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Disappearing Earth: A novel (Hardcover)

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May 2019 Indie Next List

“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


"Splendidly imagined . . . Thrilling" --Simon Winchester

"A genuine masterpiece" --Gary Shteyngart

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.

Praise For…

“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
“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
“Fascinating, immensely moving . . . The Kamchatka Peninsula, the strip of land that curves like an earring below Siberia, was a closed territory during Soviet rule. In Disappearing Earth, longtime Kamchatka residents think longingly of the era of enforced isolation. 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 an emblem of social collapse, 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

“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 

“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)
Product Details
ISBN: 9780525520412
ISBN-10: 0525520414
Publisher: Knopf
Publication Date: May 14th, 2019
Pages: 272