Book Review: To the Lake by Yana Vagner

To the Lake by Yana Vagner
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Publisher:  Skyscraper Publications

Summary:   When a virulent flu epidemic sweeps through Moscow killing hundreds of thousands of inhabitants, Anya and her husband Sergey decide to flee to a lake in the far north of Russia where they hope to sit out the epidemic. But as the wave of infection expands from the capital, they encounter obstacles, hazards, and aggression, with near escapes from death as they try to navigate their way through a harsh Russian winter, with diminishing supplies of petrol and food. And their troubles multiply as Sergey agrees to takes on unwelcome guests and Anna struggles with her own feelings of hostility and jealousy.

I came across this book when reading an article about books in translation and as I always feel that I don't read enough of those, I was interested. When I found out that this was an apocalyptic scenario, I was really excited because I rarely get science fiction in translation, this made it a "must have right now" book and I'm so glad I read this.

Anya is fleeing suburban Moscow with her husband Sergey, son Mishka and father in law, along with the neighbors (Lenny, Martina & little Dasha) she dislikes from across the lane and finally, Sergey's ex-wife Ira and son Anton. To add to the pack, some friends of Sergey also show up to add to Anya's list of "People you'd least like to be left with at the end of the civilised world". And to top things off, Anya's grieving the loss of her loved ones who couldn't get out of quarantined Moscow and have succumbed to the deadly virus.

While reading, I always wanted to know what was next and if the group would make it to their destination or how many would be lost along the way. The states of societal breakdown and disorder they encountered as they went along were well done and so were the ethical contrasts within the group on what should be done given any situation. Even when I didn't agree with everyone, I completely understood where they were coming from, so it was a good exercise in thinking about where I'd fall in a similar circumstance. I loved that.

I admit to finding all the women in the group annoying at one time or another with their pettiness and whinging but then it occurred to me that it probably is just how some people would act given the situation and how very short a time they'd all been thrown into it. So though irritating, it felt true. Anya, in particular tended to be angry when she wasn't consulted in major decisions but she wasn't actively participating in most of the work, so I couldn't care as much that she was left out. I felt that I'd have empathized with the women more if they exercised more agency and activity and less lip service. They all seemed perfectly willing to leave the hard work to the men while they indulged in what I can only describe as "Princess" moments. I did my fair share of eye-rolling because of this but I still cared about everyone. As to the ending, it was a bit abrupt but still satisfying in its own way as the reader's been on tenterhooks wondering if the group would make it but as there's a sequel, there's more to the story to come.

I've found out that the second book is out already so here's hoping the translation is being worked on as I type because I very much want to know what happens next for the group. Recommended.

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