Disappearing Earth

Disappearing Earth

For fans of Anthony Marra's A Constellation of Vital Phenomena and Téa Obreht's The Tiger's Wife: the kidnapping of two small girls on a remote peninsula in Russia sets in motion an evocative, moving, searingly original debut novel by a dazzling young writer.One August afternoon, on the shoreline of the Kamchatka peninsula at the northeastern tip of Russia, two girls – sis...

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Title:Disappearing Earth
Author:Julia Phillips
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Edition Language:English

Disappearing Earth Reviews

  • Tammy

    Kamchatka. My only knowledge of Kamchatka was that it is the name of cheap vodka my friends and I drank during our salad days. We re-named it “coming atcha” when we became employed and could afford premium vodka. Actually, the Kamchatka peninsula is located in the far east of Russia and is isolated by water and mountains. Kamchatka is a land of extremes from tundra to volcanoes to verdant forests and the descriptions of the peninsula are jaw dropping. I'm not sure of the reason but I was startle

    Kamchatka. My only knowledge of Kamchatka was that it is the name of cheap vodka my friends and I drank during our salad days. We re-named it “coming atcha” when we became employed and could afford premium vodka. Actually, the Kamchatka peninsula is located in the far east of Russia and is isolated by water and mountains. Kamchatka is a land of extremes from tundra to volcanoes to verdant forests and the descriptions of the peninsula are jaw dropping. I'm not sure of the reason but I was startled that the indigenous people, the Evens, are treated with disdain by Caucasian Russians. More than likely this is the result of yet another knowledge gap. Anyway, it is in Kamchatka that two little girls go missing. Despite the premise, this is not a thriller. It reads almost like a series of interconnected short stories, that is, almost but not quite. The disappearance of these girls has a ripple effect throughout the community over the course of a year. Six degrees of separation, indeed. This is a staggering work of originality, insight and depth.

  • karen

    NOW AVAILABLE!!!

    this is one of those rare perfect books. the fact that it’s a debut only makes it more impressive, and no matter what this author writes next, i will be on it immediately.

    i was fortunate enough to stumble upon a free arc of this, thinking-to-self, ‘this looks like it could be good,’ and then when i saw all the high praise it was receiving in its early reviews, i decided to bump it up the old arc-stack and see what all the fuss was about.

    lemme tell you, the fuss is earned.

    it take

    NOW AVAILABLE!!!

    this is one of those rare perfect books. the fact that it’s a debut only makes it more impressive, and no matter what this author writes next, i will be on it immediately.

    i was fortunate enough to stumble upon a free arc of this, thinking-to-self, ‘this looks like it could be good,’ and then when i saw all the high praise it was receiving in its early reviews, i decided to bump it up the old arc-stack and see what all the fuss was about.

    lemme tell you, the fuss is earned.

    it takes place on russia’s kamchatka peninsula, and at its center is the disappearance of two little girls; sisters eight and eleven, who get into a stranger’s car and… vanish.

    each chapter that follows carries the story forward a month - from the girls’ abduction in august to the following july, and each is told from a different character’s perspective. the disappearance worms its way into every chapter, but is usually only used to season the stories - how the situation affected different people who live in the area, most of whom had no direct connection with the girls themselves, and each chapter is gripping and fully-realized enough to stand alone as a short story. 

    it’s such an original way to tell a missing-kids narrative; using that same structure i love in

    - a smalltown short story cycle that both is and isn’t a novel, but this one has more specific touchpoints, and as time passes, the impact of the tragedy shifts the way any sensational news story shifts with the passing of time and proximity, slipping into cautionary tale or local legend, dredging up memories of earlier disappearances, giving way to ’where were you when…’ recollections, becoming a different kind of collective reference point.

