Ms. Liksom conjures beauty from the ugliest of things. As she finds something wily and comical in the unforgettably horrible Ivanov, so she imbues the industrial wastelands with an inexplicable charm ... What emerges is a twilight-hued elegy to the sickly last days of a wicked empire.
With dark humor, the book depicts a fantastical vision of a populace somehow muddling through a world where every engine repeatedly breaks down, including that of the train ... The novel concludes more rapidly than I would have liked, but a lingering sense of the landscape and enduring survival remains.
Liksom balances the girl’s relationship with Vadim on a razor’s edge, and much of the novel’s immediate suspense comes from the sense that the situation could become violent at any moment. But however menacing Vadim might seem, he isn’t evil, and watching the way their relationship evolves is one of this novel’s many pleasures ... rapturous descriptions [of the countryside], filled with minutely observed details, mix together the beautiful and the banal, the ugly and the sublime.