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  • Writer's pictureGaili Schoen


"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...."

I just finished listening to this wonderful little French noir novel called Eastbound, by Maylis De Kerangal and read by Jennifer Pickens. Timing in at less than 3 hours, I listened to the story (in English) while cooking a few dinners this week (not recommended, I overcooked the cod and burned the rice). I heard about it on the weekly Elevenses with the Reps show, which anyone can watch at anytime. They recommended it to people who wanted to complete their yearly book challenges with some great short books. 🙋🏻‍♀️ It was also named one of the 10 best books of the year by the New York Times, and included on the New Yorker magazine's BEST BOOKS of 2023. Here is the publisher's description:

"Aliocha is racing toward Vladivostok with other Russian conscripts packed on a trans-Siberian train. Soon after boarding, he decides to desert. Over a midnight smoke in a dark corridor of the train, the young soldier encounters an older French woman, Hélène, for whom he feels an uncanny trust. He manages through pantomime and basic Russian that Hélène must decipher, to ask for her help. As they hurry from the filth of his third-class carriage to Hélène’s first-class sleeping car, Aliocha becomes a hunted deserter and Hélène his accomplice with her own recent memories to contend with. Eastbound is both an adventure story and a duet of vibrant inner worlds. In evocative sentences gorgeously translated by Jessica Moore, De Kerangal tells the story of two unlikely souls entwined in a quest for freedom with a striking sense of tenderness, sharply contrasting the brutality of their surrounding world.

Eastbound is beautifully written and well-paced, keeping the reader riveted and breathless as we wonder if Aliocha will make it off the train undetected, and if Hélène will have to suffer for her generous complicity.

" This sordid scenario where she gave herself the lucky draw, proclaimed herself the hero, the stranger who descends from the sky, saves you and then slips away, ready to rack up self-convincing statements – I did my utmost, I did all that I could – all the while knowing she’s incapable of believing it: the worm of guilt is already lodging itself in her gut."

The story seems to take place in present time (there are cell phones and emails) which makes it all the more powerful. Highly recommended as a quick, engaging read for all ages and genders.

You can purchase Eastbound here, or listen to it from your local library via the phone app Libby, as it came out earlier this year.


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