    most multiple POV books will pick a handful of characters and alternate between them, and it was a great moment of realization for me, about three chapters in, when i clocked to the, “oh, so we’re just not going to go back to that character’s POV at all, wow.” at first, i was a little disappointed, because i had become invested in particular voices, but with each chapter, i found myself making a whole new investment, and once i started approaching this more as a short story cycle, i appreciated it even more, because that’s just so freaking hard to pull off, and she does it remarkably well. characters do pop up again, but seen through someone else’s eyes, and these transitions and the recurring motifs are handled beautifully.

    i admit to being a very ignorant person when it comes to culture and geography, and this book introduced me to a region i knew absolutely nothing about; phillips’ descriptions of the landscape, ethnic makeup, history, and social fabric of kamchatka was illuminating and engrossing and - without a drop of hyperbole on my part - masterful.

    i loved this book so very much. her writing is flawless, the build is rich and textured, the ending is satisfying. my only (oh-so-minor) complaint is i wish she hadn’t dropped that mic in the final paragraph, because we knew without it being pointed out and i think it would have been more elegant to

    call attention to it so explicitly.

    but i mean, really - that’s not even a couple’s spat in the love i have for this book.

    it is not to be missed.

    ***************************

    stunned.

    a brilliant, brilliant debut. review to come.

  • Emily May

    . There is a missing persons mystery at the centre of the book, but no one should go into this expecting a typical myste

    . There is a missing persons mystery at the centre of the book, but no one should go into this expecting a typical mystery. Or a typical anything at all.

    I love it when an author tries something different and it just

    . Here, Phillips begins on the remote Kamchatka peninsula, in the city of Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky, with two young girls accepting a ride home from a stranger and then going missing. The need to discover the girls' fate offers an immediate emotional pull, but their disappearance hovers mostly in the background for the many different stories that follow it.

    And

    contains just that--

    . It can be read almost like a short story collection, with all stories alluding to or being affected by the missing girls. Phillips introduces us to many different characters, each one completely distinct, complex and sympathetic.

    The author looks at small town fears and suspicions. The unusual and effective choice to tell each chapter from a different point of view allows for a bigger picture of this place to develop, as well as an intimate portrait of all the characters. It reminds me of

    in its scope and beauty, and a bit of Orange's

    in its interlinking but separate stories.

    . I love books with a strong sense of place, and I feel like this can create a mood which permeates the entire novel. I should add that here this is probably at least in part due to my complete ignorance of this area of the world, both its geography and its customs. So to me it was a very new experience. I am curious what Russian readers will think.

    Through so many different perspectives, we see how the disappearance of the girls affects everyone, and how this changes over time. The initial panic and fear of outsiders, the comparison to other disappearances, and the gradual fading from memory. I also found it very interesting how the author managed to comment on so many different issues - post-Soviet society, racism against natives, and homophobia, for example - without it becoming a book about said issues. The exploration of all these things rises organically out of the characters living their lives, and is never heavy-handed, preachy or judgemental.

    It's a beautiful smart read for fans of "literary thrillers" and a thoughtful meditation on culture, race, sexuality, and small town politics in Russia after the fall of the Soviet Union. Between this and

    , I am really falling in love with these complex character dramas with a mystery/thriller backdrop. I always used to say my favourite thrillers were those that focused on the characters and were rewarding even if you figured out the reveal. Well, I guess I found the perfect kind of book for me.

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  • Debra

    Two sisters ages eight and eleven go missing on the Kamchatka peninsula. Boy did I want to yell at my book "No, no, no, no, no!" during the first story. UGH! The police are quickly called to investigate but find nothing - no clues, no evidence, etc. They are missing without a trace.

    This book spans the course of a year with each chapter being another month after the girls go missing. Each chapter is also about a new character. The characters have had their lives changed in some way due to the gir

    Two sisters ages eight and eleven go missing on the Kamchatka peninsula. Boy did I want to yell at my book "No, no, no, no, no!" during the first story. UGH! The police are quickly called to investigate but find nothing - no clues, no evidence, etc. They are missing without a trace.

