Russia is one of those countries that provides a wealth of material for writers. On one level there is the landscape, which in this case is only extensive but cold and covered in snow; there is the political environment that means you can never drop your guard and tragedy could be just round the corner; and there is also the history with the war and the extent of the sacrifice and destruction of the Second World War over shadowing the present as long as those with memories share them.
All of those ingredients are woven into the first half of this novella with Makine using a train journey from the Urals to Moscow as the opportunity to tell one man’s life story. The man in question is introduced playing the piano and weeping and as he starts to tell a tale about a piano concert that was never given because his parents were arrested and a society that shunned him as a result it is already lining up to be a tragic tale.
Add to that the decision the pianist makes to head to a relative in the Ukraine just before the Germans invade and it seems that everything that could go wrong is going wrong.
Quite how it works out has just guessing enough to want to read on to the end of the journey.