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“A well researched and compelling tale”

Four Russian soldiers who helped defeat the Nazis return to Russia and are promptly sent to a gulag in the Kolyma region of Siberia. They quickly realize that, unless they escape, they will soon die of overwork, starvation, illness, brutality, or the elements. With the encouragement of a fellow inmate, a native of Siberia, who assures them that survival is possible in the wilderness beyond the gulag, the five escape and head for the Bering Strait and asylum in the U.S. They travel only in winter to make the hunt for them more difficult for the Red Army.

Nearly a third of this ambitious first novel describes life in the camp and how the patriotic soldiers ended up there; the remainder details the quartet’s two-year, 1,400-mile journey. Along the way, the men consider their betrayal—and Russia’s—by Stalin’s regime and struggle with their own morality. Overall, Against Destiny is a well-researched and compelling tale, but many readers will wonder at the use of seemingly contemporary hard-boiled terms like screws (camp guards), whacked (murdered), and scumbags. Still, this is a promising debut.

— Thomas Gaughan

American Library Association, Booklist, April 15, 2009