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To a distant island by James McConkey
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To a distant island (1984)

by James McConkey

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In April of the year 1890, a group of friends boards a train in Moscow heads northeast for Yaroslavl. It is an odd collection of intelligentsia: a doctor and his wife, a Jewish painter who is her current lover, two musicians, a young and beautiful teacher, and a world-class mathematician who hides her intelligence under flamboyant clothes. There is also an elderly, infirm woman who wrings her hands and grips her walking cane with white fingers, and a young man and woman who are obviously the old woman’s son and daughter. The train compartment is too small to hold so many and so odd an assortment of people; the group shifts and eddies as they spill out into the passageway and into adjoining compartments. But the restlessness of the friends, obvious in their edgy and forced hilarity and in the way they shift from seat to seat, is held in check by the last of the party, the one man whom they all seem to circumnavigate, whose internal gravity seems to keep them all in orbit. A stolid, respectable man, who might even be thought of as affable if it weren’t for the remote and aloof air that shrouds him. He talks quietly with the elderly, worried woman who must also be his mother, and gently with the woman who is his sister. He makes small talk with the painter and the musicians, he smiles, but doesn’t flirt with the mathematician and the teacher. They all watch him anxiously, out of the corners of their eyes. They are worried for him, because when the train reaches Yaroslavl they will all turn around and return to Moscow, but he will continue on, bound literally for the ends of the earth, and none of them—not his mother, his sister or the women who wish to be his lovers—none of them know why he is going. . .read full review
  southernbooklady | May 29, 2007 |
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"In 1890 Anton Chekhov - thirty and already a famous writer - left his home and family in Moscow to travel 6,500 miles across Russia, over frozen land and sea, by train, ferry, and troika, to visit the island of Sakhalin, a penal colony off the coast of Siberia." "In To a Distant Island, McConkey recreates Chekhov's remarkable journey in all of its complexity, while interweaving a journey of his own. As McConkey guides us through the Russian wilderness and into the soul of this great writer, he uncovers the peculiar and hidden forces that shaped two lives."--BOOK JACKET.
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