Two girls, Sofia and Aliona, aged eight and eleven respectively, go missing one August morning in Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky, a city in Russia’s Kamchatka region. So it starts Missing, the first novel by Julia Phillips, which was published in the United States in 2019 and is now arriving in Spain from the Sexto Piso publishing house, translated into Spanish by Francisco González López. An international bombshell, a finalist for the National Book Award, among other awards, which has made thousands of readers look to that peninsula that they may have never heard of.
However, and without taking away an iota of interest from the book, the mystery that is being solved during the thirteen chapters into which it is divided is nothing new. Neither because of what happens nor because of its consequences at the social level, which translate into violence against women in various ways. In Spain there are, unfortunately, plenty of cases with which to compare the plot of Phillips’ ‘noir’.
The girls from Alcàsser, Rocío Wanninkhof, Marta del Castillo, Diana Quer or Sonia Carabantes, have been the protagonists of some of the most media events. Those that appear from time to time in the media or in documentary format such as The Alcàsser case, which premiered on Netflix in 2019 or The Wanninkhof – Carabantes case, available for a few weeks on the same platform. In all of them, the physical damage – beatings, sexual abuse or kidnapping – is suffered by the protagonists, but the invisible also affects the rest.
Nerea Barjola, researcher and doctor at the University of the Basque Country, reinterpreted Alcàsser’s crime and how it was covered in the media from a feminist perspective in her book Sexist microphysics of power (Editorial virus, 2018). And he concluded, for example, that said case: “was not counted. It was done by reproducing deeply sexist meanings all the time, blaming them and, therefore, the rest of the young women.”
As Barjola explained in an interview with this medium conducted by Ana Requena: “For many women it was their first story about sexual danger, until then they were not constructed that way, they did not identify him. The bad man also appears for the first time, that a man who can do anything to you anywhere. There is a limitation of spaces and a reformulation of attitudes, for example, in the fear of hitchhiking, because the whole story that is constructed consists of blaming adolescent girls for having done it. ” Likewise, the researcher affirms that “many women who until that moment lived certain spaces with freedom, such as going with your friends to the orange trees or the mountains, from that moment on they begin to be places where fear is perceived. The explosion of sexual terror was exponential. ”
Philips develops in each episode of his novel – whose title is the twelve months that elapse between the beginning and the end plus a key date – the ways in which society points out and represses female characters after the disappearance of women. girls A ‘forced’ disappearance, as Barjola points out: “we don’t disappear, they make us disappear in a sexist regime.” And also the factors that influence whether one search is more exhaustive than another, because origin or social class also count. Nothing is innocent even if it is unintentional.
Who had the fault
Before the beginning of the first chapter, the book includes a list of the characters – which family they belong to and their role – and a map of Kamchatka. Of course, it is not a whim of the writer but a travel guide through the novel: all people are related in one way or another and are necessary for the plot to advance. During reading, this index of characters is used almost in each chapter, because they appear progressively and it is important to know who they are and who they know. Viewing the scenario also helps you understand many important facts, such as why certain theories are discarded for the search.
“Sea and air are the only ways to leave the peninsula. Although Kamchatka was no longer a territory closed by law, the region was separated from the world by its own geography. To the south, east and west there was only ocean. To the north, Like a wall that separated it from mainland Russia, kilometers of mountains and tundra stretched. Impassable. Within Kamchatka, roads were few and in poor condition: some, leading to southern and central towns, They were dirt tracks that disappeared most of the year; others, those that went to northern towns, only existed in winter, when they froze. There was no road connecting the peninsula with the rest of the continent. No one could enter or exit by land. “, develops the writer in the novel.
Phillips knows the terrain well. When he was studying his bachelor of arts, he spent a semester in Moscow and in 2011 he moved to the region where his novel is set thanks to a Fulbright scholarship. Thanks to this stay, which lasted four years, he was able to document the reality of the different communities that coexist on the peninsula, such as the Slavs or the different native peoples, such as the Even.
When she arrived, she introduced herself as a writer, not as a researcher. “I was fortunate to be for so long in a community with such a strong sense of community care. I expected to be an anonymous face in the crowd, but I never felt like that. People took care of me, invited me to their homes, took me on the road and spent a lot of time sharing their lives with me. That was a huge gift. Much of the research did not come from formal interviews (although they were also helpful), but from conversations with friends, “Phillips said in an interview in The Moscow Times.
Right from the start, the accuser targets bad mothers who don’t take good care of their daughters and leave them unsupervised. To the witness who saw how the two girls got into a man’s car but did not pay enough attention – “He had to see something that caught his attention (…) Is it that useless by vocation? Or is it What do you do in your free time? “, says an inspector. Also the irresponsible adolescent who became pregnant or the young woman who has relations with men and who also vanishes without a trace.
Because not only the girls disappear, this young native woman also does not return home. But while the tracking of the two little girls, who are Russian, lasts for months. Lilia, who is a native, is hardly ever sought out: it is taken for granted that she has left home of her own free will and her case has little impact. The girls’ mother can offer a reward, the girl’s mother has almost nowhere to turn.
On the other hand, the disappearances mean that Xiusha’s boyfriend is constantly aware of her movements, even though she is studying at a university in another city. She considers all these attentions to be a sign of her love, although she has to give him proof that she is at home – turn on the microwave so that he can hear it – and detail her daily movements, who she has spent time with, for how long, why . And Olia suddenly becomes a bad influence on her best friend because her mother allows her to go to the city center alone despite what happened with Sofia and Aliona.
They are just a few of those described, but they all suffer punishment for a crime for which only the bad man and the patriarchal system they live in are responsible: on a lost peninsula in Russia or on a street on the way home in a Mediterranean city. In any scenario, a story of violence against women like the one told by Julia Phillips can be developed, without it being out of tune: the key is in how it is told.