Your audiobook is waiting…

Disappearing Earth

A novel
Narrated by: Ilyana Kadushin
Length: 11 hrs and 15 mins
4 out of 5 stars (106 ratings)

$14.95/month after 30 days. Cancel anytime.

Publisher's Summary

"Splendidly imagined.... Thrilling" (Simon Winchester)

"A genuine masterpiece." (Gary Shteyngart)

One of Entertainment Weekly's 10 Best Book of 2019 So Far

Spellbinding, moving - evoking a fascinating region on the other side of the world - this suspenseful and haunting story announces the debut of a profoundly gifted writer.

One August afternoon, on the shoreline of the Kamchatka peninsula at the northeastern edge of Russia, two girls - sisters, eight and 11 - go missing. In the ensuing weeks, then months, the police investigation turns up nothing. Echoes of the disappearance reverberate across a tightly woven community, with the fear and loss felt most deeply among its women. 

Taking us through a year in Kamchatka, Disappearing Earth enters with astonishing emotional acuity the worlds of a cast of richly drawn characters, all connected by the crime: a witness, a neighbor, a detective, a mother. We are transported to vistas of rugged beauty - densely wooded forests, open expanses of tundra, soaring volcanoes, and the glassy seas that border Japan and Alaska - and into a region as complex as it is alluring, where social and ethnic tensions have long simmered, and where outsiders are often the first to be accused. 

In a story as propulsive as it is emotionally engaging, and through a young writer's virtuosic feat of empathy and imagination, this powerful novel brings us to a new understanding of the intricate bonds of family and community, in a Russia unlike any we have seen before.

©2019 Julia Phillips (P)2019 Random House Audio

Critic Reviews

“Mesmerizing.... The mystery of two sisters’ disappearance alternately ebbs and intensifies over the course of a year, [as] each chapter dips into the life of a different girl or woman [on] Kamchatka. The story reads as a page-turner without relying on any cheap narrative tricks to propel it forward, and the strength of Phillips’s writing - her careful attention to character and tone - will grip you right up until the final heart-stopping pages.” (Keziah Weir, Vanity Fair)

“Accomplished and gripping.... The volcano-spiked Kamchatka Peninsula in Far East Russia, where the tundra still supports herds of reindeer and the various Native groups who depend on them, is the evocative setting of Phillips’ novel. In fresh and unpredictable scenes depicting broken friendships and failed marriages, strained family gatherings, and rehearsals of a Native dance troupe, Phillips’ spellbinding prose is saturated with sensuous nuance and emotional intensity, as she subtly traces the shadows of Russia’s past and illuminates today’s daunting complexities of gender and identity, expectations and longing.” (Donna Seaman, Booklist, starred review)

A stunning, powerful debut novel. Phillips’s characters [have] deep humanity; her portrayal of Kamchatka is superb. The novel’s many characters are introduced in the preface, which calls to mind all those classic Russian novels with sprawling casts. But at the same time, Disappearing Earth is utterly contemporary. Has there ever been a novel, even by Dostoevsky or Tolstoy, set in such a strange, ancient, beautiful place, with its glaciers and volcanoes and endless cold? It’s a place where miracles might happen: Phillips’s novel dares to imagine the possibilities.” (Arlene McKanic, BookPage - starred review: Top Pick)

More from the same

What members say

Average Customer Ratings

Overall

  • 4 out of 5 stars
  • 5 Stars
    49
  • 4 Stars
    33
  • 3 Stars
    11
  • 2 Stars
    7
  • 1 Stars
    6

Performance

  • 4.5 out of 5 stars
  • 5 Stars
    55
  • 4 Stars
    29
  • 3 Stars
    8
  • 2 Stars
    4
  • 1 Stars
    2

Story

  • 4 out of 5 stars
  • 5 Stars
    46
  • 4 Stars
    23
  • 3 Stars
    15
  • 2 Stars
    5
  • 1 Stars
    7
Sort by:
  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    5 out of 5 stars

A story about a crime, yes, but not traditional detective story.

A masterly novel that made me want to go back and start reading it again as soon as I had finished it.

A tremendous debut. I can’t wait for her next one!

6 of 6 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    4 out of 5 stars

Beautifully written

This was a great listen. Wonderful character development through vignettes of lives that intertwine while a mystery unfolds. My only criticism is I felt like I needed a chart to keep track of everyone and how they related to one another. Looking forward to listening to it again to connect all the dots.

