Author: Julia Phillips
Reviewed by: Amelia Valasek, Library Manager
Who should read this: Anyone who enjoys short stories, rugged landscapes, fully realized characters, small human dramas, and a dark mystery puzzled together in intricate parts.
Personal impression: I could NOT put this book down. At first, I felt a little off kilter because I was expecting a standard mystery thriller, but got something much different, and much better.
Review: This book, set on the rugged Kamchatka peninsula of Russia’s eastern shore, hovers in the dreamy space between a novel and a collection of related short stories. Circling the periphery of the book are the stories of three missing people: a pair of young sisters who have been abducted from the center of Kamchatka’s only metropolitan city, and a young Indigenous woman who disappears from a northern village. These missing children haunt the edges of each individual story, where a wide cast of fully realized characters experience their own struggles and triumphs.
For mystery lovers, fear not. The author does not abandon the thread of the missing girls, and those who pay close attention will be rewarded with a tightly woven web that comes to a very satisfying conclusion. Rather than giving us another book in which missing girls serve as a canvas for a clever detective to save the day by following his gut and breaking all the rules, this book instead gives us a mystery that plays out in kitchens and streets and hallways, in the conflict between cultures, and the pull of fully realized humanity.
Julia Phillips, who spent two years living on the Kamchatka peninsula in 2011, infuses the story with small cultural details that transport the reader to this distant and gorgeous landscape. Her writing, both clear and beautiful, lacking in artifice or self-importance, allows the reader to loose themselves within the small unfolding dramas of each new chapter.