cover image Eastbound


Maylis de Kerangal, trans. from the French by Jessica Moore. Archipelago, $17 (128p) ISBN 978-1-953861-50-4

First published in France in 2012, de Kerangal’s impeccable novel (after The Cook) follows two strangers on the Trans-Siberian Railway in search of political and emotional freedom. More than one hundred army conscripts from Moscow are crammed on the train like a “mass of squid,” destination unknown. Though set in contemporary Russia, the vibe is uncompromisingly Soviet, a “bored resignation” clouding over the crowd. Aliocha, 20, fears he’s headed to Siberia, and is bullied and knocked around by his fellow soldiers. He decides to desert, and on his way to the first-class compartment he has a noirish encounter with a Frenchwoman named Helene, who boarded the train to get away from her Russian lover, a toxic bureaucrat. Neither speaks the other’s language, but that doesn’t deter them during several intense nights as Aliocha and Helene bond over their respective feelings about the men running a tight-fisted military regime. Disguises, hidden spaces for overhead luggage, and a spectacular sighting of the country’s “pearl,” Lake Baikal, add to Aliocha and Helene’s series of adventures as they speed toward Vladivostok and their hopeful independence. De Kerangal’s triumphant achievement is powered by mellifluous prose with a rhythm as steady as the train. Readers are in for a dazzling literary ride. (Feb.)