To the folks in this northeastern Russia peninsula, it felt like the earth itself had disappeared, their portion of it anyway, when a tsunami washed their small town out to sea.
On a more individual scale, today, Marina, the mother of two girls, is equally devastated when they failed to return from a beach outing, one of whom had regaled her younger sister with a version of that social tragedy.
“What happened to them?” Sophia asks. “No one knows,” Alyona replies. “No people, no buildings, no traffic lights, no roads. No trees. No grass. It looked like the moon.”
Starting back, the girls see a man in the distance behind them and later encounter him resting on a rock. He claims to have sprained his ankle, and lets them help him to his car. He offers them a presumed ride to their home, but instead takes them to his.
Thereafter, the girls disappear from the story. No longer central, their lives recede to the periphery as locals invoke their plight usually in the course of their own mainly mundane affairs. What ensues is a series of mini-stories focused on these strangers’ own central concerns.
The story of the vanished sisters functions at times as gossip, warning signal, police investigation, a rough parallel of loss.
Months pass, and their memory mostly fades, but not for Marina. Her life seems also to have disappeared, or rather replaced by painful reminders that unflinchingly plunge her into the mortal abyss of her unbearable loss. Vividly rendered, her plight is guaranteed to make readers flinch.
The interwoven pieces do provide an interesting cross-section of this obscure corner of the planet, but readers can’t help pressing for some resolution. A passing report of two girls’ getting into a man’s black vehicle called “The Surf” was the only clue. Its promise seems to have dead-ended early on, but near the end, it is revived.
I’m not entirely confident over how to assess the final pages, so I won’t spoil things for the reader. I can say that getting there is well worth the patience.