Thursday 29 August 2019

Disappearing Earth

Disappearing Earth
Disappearing Earth
By Julia Phillips

On the Kamchatka Penninsula, a relatively isolated part of Russia, two girls go missing.  Eleven-year-old Alyona and eight-year-old Sophia, alone and trusting, accept a ride from an unknown man and vanish.

Disappearing Earth then moves through each month of the subsequent year, telling the stories of a wide variety of characters, all of whom have some link, however tenuous, to the missing girls.

There’s Ksyusha, a young woman from the indigenous Even people in the north, attending university in the city.  She is accustomed to living under the thumb of her northern boyfriend, but begins to explore the new world of university life.  There’s Oksana, witness to the abduction, who’s closest ally is her dog Malysh.  When he escapes from her apartment, Oksana is broken.  And there is Natasha, who’s own sister Lilia disappeared at age 18 and whom the police have deemed a runaway.

Many of the characters in Disappearing Earth come from small villages and tribes in the northern part of Kamchatka.  Some grew up moving with the herds through fields and wilderness and living outdoors for much of the year.  As they grow into adulthood, they are confronted with modern city life: the joys and benefits, as well as the loneliness and disconnection.  

Julia Phillips uses the book to explore the culture clash between indigenous people and Russians, and between older and younger generations.  Her commentary applies to many cultures around the world and is of particular significance in Canada.

The book’s final chapter introduces Marina, mother of the missing girls.  She struggles with media attention, an inept police department, panic attacks and the need to forge ahead with day-to-day tasks.  Fraught with pain and anguish, Marina stumbles upon a tip regarding her daughters’ whereabouts which leads to the book’s satisfying conclusion.

Phillips’ novel is more than a mystery.  Although a story about the abduction of young girls could certainly be disturbing and difficult to read, I found Disappearing Earth to be very readable and I had no trouble with the content.  It is really a novel about disappearing culture and youth, and the changing face of Russia. 

Thursday 1 August 2019

Evvie Drake Starts Over

Evvie Drake Starts Over by Linda Holmes
Evvie Drake Starts Over, by Linda Holmes, is a light read for those who are looking for a refreshing tale for summer. Evvie Drake is recently widowed, her doctor husband having been the apple of everyone’s eye in their small Maine town. His golden boy reputation has outlived him and he continues to be honoured. Although Evvie finds these tributes difficult, she attends the events, but for the most part keeps herself isolated in her house, not really dealing with the truth about her husband that keeps her from moving forward.

Dean Tenney is a successful baseball pitcher, who has had many a trip to the World Series. However, now his arm is not behaving as it should and he is facing the wrath of his fans, who are not being very kind. Dean is the childhood friend of Evvie’s best pal, Andy, and Andy sees an opportunity for Evvie to make a little extra money by renting out the back apartment in her house to Dean, who desperately needs somewhere to hide out and recover from the game that no longer loves him.

As Dean moves in, he and Evvie strike a deal to not talk about the things that haunt them, his sudden inability to pitch and her husband. While this may be a good plan, it inevitably does not last for long. They quickly become friends and begin to confide in each other, creating a support enabling them to face their own truths. 

Naturally, as in any love story, there are a few bumps and hurdles along the way, but Holmes’ writing is in no way predictable and Dean and Evvie’s story is filled with friendly banter, laughter and self-realization. All in all, a very enjoyable feel good read about life, acceptance and the relationships we have. 

Helen Varga is a library technician at the Steveston Branch of the Richmond Public Library.
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