...[an] absorbing and extraordinarily well crafted debut novel ... a complex portrait of clashing cultures — both white and indigenous — that have a common denominator in misogyny ... Phillips makes an inviting and subtle guide ... Phillips draws intricately detailed characters, most of them female, 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...allows room for both hope and dread, and Phillips skillfully spins out that suspense...Phillips knows that imagined danger can be fun. But she pokes around beneath it, too, to ask why we thrill at female peril, and just exactly what our problem is ...
... superb ... It’s a well-worn cliché of book jacket copy to say that place is as important a character as any of the people in a book, and yet the women who populate Phillips’s novel are so intrinsically and intelligently identified with their region that it’s impossible to understand or even consider them without Phillips’s precise evocation of Kamchatka. She describes the region with a cartographer’s precision and an ethnographer’s clarity ... 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. And if there is a single misstep in Phillips’s nearly flawless novel, it arrives with the tidy ending that seems to serve the needs of a genre rather than those of this particularly brilliant novel. But a tidy ending does not diminish Phillips’s deep examination of loss and longing, and it is a testament to the novel’s power that knowing what happened to the sisters remains very much beside the point.
...there is pleasure to be had in reading Disappearing Earth, even in the midst of such grief and despair. Phillips is a beautiful, assured writer, one who knows how to create fully-developed characters, a marvelous sense of place, and a constant forward momentum. We learn about this unfamiliar country, filled with interesting and complex characters, while seeing the echoes of our own world and ourselves on every page.
... powerful ... The book’s many characters are introduced in the preface, which calls to mind all those classic Russian novels with sprawling casts...at the same time, Disappearing Earth is utterly contemporary ... Besides the deep humanity of her characters, Phillips’ portrayal of Kamchatka itself is superb. 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—where what is lost can once again be found—if you jump over a traditional New Year’s fire in just the right way. Phillips’ stunning novel dares to imagine the possibilities.
Unreliable nostalgia, a fear of new arrivals—a chronicler of our contemporary moment could find much the same attitudes without crossing the street, much less crossing the globe. Thus the fascinating paradox of Ms. Phillips’s novel, which is set in one of the most remote and mysterious places on the planet, but whose concerns are instantly, and disturbingly, recognizable ... [The] stand-alone dramas are so engrossing that you wonder if the kidnapped girls are going to be forgotten...but Ms. Phillips returns to their fate, tying together subtly dropped clues to arrive at an immensely moving resolution.
... stunning ... The situations remain strange in their specificities and universal in their familiarity ... If those beautifully delineated scenes were the whole of Disappearing Earth, it would be enough, at least enough to have some readers nod happily at the author's sinuous stories. But Phillips has an endgame ... one woman can write a novel about a country not her own that comes closer in spirit to great American literature than most of the fiction set within U.S. borders.
...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 ... As [the] family’s tragedy moves to the fore, the depth of Phillips’ storytelling prowess reveals itself. She challenges her readers — and characters — by offering new angles on her inciting incident, and imbuing each with authority and complexity. Phillips’ slant is American, but in the tradition of great Russian art — from Tolstoy through to the films of Andrey Zvyagintsev — Disappearing Earth tells delicate, impassioned, small human stories within sweeping, brutal, imposing political realities ... Disappearing Earth wades through the darkness with heart. Its final three chapters, especially, overflow with life ...
As remote as this world is, readers will find it strangely familiar. Petropavlovsk uncannily resembles a small, overlooked city in the American West, with its old-timers praising the way things used to be, its restless youth dreaming of metropolitan glamour and escape ... all that shared personal history becomes a breeding ground for intrigue. But for Phillips the intricate web linking her characters is not a mystery to be uncovered by a solitary detective. The official investigators in Disappearing Earth dither at the story’s periphery and come up empty-handed. It is the web itself that provides the solution ... The ending ignites an immediate desire to reread the chapters leading up to it: incidents and characters that seemed trivial acquire new meanings ... This story will be retold by the novel’s close, just as the novel will retell itself. What appears to be a collection of fragments, the remains of assorted personal disasters and the detritus of a lost empire, is in truth capable of unity.
[Philips's] empathic, expansive storytelling has given me a glimpse into the world of more than a dozen fascinating characters, many of whom have spent their entire lives in this remote part of the world ... The chapters read in many ways like linked short stories; each one is beautifully realized in its own right, and many have been previously published as stand-alone pieces of short fiction. But the stories are also unified, not only by virtue of geography and recurring characters, but through thematic unities as well ... Julia Phillips is a deservedly confident writer and a beautifully skillful storyteller. It can’t be overlooked that even in this very literary and accomplished novel, she is still building an effective mystery plot --- and readers will be sure to look ahead eagerly to what this talented young author will do next.
...[an] atmospheric drama of shock and despair ... In fresh and unpredictable scenes...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.
It has the makings of a lurid thriller, but first-time novelist Julia Phillips...does something more sophisticated than that and turns her unshakable debut into a meditation on the lives of women in a far-flung corner of the world ... 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.
...[an] immersive, impressive, and strikingly original debut ... An unusual, cleverly constructed thriller that is also a deep dive into the culture of a place many Americans have probably never heard of, illuminating issues of race, culture, sexual attraction, and the transition from the U.S.S.R. to post-Soviet Russia.
...[an] exceptional and suspenseful debut ... Phillips’s exquisite descriptions of the desolate landscape and the 'empty, rolling earth' are masterful throughout, as is her skill at crafting a complex and genuinely addictive whodunit. This novel signals the arrival of a mighty talent.