Publishers Weekly® Reviews
- Reviewed in: Publishers Weekly, page .
- Review Date: 2016-06-06
- Reviewer: Staff
In Liksom’s impressionistic travelogue of a novel, a young Finnish woman, referred to only as “the girl,” and a hard-drinking, middle-aged Russian worker (“the man”) are unlikely companions on a long, delirious railroad journey across Russia. The girl, a graduate student of archeology, dreams of going to Mongolia to study ancient petroglyphs, despite the restrictions placed on her as a foreign national, while the man is headed to work on a construction site. Both survivors of difficult childhoods, these travelers are escaping complicated lives in Moscow: the girl has been conducting an unexpected and dangerous affair, while the man is an abusive, frequently repentant husband. As their train traverses Siberia on its way to the Mongolian city of Ulan Bator—passing through Omsk, Tomsk, Novosibirsk, Irkutsk, and Ulan Ude, stopping or breaking down often along the way—the girl becomes a silent and at first unwilling, but increasingly rapt audience to the man’s wild, unreliable tales of Soviet life: full of sex, violence, and as much prejudice as wisdom. The sleeping compartment they share is thus both refuge and battlefield, the girl resisting the man’s constant come-ons and provocations. But Liksom’s interest is less in the personal quandaries of this sketchily rendered pair than in the Russian landscape—“the red dark of night, the dismal, frozen silence,” and the character of “that strange country, its subservient, anarchistic, obedient, rebellious... patient, fatalistic, proud... loving, tough people.” (Aug.)