A year in the lives of women and girls on an isolated peninsula in northeastern Russia opens with a chilling crime.
In the first chapter of Phillips' immersive, impressive, and strikingly original debut, we meet sisters Alyona and Sophia, ages 11 and 8, amusing themselves one August afternoon on the rocky shoreline of a public beach on the waterfront of Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky, a city on Russia's remote Kamchatka peninsula. They are offered a ride home by a seemingly kind stranger. After he drives right past the intersection that leads to the apartment they share with their mother, they disappear from their previous lives and, to a large extent, from the narrative. The rest of the book is a series of linked stories about a number of different women on the peninsula, all with the shadow of the missing girls hanging over them as a year goes by since their disappearance. Another young girl with a single mom loses her best friend to new restrictions imposed by the other girl's anxious mother. The daughter of a reindeer herder from the north, at college in the city, finds her controlling boyfriend clamping down harder than ever. In a provincial town, members of a family whose teenage daughter disappeared four years earlier are troubled by the similarities and differences between their case and this one. The book opens with both a character list and a map—you'll be looking at both often as you find your footing and submerge ever more deeply in this world, which is both so different from and so much like our own. As the connections between the stories pile up and tighten, you start to worry—will we ever get closure about the girls? Yes, we will. And you'll want to start over and read it again, once you know.
An unusual, cleverly constructed thriller that is also a deep dive into the culture of a place many Americans have probably never heard of, illuminating issues of race, culture, sexual attraction, and the transition from the U.S.S.R. to post-Soviet Russia.