How do you write an absorbing novel about unspeakable things? It's always a tricky business, and an editor I know once described the dilemma this way: "A reader needs to want to go there." What "there" means is the self-contained world of the book. And what would make a reader want to go deeply into a world of hopelessness and seemingly perpetual war, a world of torture and intimidation and exploding land mines? There are many answers. One of the most obvious, of course, is the language.
If something seems impossibly remote, you call it Siberia. And if Siberians want to make the analogy, they could call it Wrangel Island. About 90 miles off the coast of northeastern Siberia, the 91-mile-long island has been inhabited by some humans over the years — but has been home to a superabundance of wildlife such as polar bears, Pacific walruses and musk oxen.