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Forty percent of the land is covered by volcanoes, twenty-nine of which are active. There are earthquakes, hot springs, extreme weather, brown bears, rivers turned blood red from spawning salmon, and vast frozen expanses.
Not many people live there, though more do now than did during the Soviet era—Kamchatka was a closed military zone until There are no roads connecting it to mainland Russia and much of the territory is accessible only by helicopter or dogsled. Phillips, who studied Russian literature in college, went to Kamchatka on a Fulbright in In all her writing about Kamchatka, Phillips seems most fascinated by the creative potential of emptiness, identifying in the horizonless tundra feelings of awe and dread in equal measure.
Those feelings are written into every page of her debut novel, Disappearing Earth. Told over the course of a year, the story begins with the news that two young Russian girls, sisters Alyona age eleven and Sofia age eight , have gone missing from Petropavlovsk, the capital city of Kamchatka, one August afternoon.
As summer draws to an end, and winter settles in, so too do the anxieties of being a woman in an isolated landscape. I spoke with Julia over the phone about her stunning debut, Kamchatka as muse, and the feminist potential of crime fiction.
One of the things that makes this book so unique is its setting, Kamchatka. Can you say a bit more about your relationship to the place and why you wanted to set your first novel there? I knew I wanted to set a novel in Russia. I had studied the Russian language for some years; I also studied abroad in Moscow. I knew I wanted to go back to the country and write something there. When I was thinking about where to set it, I wanted to find a place that was less of an urban center, and somewhere more contained, and more distinctive—a region that had its own identity.