    This book spans the course of a year with each chapter being another month after the girls go missing. Each chapter is also about a new character. The characters have had their lives changed in some way due to the girl’s disappearance. Some being a witness, a detective, a customs officer, a student, a woman whose sister went missing, etc. The final chapter is the girl's mother. As the book suggests this book shows the lives of women (and those in their lives) who have been touched in some way due to the girl’s disappearance.

    I found this to be a fast read. Due in part mainly to the fact that the chapters read like short stories and it was easy to go through them. While reading about the lives of those in the community, I had a nagging thought...what happened to those girls? I really enjoyed how the stories were connected even if only by a small thread. The connections are there. Plus, the writing was beautiful. Hats off to the Author for her unique and enjoyable story telling. I found myself enjoying each story/chapter a little bit more than the last.

    Plus, the ending! That is all that I will say. Very enjoyable book which was very original and captivating. I have been getting annoyed lately with books that remind me of other books. Reading this was like a breath of fresh air. This could have been a mystery about two missing girls, but it became so much more. Everything comes together in a very seamless manner.

    Thank you to the publisher and Edelweiss who provided me with a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. All the thoughts and opinions are my own.

  • Elyse Walters

    “This could never have taken place in Soviet times,

    Valentina Nikolaevna said”.

    “You girls can’t imagine how safe it use to be. No foreigners. No outsiders. Opening the peninsula was the biggest mistake our authorities ever made”.

    “Now we’re overrun with tourists, migraines. Natives. These criminals”.

    “Olya should have kept her tongue behind her teeth. But she asked, ‘Weren’t the natives always here”.

    “They use to stay in the villages where they belong”.

    Ouch!

    Two sisters were last seen -kidnappe

    “This could never have taken place in Soviet times,

    Valentina Nikolaevna said”.

    “You girls can’t imagine how safe it use to be. No foreigners. No outsiders. Opening the peninsula was the biggest mistake our authorities ever made”.

    “Now we’re overrun with tourists, migraines. Natives. These criminals”.

    “Olya should have kept her tongue behind her teeth. But she asked, ‘Weren’t the natives always here”.

    “They use to stay in the villages where they belong”.

    Ouch!

    Two sisters were last seen -kidnapped- in Petropavlovski’s center - ( Kamchatka peninsula in the Far East area of Russia), which meant nothing in the city of 200,000 people and a peninsula 1200 km long.

    Mothers like Valentina Nikolaevna, were panicked- fearful - afraid - for their own children. She no longer wanted her daughter, Diana to play with her best friend, Olya, any longer.

    Valentina Nikolaevna felt Olga’s family was a bad influence. She was uncomfortable with their lack of structure and discipline.

    Valentina was harsh and ruthless about Olya seeing her daughter outside of school. The 13 year old girls, best friends, were only allowed to see each other under supervision in class.

    The tragedy of the missing sisters- Sophia & Alyona Golosovskaya, ages 8 and 11...brought stricter curfews, and many posters of the missing girls...

    and a paranoid community.

    The comparing, judging, and evaluating each other‘s families sabotaged friendships. Olya knew Diana’s mother, Valentina Nikolaevna hated her....for no reason..... “because they were brave enough to survive on their own”.

    This novel interconnects many different stories with the large cast of characters.

    There’s a full list of the characters, with their Russian names, at the beginning of the novel. I didn’t find it too difficult but I did flip to the beginning a few times to check with character belonged to which family.

    What made it easy to keep my place...

    was that each chapter is titled with ‘the month’ of the year. So when flipping back and forth - I just had to remember which month I was reading.

    It begins in August- and ends the next year in July.

    I also listened to the Audiobook- but I wouldn’t recommend it alone. I found this was a book I needed to read myself.... and not because the narrator for the audiobook wasn’t good it was just harder for me to experience the book.

    There are some beautiful written sentences of Kamchatka region... while we wonder how the two missing sisters are. Are they alive? I never stopped wondering.

