by Maylis De Kerangal
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Pub Date 07 Feb 2023 | Archive Date 22 Jan 2023
Perfect for fans of Maggie Shipstead's Great Circle and The Lincoln Highway by Amor Towles
Eastbound is both an adventure story and a duet of two vibrant inner worlds.
In mysterious, winding sentences gorgeously translated by Jessica Moore, De Kerangal gives us the story of two unlikely souls entwined in a quest for freedom with a striking sense of tenderness, sharply contrasting the brutality of the surrounding world.
Racing toward Vladivostok, we meet the young Aliocha, packed onto a Trans-Siberian train with other Russian conscripts. Soon after boarding, he decides to desert and over a midnight smoke in a dark corridor of the train, he encounters an older French woman, Hélène, for whom he feels an uncanny trust.
A complicity quickly grows between the two when he manages to urgently ask—through a pantomime and basic Russian that Hélène must decipher—for her help to hide him. They hurry from the filth of his third-class carriage to Hélène’s first-class sleeping car. Aliocha now a hunted deserter and Hélène his accomplice with her own inner landscape of recent memories to contend with.
"Impeccable . . . 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."
--Publishers Weekly, starred review
"As a choreographer knows, if you place a man and a woman on the stage even in an abstract ballet, you already have a story. As Maylis de Kerangal, one of the three or four best French novelists working today, reveals, the story need not be one of physical desire but of shared loneliness and the longing for escape—and of mammalian empathy."
"On the Trans-Siberian railroad an encounter between a young Russian conscript and a French woman becomes a gripping tale of loneliness and escape. Told with lyrical precision, Eastbound is a rare feat: razor sharp and abundant in human emotion. It's difficult to think of a writer who does so much, so well, in so few pages. Breathtaking."
--Mark Haber, Bookseller at Brazos Bookstore in Houston, Texas
"Eastbound is a novella told in a single breath, quick as a light turned on; intense, precise, unconditional, potent. Jessica Moore’s translation is masterful."
--Anne Michaels, author of Fugitive Pieces
"Eastbound is a compassionate thriller, one where suspense is created around the question of whether one person will aid another. It asks us to remember our humanity and the humanity of others. something which goes beyond nationality and language."
--Grant Rintoul, First Reading
"In this timely novella about a Russian military conscript defecting from the army, 20-year-old Aliocha is on the Trans-Siberian railway from Moscow to Vladivostok, spanning almost a quarter of the Earth’s circumference . . . A balance of internal thought and external action propelled by a narrative that races on in long sentences, keeping things flowing beautifully in between moments of drama."
--John Self, The Guardian
Average rating from 12 members
I was pleasantly surprised by this short novel by Maylis De Kerangal. Aliocha is aboard a Trans-Siberian train to (unwillingly) join the military. As the train makes its journey towards Vladivostok, Aliocha plots to flee the train. It is only when he meets Helene, a French woman with limited Russian, that he begins to set his plan in motion.
The almost-wordless alliance between Aliocha and Helene is beautiful and real. They both have the upper hand in some regard, Helene a wealthy passenger, but Aliocha has a distinct strength and height advantage. When Helene opens her cabin and agrees to hide Aliocha, she underestimates how far he will go to escape his fate. Both Helen and Aliocha are trying to escape something, and the strange bond between them is incredibly compelling.
Despite being set in the present, the novel has a historical feel; perhaps that is the mood that trains evoke. The time constraint of the journey really adds to the tension.
Eastbound is a fantastic little novel, ideal for a single-sitting read.
More than one hundred conscripts were crammed on the Trans-Siberian Railway from Moscow, among them, 20 year old, Aliocha. He was unable to obtain a false medical certificate, ineligible for the exemption for "conjugal salvation" (no girlfriend who was 6 months pregnant to save him). With kit in hand, Aliocha was hustled on board, with other young soldiers. "the cadence of the train...rather than numbing his anxiety, shakes it up and revives it...Blurred images of a territory from which no one returns...".
Manhandled by two conscripts, Aliocha needed to escape...run away...get out...defect. Was it possible to hide in the overcrowded, third class compartment until the next train stop then, in the darkness, disappear into the crowd? There were those who watched. Sergeant Letchov, his constant, sly vigilance . Provodnitsas (train attendants who lived on the train) were "cross-border agents without a passport moving from one republic to the next...trafficked all there is to traffic...Moscow to Vladivostok and back...nearly a quarter of the circumference of the earth with each trip."
A foreigner, Helene, entered Aliocha's compartment. "They share(d) names, a light, cigarettes." They didn't share a common language. Gesture and action was their method of communication. "Aliocha holds his breath...he's no beggar, no victim, he's just like her, he's running away..." he, from soldiering, she, from her Russian lover. Forcefully, he received Helene's compliance. She would hide him in her first class compartment. "Helene is terrified that the top of the blonde attendant's head with her crimped hair puffs will touch Aliocha's knee..." as he hides in the cavity above the door. Helene was Aliocha's accomplice as well as his captive. How can she leave her compartment?
"Eastbound" by Maylis De Kerangal is a tense, suspenseful ride on the Trans-Siberian Railroad. The soldier and the foreigner both seek freedom as the drama unfolds through the use of beautifully descriptive prose. I highly recommend this masterfully written novella.
