Archipelago Books produces these cool looking, square paperbacks of translated fiction that I’ve long admired. This newly translated French gem is about a Russian conscript who’s unwillingly on a train headed to military service in the far east of the country. Panicking, he decides to try and escape & enlists the help of a French woman (who doesn’t speak Russian) traveling on the same train. It’s a compact, intense, emotional, and gripping novella – which felt all the more relevant because of Russia’s current engagement in Ukraine. (Conscripted, forced soldiering was something I just hadn’t realized was still happening.) The language is elegant, vibrant, and flies off the page like a speeding train across the Taiga.
February 2023 Indie Next List
“An emotional thriller in miniature, this slim, brisk book had me on the edge of my seat and emotionally invested in these characters until the very end. The poetic language is the work of a singular and transfixing talent.”
— David Vogel, Literati Bookstore, Ann Arbor, MI
In this gripping tale, a Russian conscript and a French woman cross paths on the Trans-Siberian railroad, each fleeing to the east for their own reasons
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.
About the Author
Maylis de Kerangal is the award winning and critically acclaimed author of several books, including The Heart, which was one of the Wall Street Journal’s Ten Best Fiction Works of 2016 and won awards including the Wellcome Book Prize, the Grand Prix RTL-Lire and the Student Choice Novel of the Year from France Culture and Télérama; Naissance d’un pont (published in English as Birth of a Bridge), which won of the Prix Franz Hessel and Prix Médicis; and Un chemin de tables, whose English translation, The Cook, was a New York Times Book Review Editors’ Choice. Mend the Living was Longlisted for the Booker International Prize 2016.
Jessica Moore is a poet, translator, author, and singer-songwriter. A former Lannan writer-in-residence and winner of a PEN America Translation Award for her translation of Turkana Boy, by Jean-François Beauchemin, her first collection of poems, Everything, now, was published in 2012. She lives in Toronto.
"Eastbound briskly unfolds the events of this crazy but thrilling little Mission: Impossible, allowing itself speedy diversions into the backgrounds of both Aliocha and his accomplice . . . . The crisp cascading sentences; the delicious mixture of fear and romance; the harmonious balance of story and language: these are characteristics of each of Ms. de Kerangal's books." --Sam Sacks, Wall Street Journal
"In Maylis de Kerangal’s luminous vision, conveyed by the inspired translator Jessica Moore, Siberia’s immensity dwarfs human perspective. The insecurity of existence across this vastness and on board the train emphasizes the significance of human connection. In a time of war, this connection may bring liberation and salvation." --Ken Kalfus, New York Times
“In this slim, sleek tale that hurries along at the speeding train’s clip, de Kerangal draws on classic train capers while also poetically, ravishingly conveying the immensity and harsh beauty of this haunted land of exile and torment . . . With each new novel, de Kerangal secures her place as a writer of stunning, incisive, enrapturing fiction; it’s a boon to have this sensuous, soulful, and suspenseful earlier work so gorgeously translated into English by Jessica Moore.” --Donna Seaman, Booklist
"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
“An antiwar story in which no bullets are fired and not a single battle is fought . . . Sneakily funny . . . As he anxiously ponders the “woolly mauve wilderness,” in translator Moore’s inspired phrasing, it’s evident that Aliocha is a casualty of the militaristic posture that has such a warping effect on people and nations.” --Kevin Canfield, World Literature Today
"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." --Edmund White
"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
"Though first published in France 10 years ago, there is a contemporary resonance to this slender tale of a young Russian conscript, Aliocha, trying to escape the army on the Trans-Siberian railway and encountering Hélène, a fellow fugitive in flight from her own past." --Ángel Gurría-Quintana, Financial Times, "Best Books of 2022"
"Taut and tense with moments of pure beauty. One thrilling train ride across a foreign landscape that allowed me to experience a conscript's desperate plight and the connections that can bloom between strangers in unexpected moments." --Hannah Harlow, Book Shop of Beverly Farms in Beverly Farms, Massachusetts