    “In the sunset, the pebbles on the shore shifted their color from black and gray to honey. Amber. They were brightening. Soon the stones would glow, and the water in the day was going to turn pink and orange. Spectacular in the City center, where people feared to have their pretty daughters go”.

    August, September, October,.... and so on ‘till July...we meet so many characters - while the author explores social economic conditions - crime- community’s bitterness - and the fall of the Soviet Union.

    The storytelling is excellent ... yet I’m not sure this is a book I’d highly recommend.

    Given all the different Russian names - and a few slow parts - I’m not ‘sure’

    this book will have lasting power for me.

    At the same time - my eyes have been opened to the

    Kamchatka peninsula region, and some of its history.

    For a debut- the author -Julia Phillips should definitely be applauded & personally satisfied.

    I’d happily read her next book.

  • Chaima ✨ شيماء

    The correct response to the ending of this book is a violently whispered, “

    .”

    Reading the last couple chapters, it felt like my heart sprang into my throat and seemed to hang there, hammering. Five thousand sentences sprinted through my mind and none of them got to the finish tape. It was as though the blanket of shock that had muted the events of this book was suddenly thrown off, and flooding my senses, was a seethe of feelings: dread, fear, hope, relief, each entangled in the roots of the

    The correct response to the ending of this book is a violently whispered, “

    .”

    Reading the last couple chapters, it felt like my heart sprang into my throat and seemed to hang there, hammering. Five thousand sentences sprinted through my mind and none of them got to the finish tape. It was as though the blanket of shock that had muted the events of this book was suddenly thrown off, and flooding my senses, was a seethe of feelings: dread, fear, hope, relief, each entangled in the roots of the others.

    The first chapter opens with two young sisters—Alyona and Sophia Golosovskaya, ages 11 and 8—soaking up the sun one August afternoon at the edge of a bay in far eastern Russia’s Kamchatka Peninsula. By chapter’s end where the sisters had been there was naught but absence, like a rift in the world where something precious had been and then was lost. They’ve disappeared like windblown ghosts—lured, it seems, into a strange man’s shiny black car.

    From there,

    departs radically and refreshingly from the expected. The novel breaks into a dozen story lines, told by a dozen narrators, over the span of a year, and by pivoting so quickly, the author throws the reader utterly off guard.

    Phillips is in no hurry to cut to the chase, and the novel is less concerned with solving the mystery, and more preoccupied with bringing readers deep into the interior lives of the women who were, directly or indirectly, affected by the tragedy—like tossing a stone into a pond and watching the ripple pass across its surface.

    The novel does little to clarify how all the characters fit together. At first, at least, it’s markedly confusing, and the reader has no way of knowing how many more pages they would have of this purgatorial existence before an answer is dragged to the fore.

    is rather like a puzzle that you must try to piece together by figuring out how the characters will ultimately relate to one another. Throughout, I was dogged by the feeling that there was something important I wasn’t paying attention to, and the epic converging of plotlines at the end cut straight through the whirlwind in my mind, leaving me with an ache in my chest from emotions that wouldn’t fit right.

    There's plenty to knit together in

    , and the author, incredibly, doesn't skip a stitch. Phillips not only makes her unusual structure work, she makes it a breeze. In sharp, unadorned writing, she moves through her novel like a wave, graceful, but with relentless, driving motion. She also works a very interesting effect: although the story operates on a sprawling scale, it’s all deftly balanced and impeccably contained, as taut as a bowstring, with an urgency to it that propels the bare-boned plot.

    The novel’s big triumph, however, lies in its expert evocation of life in Russia’s isolated, volcano-studded Kamchatka Peninsula, and then intricately tying it to the brilliantly rendered characters. In vivid flashes of imagery, Phillips lays bare the foibles of the town’s life, with its seasons, hardships, beauties, and latent violence boiling beneath the surface. Her sense of place is undeniably acute, but it is the author’s attention and control of an unwieldy cast of characters and the relationships that are shaped by this unforgiving, magnificent landscape that stuck fast, smoldering, as if branded by fire, onto the surface of my thoughts.