Thank you Archipelago Books and Net Galley for the ARC in exchange for an honest review.
On a Trans-Siberian train, a Russian conscript decides to leave his regiment. He encounters a French women and asks for help. Understanding the young man’s plight, the woman choses to intervene. Outside the train, the bleak Russian landscape spreads out and rolls by. Inside the train, the search for the missing soldier continues. The woman and the young man will have to decide what to do next and wonders what will be the consequences. The beautiful language describing the desolate landscape and the dread I felt for the protagonists made the book a delight to read.
I really fell in love with the characters in this fine book. The story moves along at a good pace, and there is enough suspense and drama to make me worry about the characters I grew to care about. It really fits what is going on now in Russia too. I will miss them; that is how I know it was a great book. I will read more by this author.
A timely short novel about two disparate people who meet on the Trans-Siberian Express as it heads east to Vladivostok and forge an unlikely alliance. Helene is a young French woman fleeing her relationship with her Russian boyfriend. Aliocha is a young Russian conscript desperate to escape the brutal military service awaiting him. A chance encounter brings them together on the train and Helene has to decide whether or not to help hide the young man from the military authorities hunting for him. It’s a tense and suspenseful story, richly atmospheric, immersive and expertly paced, with the outcome uncertain right to the last page. A compelling read.
A beautifully scripted story of a young army conscript trying to defect from the army whilst travelling on the Trans-Siberian railway. Edgy and suspenseful novella that is filled with surprising compassion. Maylis De Kerangal has written a literary gem that was wonderfully translated by Jessica Moore.
Eastbound by Maylis De Kerangal is a real treat, a story but beautifully written.
Fate brings 2 very different people together on the Trans-Siberian Railway, Frenchwoman Helene leaving her Russian lover and heading for home and Aliocha , reluctant conscript into heading for his first posting in a Russian army notorious for its bullying.
Before their inauspicious meeting Aliocha has already had a taste of what awaits him as more experienced conscripts can't wait to even get off the train to begin the "hazing" of new recruits and decides that Army life is not for him. With nothing in common,not even language,Aliocha and Helene team up in a tense game of cat and mouse as the train rolls on with neither assured of having broken free at the end of their journey.
This is an exceptional piece of writing as well as an exciting and often moving story with complex characters. Aliocha isn't massively likeable and occasionally seems to be as unpleasant as those he's trying to avoid and it's quite hard to understand quite why Helene feels so desperate to get away. There are some great supporting characters and it's a timely book in these days when there are thousands of Aliochas being reluctantly conscripted into the Russian Army.
An exceptional novella with praise also due to Jessica Moore for an excellent translation.
Thanks to Netgalley and Archipelago for the ebook. Aliocha, 20, unable to get anyone pregnant to avoid military service is now speeding across Russia on the Trans-Siberian railroad. He decides to desert and pushes/begs a French woman, Helene, to hide him in her compartment. Helene, who is escaping a relationship that she jumped into without thinking it through, is at first annoyed by the young man, separated by years and languages, but then jumps into this life and death adventure. A swift and amusing journey with two lost characters.
In Eastbound by Maylis de Kerangal, a young Russian conscript, Aliocha, is heading east on a trans-Siberian train to an unknown destination with his fellow conscripts and a brutal sergeant. Aliocha decides to desert and enlists the help of a Frenchwoman, Helene, who is running away from her life in Siberia. Both are unsure of each other and the tension steadily rises as Aliocha has to avoid being noticed by passengers, train employees, and the sergeant. He must trust that Helene is the one person who won’t betray him. How Aliocha will get off the train unnoticed and where he will go in this unknown and unforgiving land keeps the pages flying by. The translation by Jessica Moore is top-notch.
The Trans-Siberian Express is the location of this story. Here is another gripping tale set aboard a train where lives are often thrown together. Especially on longer journeys that involve overnight sleeping cars and scheduled stops in the middle of the night.
There have been some fascinating books written about such journeys and here is yet another one. Told with restraint but in wonderful words that capture the vulnerability within a train carriage; the sense of claustrophobic feelings, especially at night and despite the vast open spaces rushing across the windows, and the potential for romance, conflict even murder.
Train journeys are often planned or as with the young conscriptions aboard this particular train, a means to take them away from home into the heart of Russia and make soldiers of them. Among their number is a young man scared of his future, for his life and intent to avoid their final destination.
I loved the growing tension here as his initial attempts to drift away into the night at the end of the station platform are thwarted and then possible allies to help and traitors willing to turn him in, cross his path.
A work of literary magic that lifts the story above the routine and explores motive, self awareness and one’s ability to control your future and heart’s desire. A word for the marvellous translation into English that enables the story to still flow and mimic the rhythm of the wheels across the tracks.
Life is a journey not a destination.
With books set on trains the journey is different for most of the travellers although a shared experience and the destination is hardly ever just what it says on your ticket.
I enjoy travel and the sense of movement such novels like Eastbound bring that and are a joy to participate in.
And when intriguing stories flow and develop you long for those books like Eastbound, to never reach their end of the line.
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