"This 127 page gem of a book should be in print now with all the news of new conscripts in Russia reluctantly heading to Ukraine. Aliocha is a new conscript heading to Siberia, miserable, who befriends Helene, a frenchwoman, traveling East on the same train. Beautifully written and translated, this book packs a current punch in its very relatable story." --Annie Philbrick, Bank Square Books in Mystic, Connecticut
"Meet Helene & Aliocha, a pair of people seeking to leave similar but utterly distinct circumstances: he is a young Russian kid avoiding military conscription; she is a French woman approaching middle-age, fleeing a relationship that has left her existentially stranded and without comfort in Siberia. They encounter one another in the dark corridors of a train on the Trans-Siberian railway, and become, over a cigarette, unlikely compartment-mates and co-conspirators. His desperation interacts with her isolation in remarkable ways, given that they do not share a language. Their harrowing adventures include the avoidance of a lecherous military bureaucrat, as well as a tangle with the corps of former Soviet operatives working as train attendants. All the while, the pair must parse the strained, vivid memories & experiences of their respective pasts (and presents) as they are both propelled towards an uncertain future." --Danielle King, Left Bank Books in St. Louis, Missouri
"An emotional thriller in miniature, this slim, brisk book had me on the edge of my seat and emotionally invested in these characters until the very end. The poetic language is the work of a singular and transfixing talent." --David Vogel, Literati Bookstore in Ann Arbor, Michigan
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. --James Harrod, Bookseller at Malaprop's
"The exciting tension permeating the novel reminds me of the accounts of escapes that Solzhenitsyn recounted in Volume 3 of The Gulag Archipelago. Aliocha’s desperate and confused efforts to run away compels our sympathy; the suspense over whether he will be caught or not is riveting." --Russian Life
"This is no Brysonesque travelogue but a taut, tense work using the train as a backdrop for a story of two very different people . . . Eastbound is an intriguing book . . . in the hands of an accomplished writer and translator, a book that you’ll fly through." --Tony's Reading List
“From the opening pages, de Kerangal’s prose carries the emotional intensity swelling in the cramped quarters of the train, the Siberian landscape rushing past the windows, and the increasingly fraught atmosphere of the station breaks without dropping a beat . . . [De Kerangal's] characters emerge as full-bodied, conflicted individuals and the suspense, which starts out as a simmer, builds to an intense boil.” --Joseph Schrieber, Rough Ghost
"Jessica Moore’s translation meets the pivoting demands of De Kerangel’s prose — preserving the terse, staccato sentences that relate action inside the train, and ably handling the flowing descriptions of the Russian landscape . . . Without a common language, Aliocha and Helene operate in parallel, each one a closed system incapable of fully intersecting. Their relationship, born of coincidence more than abiding connection, illuminates the fraught relations between the West and its Russian antagonists." --Tara Cheesman, On the Seawall
Eastbound is a marvel. Racing through space and time like a train, Maylis de Kerangal perfectly captures the dual nature of fleeing and entrapment. Jessica Moore's translation conveys an impeccable tension—how will a soldier escape the crisis of enlistment? I loved this book. --Makenna Goodman, author of The Shame
“In interviews, de Kerangal has reflected on the importance of being a “contemporary writer”—someone who holds “all the layers of time together.” This does not mean, I think, that she mixes them, but that they remain striated, defined, like an ancient lake seen through the window of a passing train via a smartphone screen . . . It takes immense skill, patience, and clarity to paint time, to render the melee of past and present, symbolic and real. Language may not be what allows us to see it, but in the right hands we can get close.” --Lauren Oyler, The New Yorker
"Inner and outer immensity is luminously portrayed in this novel. The narrative might tunnel in to describe Hélène registering the “slowed down flow” of Aliocha’s blood, as he sleeps in her train compartment, or pull back for the monotony of what’s outside the train window . . . a gorgeous English translation by Jessica Moore." --Debra Spark, Frenchly
"A tense, poetic novella . . . Aliocha, a reluctant conscript, was heading for a period of military service that was bound to be, in the Russian tradition, brutish, unpleasant, and scarred by vicious bullying . . . It is hard to read Eastbound now without moving it into 2023 and imagining that Aliocha's ultimate destination will be the killing fields of Ukraine and death in the pursuit of a tyrant's atavistic dream." --Andrew Stuttaford, The New Criterion