian sisters tirelessly.” “It wasn’t that way with us.”

War and Peace meets Murder She Wrote. Unsolved crimes; parental anguish; ineffectual police; racial, familial, economic, and immigrant issues weave into this complex but tight tale of near-contemporary Russian Kamchatka, which is as close as the modern world gets to terra incognita. Not quite five stars, but close enough.

“You haven’t noticed by now that you can’t trust them? They don’t care about us the same way they care about themselves.”

Readers are propelled deep into not one but two disappearances in places and cultures totally foreign to American readers. No Jessica Fletcher. Despite that, whether intentionally or accidentally, the plot and people feel familiar.

“She spent her youth in the brief reckless period between the Communists’ rigidity and Putin’s strength, and though she had grown into a boundary enforcer … within herself there remained a post-Soviet child. Some part of her did crave the wild.”

The culprit’s identity is apparent halfway through, but not how Phillips will close the story. She does in a very satisfying denouement manner. That issues remain is merely real.

“This is how it went: the closer you were to someone, the more you lied. Telling the truth was a thrill not found with her mother, who needed Olya to take merry care of their household, or with Diana, who made Olya measure herself out by request.”

Readers unfamiliar with Russian naming conventions may be confused, despite Phillips’ helpful list of principal characters. Many characters have three or four names, depending on who is talking. However, it also helps convey the complexity of relationships.

“It hurts too much to break your own heart out of stupidity, to leave a door unlocked or a child untended and return to discover that whatever you value most has disappeared. No. You want to be intentional about the destruction. Be a witness. You want to watch how your life will shatter.”