    Everything the reader could want to know about the novel’s complex—sometimes even detestable—characters is laid out in these accounts. Their physicality is heavy and palpable, and you know right away where every character fits, both in the sense of where society has put them and where they’d rather be. It’s what kicks an adequate mystery into something much more, and I was left genuinely impressed.

    The exploration of cultural misogyny also manifests itself in clever, subtle ways throughout—and it’s both otherworldly and harrowingly recognizable, like turning a corner and unexpectedly meeting your own gaze in a mirror. Phillips plunges the reader into the broken shards of the violence permeating women’s lives, and it’s like a living thing slowly taking shape between the pages. In that sense, Phillips is a feminist writer, although she lets her novel audaciously spell out the message.

    A single mother who’s lost her daughters and is seeing the pity and scorn on everyone’s faces, and feeling it in the rawness of her flesh and the ache of her every movement. A college student unwittingly stuck in an abusive relationship that was as cramped and airless as a coffin, and she could barely breathe or move in it. Another unwed mother consumed by a general sense of dread and imprisonment within her boyfriend’s “garbage palace of a rental house” and so she leaves, her daughter in tow, hoping to burn her past like the fuse on a stick of dynamite but resignedly discovers that she only has enough money to make it to her parents’ house. A twice-widowed woman whose grief was a feeling weighted with stones, as if she were falling into ocean depths. Another young woman in a party, surrounded by drunk men, feeling the fear rising in her, sudden and sharp, for her friend after she spoke freely of breaking up with her girlfriend. Another missing girl; only this time her disappearance is only met with a pitying shake of the head, because she was not white, and she had a "reputation".

    The experiences of these women, each different, is somehow as familiar as one’s own skin. The kidnapping of the Golosovskaya sisters is always there, a shimmering apparition in the corner of their lives, always obtruding at the corners of their vision, and all of them are wearying under the burden of the reminder that “

    .”

    has a profoundly emotional, universal core. This deeply meditative, heart-rending tale is stunningly original and a remarkable achievement. Not to be missed!

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  • Chelsea Humphrey

    Wow. It's been a hot minute since a debut novel created such a deep well of emotion in me, so much so that I am shocked that

    Wow. It's been a hot minute since a debut novel created such a deep well of emotion in me, so much so that I am shocked that

    is not written by a seasoned author. It seems to me that a quiet buzz has grown around this book; I hadn't heard of it before, but all at once I saw glowing review after glowing review roll in, while also finding it placed prominently in our local Barnes and Noble. After seeing it newly placed on the shelf at the library, I decided to grab it before someone else did and jump on the hype train to see what all the fuss was about. I'm thrilled that I did, because I've been in somewhat of a reading funk, and this was exactly the type of story I needed to focus my mind where I want it to be.

    If you read the synopsis, it informs you that this is a story involving the disappearance of two young girls in a remote part of Russia, but the real gold here is the ripple effect of how this event disturbs the lives of a large cast of characters. (Don't worry, there's a handy list at the beginning of the book that I referred to with each passing chapter, and only adds to the charm of this form of storytelling.) If you're looking for a fast paced thriller or a police procedural focusing on the kidnapping, that's not what this story is, but it offers something far more valuable and insightful. We do get some answers by the end of the book, but the beauty of this tale is that the disappearance is simultaneously at the forefront and background, as it is the driving factor of the choices that these townspeople make over the following calendar year, but it also doesn't take flashy center stage as to allow the reader to connect with each narrator along the way.

    One of the strongest aspects of this book is its ability to create a strong sense of place, to the point that the setting and atmospheric descriptions are just as much characters of the story as the people we hear from.

    is a slow-burning character study, but it never felt dull or boring. I found it best to read a few sections per evening, take some time to ponder, and either alternate with another book or simply wait to pick this back up the following day. If you're looking for a unique read, one that is reminiscent of literary fiction without pretense or snobbery, look no further. Highly recommended, and I simply cannot wait to see what the author decides to regale us with next!

