EASTBOUND by Maylis de Kerangal
Translated by Jessica Moore
Horrific stories of young Russian men being forcibly conscripted for the invasion of Ukraine bring a painful urgency to this excellent tale by the consistently great de Kerangal. Aliocha has fled his army unit en route to Siberia. Hiding between train cabins on the Trans-Siberian Railway, he meets Hélène, a young French woman making an escape of her own. Soldiers storm the train looking for the deserter and, in a moment of rash courage (albeit a morally problematic one - he threatens her with violence), Hélène hides Aliocha. Their fates become inextricably linked.
Eastbound was written as a spoken piece for French radio. Given its propulsive rhythm, deftly replicated in Jessica Moore’s translation, that comes as little surprise. It reads like a thriller. But it’s also a sobering meditation on the depths to which we will sink to survive. Disaster is averted, albeit at great cost to those who risk their own lives to help Aliocha. When he reaches the freedom of the eastern plains, he is all but broken, barely able to live with the terrible things he has done. It is a credit to his decency, but little consolation.
Eastbound by Maylis de Kerangal (Tr. Jessica Moore)
Les Fugitives, 2022