4 of 4 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    3 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    4 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    3 out of 5 stars

More like a book of short stories

This book is like a necklace of beads, with just a very thin thread holding them together. Unfortunately, that’s not what I personally want from a novel. I don’t mind multiple points of view and intertwining stories at all—but I want those individual stories to be more like ribbons, with just a limited number of them elegantly braided together.

There are just way too many voices in this story. Each vignette is very well written, and the way they all do connect is impressive. But it felt relentless, one after the other, having to meet new characters and get inside their heads, only to abandon most of them completely. If the author had included just half the number of characters and had spent more time going deeper into their stories, and if she had developed the core mystery with as much care as she approached open-ended character studies, I probably would have loved this book.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    4 out of 5 stars

What a madly moving novel

What an odd feeling, to have such a subdued book impact me in such a powerful way. There's still so much I don't understand, yet I feel like I just lived an emotionally exhausting week among the struggling yet strong Russian women of this novel.

Perhaps I'm so overwhelmed because the main character of Disappearing Earth was not a person, but rather an entire place and culture.

Kamchatka is a small remote peninsula in the Russian Far East, about the size of California and not far from Alaska. I suggest investigating the history of this rugged area and its native peoples before picking up this novel. A little understanding up front might help you appreciate how the disappearance of a couple young girls could so fully impact an entire tundra region.

As well, the construction of this book is unique and difficult to embrace if you're not expecting it. It offers a month-by-month view into the lives of different woman who live in Kamchatka. You are not supposed to find any connection between these women beyond where they live (not until the very end of the book, anyway). We see how each one survives everyday life, facing the savage weather, the bravado of the men, the racism against indigenous peoples by the mainland Russians who emigrated there, and the all-too-common financial struggles. It's a fascinating succession of short stories exposing the culture of this remote community, tied together by one event that rippled through and affected each of them in powerful ways.

I admit I don't know enough about the (pre-collapse) Soviet Union, but all the references to "before" that were made have me aching to find out more about the then and now of Russian culture. That's the kind of book I love most: one that makes me wonder and question, and inspires me to learn more.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    4 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    4 out of 5 stars
  • Kelly
  • Colorado Springs
  • 06-25-19

The setting is completely unique!

I entered this one expecting a dark and deeply sad mystery novel, but I got something that was so much more. There was a lot about this book that I loved and one of the primary things was the setting. I knew nothing about the Kamchatka peninsula and I found the culture of it and the isolation caused by its geography extremely interesting. 30 years ago I minored in Russian and Russian studies. As part of one course I completed a project on the reindeer herding indigenous people featured in this book, which made the book even more fun, though I was sad to see the same prejudices against these natives of Russia that we deal with against the natives of the USA.

In Disappearing Earth two young girls, sisters who are eight and eleven years old, go missing. The police are quickly called to investigate but they find nothing. The only evidence is an unreliable and minimal description of the girls in a car. They are just gone. Without a trace.

One of the things that worked best in this one is the structure of the book. Each chapter focuses on a different character and takes place in consecutive months after the girls' disappearance. Over the course of a year we are slowly let into the mindset of a witness, a detective, and several others. The final chapter is focusing on the mother of the two girls. The story is moving and sad, and I kept hoping that the mother's grief and worry would end. I am a mom, and these types of stories are difficult to take.

The ending was especially good. It was a big pay off for investing in the story.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    4 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Evan
  • Bozeman, Malta
  • 06-29-19

summer read

More characters than I could audibly track, but a pleasant story. Our book group choice per NY Times review.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    5 out of 5 stars

Stands up the reviews

Very different setting , Russia I think , not sure of location but definitely Russian influence & names of characters like a Russian novel of old . You have to hang in through many developing chapters but it’s worth it once u hit the last chapter which is good as it gets in ‘ gone girl ‘ thrillers ! Still shaking at ending which I love that u have to interpret for yourself . What a movie !

  • Overall
    1 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    4 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    1 out of 5 stars

Annoying story

Several times I considered giving up on this book because it was so annoying with all the rabbit holes which had nothing to do with the main storyline. I kept wondering if there were clues being revealed but it was just overboard character building or to get across how the person felt. It just went on and on and then there was this abrupt ending. I don't know if the author believed there was only one possible outcome and so there was no reason to tell it or she expected the listener to decide it. It is 20 minute short story about some abductions and about 11 hour story of A Day In The Lives Of Various Russian Women (soap opera).

1 of 2 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    1 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    1 out of 5 stars

Disappointed

Don’t waste your credits! Has way too many story lines, characters, and names to follow. Jumps all over the place with no idea where this is going. And...If that’s not, enough the names all sound just alike.

0 of 1 people found this review helpful