“Julia Phillips is an author to watch. She beautifully transports us to a region of the world that I had never heard of and now can’t stop thinking about. The stories of the women there—their family dynamics, their hopes and fears, the economic and cultural divide of various communities—tell a moving story about this place in a moment in time, but ultimately about the universal struggle of women living with the expectations placed on them. A remarkable debut.”
— Casey Coonerty, Bookshop Santa Cruz, Santa Cruz, CA
Spellbinding, moving--evoking a fascinating region on the other side of the world--this suspenseful and haunting story announces the debut of a profoundly gifted writer.
One August afternoon, on the shoreline of the Kamchatka peninsula at the northeastern edge of Russia, two girls--sisters, eight and eleven--go missing. In the ensuing weeks, then months, the police investigation turns up nothing. Echoes of the disappearance reverberate across a tightly woven community, with the fear and loss felt most deeply among its women.
Taking us through a year in Kamchatka, Disappearing Earth enters with astonishing emotional acuity the worlds of a cast of richly drawn characters, all connected by the crime: a witness, a neighbor, a detective, a mother. We are transported to vistas of rugged beauty--densely wooded forests, open expanses of tundra, soaring volcanoes, and the glassy seas that border Japan and Alaska--and into a region as complex as it is alluring, where social and ethnic tensions have long simmered, and where outsiders are often the first to be accused.
In a story as propulsive as it is emotionally engaging, and through a young writer's virtuosic feat of empathy and imagination, this powerful novel brings us to a new understanding of the intricate bonds of family and community, in a Russia unlike any we have seen before.
About the Author
JULIA PHILLIPS is a Fulbright fellow whose writing has appeared in Glimmer Train, The Atlantic, Slate, and The Moscow Times. She lives in Brooklyn.
“A superb debut—brilliant. Daring, nearly flawless. A crime jump-starts Disappearing Earth; the novel exposes the ways in which the women of Kamchatka are fragmented not only by [a] kidnapping, but by place [and] identity . . . Phillips describes the region with a cartographer’s precision and an ethnographer’s clarity, drawing an emblematic cast: a reindeer herder’s daughter at university in the capital; a policeman’s wife; the white mother of the missing sisters; a Native woman whose teenage daughter also disappeared. As the novel progresses, the links between [the] women coil tighter in surprising and troubling ways. There will be those eager to designate Disappearing Earth a thriller by focusing on the whodunit rather than what the tragedy reveals about the women in and around it. Phillips’ deep examination of loss and longing is a testament to the novel’s power.” —Ivy Pochoda, The New York Times Book Review
“Engrossing: an auspicious debut novel, a literary whodunit set in a distinctly foreign land, Russia’s isolated Kamchatka Peninsula. Rarely has a novel so fully brought to life a place most couldn’t pretend to know. Phillips immerses readers in this region—it’s in the rich, humane characterizations; the plot’s gentle surprises; the reminders of the past; the rendering of the landscape. The kidnapping of two sisters reaches far and wide, touching every member of Disappearing Earth’s sprawling ensemble. The passage of time across a year is palpable . . . For the women who occupy the center of the novel, a sense of loss seeps to the surface, their stories propelled by emotional experiences that are brightly realized on the page. Phillips plots with methodical flair; the depth of her storytelling prowess reveals itself . . . Disappearing Earth wades through darkness with heart.” —David Canfield, Entertainment Weekly
“An addictive page-turner about the search for two missing girls. Phillips’s writing draws you in: Disappearing Earth is everything you could want from a book and more—a fast-paced yet thoughtful thriller full of human emotion and endurance." —Mehera Bonner, Cosmopolitan “Invigoratingly hard to classify. . . . A dead or missing girl is such a common device in crime fiction that its use now prompts raised eyebrows. But Julia Phillips ingeniously dismantles conventions. [Set] in a volcano-studded peninsula in Russia, this novel builds a portrait of a place, as the disappearance of two sisters shapes and is refracted through the lives of women. As remote as this world is, readers will find it strangely familiar. Phillips’s characters fight to steer a course between the twin hazards of loss and captivity. Young mothers chafe at the confinement of family responsibilities, craving risks their older counterparts dread. For Phillips, the intricate web linking her characters—bonds that can suffocate, sustain, or expose—is not a mystery to be uncovered by a solitary detective. The ending of