‘Disappearing Earth’ by Julia Phillips – Two Young Sisters Disappear in Kamchatka

‘Disappearing Earth’ by Julia Phillips (2019) – 256 pages


I never expected to read a novel that takes place in the far remote location of Kamchatka. Kamchatka is a long peninsula located on the far northeastern coast of Russia. Not least of Julia Phillips’ many feats is making the residents of this far-flung place so likable and accessible to us readers.

And air and sea were the sole options for leaving. Though Kamchatka was no longer a closed territory by law, the region was cut off from the rest of the world by geography. To the south, east, and west was only ocean. To the north, walling off the Russian mainland, were hundreds of kilometers of mountains and tundra. Impassable. Roads within Kamchatka were few and broken: some, to the lower and central villages, were made of dirt, washed out for most of the year; others to the upper villages, only existed in winter when they were pounded out of ice. No roads connected the peninsula to the rest of the continent. No one could come or go over land.”

‘Disappearing Earth’ is a novel consisting of several subtly connected stories all relating to the mystery of two missing girls, Alyona and Sophia, at the center. The girls are eight and eleven. Their mother Marina must deal with their disappearance alone, her ex-husband now living far away in Moscow.

Everyone’s lurid questions. Their suppositions. Every conversation Marina had over the past year was long, unbearable, one after the next in a rhythm as steady as dirt shoveled into a hole.”

Most of the people of Kamchatka are now Russian and white, but there is also a large native population who traditionally made their living through reindeer herding.

Though Marina couldn’t tell northern people apart. Even or Chukchi or Koryak or Aleut. Her grandparents used to speak fondly about how the peninsula’s natives had been pushed together, Sovietized, with their lands turned public, the adults redistributed into working collectives and the children taught Marxist-Leninist ideology in state boarding schools.”

‘Disappearing Earth’ is totally involving, a novel you will live in as long as you read it. It goes well beyond the central mystery of these two girls’ disappearance to capture the entire area’s deep-seated feelings and reactions.

I read a little about the author Julia Phillips. She lived in Kamchatka for two years on a Fulbright scholarship. She totally captures the spirit and the emotions of these people in this remote place so that this reader felt they could be living next door to him. This is a super fine novel about a remote location, but the people are not at all remote.  


Grade:   A



2 responses to this post.

  1. It sounds fascinating. Thanks for providing the map!



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