One August afternoon, on the shoreline of the Kamchatka peninsula at the northeastern edge of Russia, two girls 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.
...[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.