Disappearing Earth ignites an immediate desire to reread the chapters leading up to it . . . What appear to be fragments, the remains of assorted personal disasters and the detritus of a lost empire, is in truth capable of unity.” —Laura Miller, The New Yorker “Fascinating, immensely moving . . . The paradox of Ms. Phillips' novel, set in one of the most remote and mysterious places on the planet: its concerns are instantly recognizable. The book opens with the abduction of two young sisters. Succeeding chapters follow a diverse cast in the year after the unsolved crime; their stories are about the unraveling of bonds: a teenager is dropped by her best friend; a woman learns that her husband has died in a mountain accident; in the simplest and most shattering chapter, a woman reaches the brink of despair when her dog runs away. You wonder if the kidnapped girls are going to be forgotten, but Ms. Phillips returns to their fate, tying together subtly dropped clues . . . Engrossing.” —Sam Sacks, The Wall Street Journal
“Unshakeable . . . Disappearing Earth has the makings of the thriller when two sisters vanish without a trace [on] the isolated, punishing Kamchatka peninsula . . . but Phillips does something more sophisticated. All the women yearn for something more than they have. Phillips is so skilled at conveying place and people, you can feel the chill of the shadow cast by Soviet-style apartment buildings, smell the blood soup, taste the burn of cheap vodka drunk too fast to numb the pain. It’s so specific, and yet so universal. These are stories of women the world over.” —Barbara VanDenburgh, USA Today
“Mesmerizing . . . The mystery of two sisters’ disappearance alternately ebbs and intensifies over the course of a year, [as] each chapter dips into the life of a different girl or woman [on] Kamchatka. The story reads as a page-turner without relying on any cheap narrative tricks to propel it forward, and the strength of Phillips’s writing—her careful attention to character and tone—will grip you right up until the final heart-stopping pages.” —Keziah Weir, Vanity Fair “Phillips’s polyphonic debut novel takes on the challenge of a setting almost impossibly remote, but still teeming with people and their troubles. Two girls disappear near the shore of the Kamchatka Peninsula (as far east as Russia goes), and Phillips proceeds to track inhabitants in some way connected to the crime over a year, weaving a net as taut and intricate as any thriller plot, but rich in detail about relationships, historical scars, and the specific and universal trials of being a woman.” —Boris Kachka, Vulture
“Absorbing and extraordinarily well crafted. . . Set in remote Kamchatka, a landscape of volcanoes and vast tundra nine time zones east of Moscow, it is a many-stranded crime story. It is also a complex portrait of clashing cultures—both white and indigenous. In month-by-month chapters that at first appear only delicately linked, Phillips zooms in on lives that have been touched in some way by the widely publicized, ineptly investigated abduction of two little girls. Phillips draws intricately detailed characters, and we quickly come to know them intimately. Yet her primary interest is in social forces — especially those that nurture dangerous men while devaluing girls and women who seem too independent, too headstrong, too sexual. Ambiguity about the fates of [the girls] allows room for both hope and dread, and Phillips skillfully spins out that suspense.” —Laura Collins-Hughes, The Boston Globe
“An unforgettable novel—beautifully written and tremendously satisfying.” —Elena Nicolaou, Refinery29
“Accomplished and gripping . . . The volcano-spiked Kamchatka Peninsula in Far East Russia, where the tundra still supports herds of reindeer and the various Native groups who depend on them, is the evocative setting of Phillips’ novel. In fresh and unpredictable scenes depicting broken friendships and failed marriages, strained family gatherings, and rehearsals of a Native dance troupe, Phillips’ spellbinding prose is saturated with sensuous nuance and emotional intensity, as she subtly traces the shadows of Russia’s past and illuminates today’s daunting complexities of gender and identity, expectations and longing.” —Donna Seaman, Booklist (starred review)
“A stunning, powerful debut novel. Phillips’s characters [have] deep humanity; her portrayal of Kamchatka is superb. The novel’s many characters are introduced in the preface, which calls to mind all those classic Russian novels with sprawling casts. But at the same time, Disappearing Earth is utterly contemporary. Has there ever been a novel, even by Dostoevsky or Tolstoy, set in such a strange, ancient, beautiful place, with its glaciers and volcanoes and endless cold? It’s a place where miracles might happen: Phillips’s novel dares to imagine the possibilities.” —Arlene McKanic, BookPage (starred review: Top Pick)
