A group of Russian men have just been conscripted into the Army. They are on the trans-Siberian railroad crossing more than 8 time zones toward their first training facility in the frozen East. Twenty-year-old Aliocha expects to be hazed, have his genitals burned with cigarettes, made to lick toilets, and maybe raped when he arrives at training camp. Along the fever-dream of an unending train ride he decides to desert. He makes an ally in Helene a French woman twice his age. Helene is AWOL herself, running from a Russian man she loved in France, but after joining him in his own country, realizes she is suffocating.
Helene speaks no Russian, Aliocha speaks no French and yet they communicate and together hide from from a vicious Russian commander anxious to locate his escaping conscript. The pair are confined inside a train for hours and days until night and day blur. They are trapped inside their heads unable to make their fears and anxieties fully known because of a language barrier. Still, they work together. A novella that clicks along at 60 Km/hour, not too fast and not too slow. (A New York Times top 10 book for 2023.)