  • Beata

    The premise of Disappearing Earth was the immediate reason behind choosing this novel. The Kamchatka Peninsula is I guess 10 time zones away from where I live, and has always been mysterious and unreachable to me. The landscape and its diversity regarding the population are the main themes of the novel. The abduction of two girls is only the pretext for portraying modern inhabitants, their dreams and failures.

    The first chapter tells the story of the kidnapping but if you want to read a thriller

    The premise of Disappearing Earth was the immediate reason behind choosing this novel. The Kamchatka Peninsula is I guess 10 time zones away from where I live, and has always been mysterious and unreachable to me. The landscape and its diversity regarding the population are the main themes of the novel. The abduction of two girls is only the pretext for portraying modern inhabitants, their dreams and failures.

    The first chapter tells the story of the kidnapping but if you want to read a thriller in which you might seek thorough investigation done by a team of clever police officers, you will be disappointed. BUT you will not be disappointed if you want to learn about the lives of ordinary people living in that remote region.

    Each chapter tells a story of a different female character who is loosely connected with the two abducted girls, and I was especially touched by two of them, one being that of the girls’ mother, and the other of a woman who loses her four-legged friend with whom she has a special bond. It is interesting that men in this novel appear only in the background and are not given a chance to reflect on their inner lives. Coincidence? I do not think so. The beauty of the landscape and the way the indigenous population relates to it are exceptionally vividly presented.

    And one more thing. Chapter One, the actual abduction, is one of the best I have read recently … it did give me the shivers …

    A splendid debut from Ms Phillips!

  • Jenna

    The reason I added this book to my TBR list is because I love the cover. After cataloging it for my library, I left it sitting on my desk for a couple of hours just to admire the cover when my eyes needed a break from the computer. The colours are exquisite! I had to read the book, just because I fell in love with the cover. Thankfully I didn't waste my time on a book I hated. It paid to judge this book by its cover!

    Set on a remote peninsula in Russia, the book opens with a chapter on two young

    The reason I added this book to my TBR list is because I love the cover. After cataloging it for my library, I left it sitting on my desk for a couple of hours just to admire the cover when my eyes needed a break from the computer. The colours are exquisite! I had to read the book, just because I fell in love with the cover. Thankfully I didn't waste my time on a book I hated. It paid to judge this book by its cover!

    Set on a remote peninsula in Russia, the book opens with a chapter on two young girls, sisters. They are spending the day at the lake when a strange man injures his ankle and asks for their assistance getting back to his car. Yeh, you guessed it..... he abducts them.

    isn't your usual detective/mystery book. Instead of focusing on the police investigation, each chapter is concerns a different person, in consecutive months following the abduction. It details each woman's specific life, what is going on in it and how the abduction touches upon her life personally.

    The book is gorgeously written, with believable and well-developed characters. Normally I don't like books that have several POVs but it works for this novel. It works very well. Instead of finding myself disoriented with so many main characters, I felt like I got to know each of these women personally. I came to care about each one. I did get annoyed a few times when the book focused on some of their relationships with men. UGH! I get tired of reading about straight relationships -- no offense to straight people, it just gets to be a bit much when most novels are mainly about straight people, and I can't relate to woman-man relationships.

    For that reason alone, with my interest waning during those parts, I'm giving this 4 stars instead of 5 and want to point this out because it's not a problem most people will have with this book. It is extremely well-written and grabbed my attention in the very first chapter - on the very first page! - immersing me in its world. And of course -- that cover!!

  • Diane S ☔

    DnF at 40% Wanted to like this but I'm just not connecting with the story. Two you g girls go missing. Each succeeding chapter covers a month since they are gone. Each chapter also introduces new characters, whose life has been marginally impacted by this tragedy. The problem is not only that I was bored, which I was, but that I wasn't taken by any of these characters, just didn't care about them.

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