"I cannot speak too highly of Julia Phillips's thrilling, impeccably written and splendidly imagined story, set with rigorous attention to detail in one of the most volcanically dangerous and beautifully remote corners of the planet. An exciting beginning from an author whose literary future looks set to be stellar.” —Simon Winchester
“Julia Phillips is at once a careful cartographer and gorgeous storyteller. Written with passion and patience, this is the story of a people and the land that shapes them. A mystery of two missing girls burns at the center of this astonishing debut, and the complexity of ethnicity, gender, hearth and kin illuminates this question and many more.” —Tayari Jones, author of An American Marriage
"A genuine masterpiece, but one that is easily consumed in a feverish stay-up-all-night bout of reading pleasure. It's as much a portrait of humanity as of a small Kamchatka community." —Gary Shteyngart
“Brilliant, spectacular—a wonderful book. Julia Phillips’s exquisite, detailed writing drew me in from the very first page of Disappearing Earth. I fell in love with each and every poignantly rendered character, even as I couldn’t keep my eyes off the central mystery of the two missing girls. The novel is both a riveting page-turner and a gorgeous exploration of love, one that circles around a magnetic core of loss. It has lodged itself deep in my heart.” —Jean Kwok, author of Girl in Translation
“Suspenseful, original and compelling, Disappearing Earth is a strange and haunting voyage into a strange and haunting world—the faraway Kamchatka in Russia's Far East, which is brought by this debut novelist to eerie, vibrant and unsettling life.” —Simon Sebag-Montefiore, author of The Romanovs
“Julia Phillips’s novel is vividly real, but it reads at times like a suspenseful fairy tale. Here are portraits of different women with a shared yearning for autonomy, in a land inhospitable to it. Here, too, is a story in which, against all odds, they do not give up hope. Disappearing Earth is a brave, affecting accomplishment.” —Christine Schutt, author of Pure Hollywood
“Disappearing Earth is a rare achievement: haunting and complex; intense yet subtle; sophisticated yet unputdownable; moving yet never sentimental; foreign yet somehow familiar. And it snaps shut at the end with dark poise. Julia Phillips possesses a unique talent, and I can’t wait for her next book.” —Lorraine Adams, author of Harbor “This exquisite debut reads like a secret being whispered to your ears only. Julia Phillips so smoothly evokes the quiet rage, breathtaking tenderness and searing discomfort of a human connection.” —Suki Kim, author of Without You, There is No Us
“Julia Phillips writes in clean, sharp lines that belie an almost frightening depth, and a clarity of eye that renders a complex and gut-wrenching vision of the Kamchatka region and its people. More than once, I gawped at this book: there are no seams, no sentimentality, not a single untrue thought from start to finish. With Disappearing Earth, Phillips accomplishes in her first book what most writers can't glimpse in a lifetime.” —Bill Cheng, author of Southern Cross the Dog
“Disappearing Earth is not only a viscerally wide-ranging introduction to the land and culture of the Kamchatka Peninsula, as well as a missing persons thriller—as beautifully written as it was, I still couldn’t turn the pages fast enough—it’s also a wrenching meditation on the agonies of those losses to which we never fully adjust. This is a dazzlingly impressive first novel.” —Jim Shepard, author of The Book of Aron
“A feat of literary suspense. I felt like a wide-eyed kid reading Julia Phillips's Disappearing Earth. I could live in her portrayal of this remote part of the world forever.” —Sloane Crosley, author of I Was Told There’d Be Cake
“An exceptional and suspenseful debut. In the opening chapter, two sisters vanish from a beach on the Kamchatka Peninsula; their disappearance sends ripples throughout the close-knit community. Subsequent chapters chart the effect of longing and loss in a series of interconnected, equally riveting stories. The climax [is] truly nail-biting . . . Phillips’s exquisite descriptions of the landscape are masterful throughout, as is her skill at crafting a complex, genuinely addictive whodunit. This novel signals the arrival of a mighty talent.” —Publishers Weekly (starred, boxed review)
“[An] immersive, impressive, strikingly original debut. . . an unusual, cleverly constructed thriller, and also a deep dive into the culture of Russia’s remote Kamchatka peninsula. Disappearing Earth opens with a chilling crime . . . The rest of the book is about different women on the peninsula, all with the shadow of the missing girls hanging over them as a year goes by. You submerge ever more deeply into this world, which is both so different from and so much like our own. Will we ever get closure about the girls? You’ll want to start over and read it again once you know.” —Kirkus (starred review)