Author: Varian Krylov
Pages/Word Count: 236 Pages
At a Glance: Love and war create a beautiful contrast in Varian Krylov’s Trasmundo: Escape.
Reviewed By: Lisa
Blurb: Strange, quiet Luka doesn’t live in this world; long ago he took refuge in his art, escaping into surreal mindscapes inspired by his favorite painters. In the beautifully monstrous realms of his imagination, he is safe from the pain of his losses: his family, his friends, his hope.
Until war breaks out, and he is forced to flee the only home he’s known since he was thirteen.
Captured by an enemy soldier, young Luka is marched across brutal terrain, toward a fate known only by the bearded menace holding him prisoner. Quick with a knife, tireless and strong, Tarik guards the purpose of his mission as he takes Luka deeper and deeper into enemy territory.
When the soldier discovers the painful secret he has been hiding since childhood, Luka fears he is about to endure a new kind of cruelty, worse than being abandoned, ostracized or beaten. Or is it possible the soldier holding Luka prisoner is the one person who isn’t afraid of the truth behind Luka’s silence and lies?
Review: Varian Krylov’s Trasmundo: Escape is a beautifully drawn love story; beautiful because of its contrasts in both setting and characters, and romantic for the same reasons.
Set in a war-torn Xukrasna, where poor men are recruited to fight rich men’s battles, and ethnic cleansing is the objective, Luka’s nationality is marked by his blue armband the same way the Star of David badge once demarcated a Jew during the Holocaust. What truly sets Luka apart in this story, however, is the boy himself. Nineteen, no family, no real friends, and working in a barber shop while trying to put himself through art school, we embrace Luka and his innocence, his delicacy, and are then given a roadmap within the narrative which pinpoints all the places where he’s broken in both heart and spirit. Made to feel ashamed and fearful of his sexuality, punished for his desires, Luka is the epitome of the lost boy and throwaway child, but we witness his true journey’s beginning when he’s driven out of the only place he’s known as home since the age of thirteen.
Rescued by a Good Samaritan after being exiled from a refugee camp, beaten and left tied to a tree, Luka sets out on his own, though he has no idea where he’s going or what he might find once he gets there. His life is irrevocably altered when Tarik, a soldier for the enemy, finds Luka and takes him prisoner. But, things aren’t exactly as they seem at first glance. From this moment on, Krylov gives readers a voyeur’s view into the lives of these two men as they make their way cross-country—refugees and countrymen from opposing factions who don’t buy in to the political or religious propaganda—facing hardships and unforgiving landscapes while transforming slowly from kidnapper and kidnapped to something so much more. From a safe distance, we watch as these two men go through all manner of adversity, face danger, and bear no small amount of suffering through things we can only imagine and hope we never have to endure. The author’s stoking of our empathy is done effortlessly as our love for both Luka and Tarik grows, just as their love for each other builds against the backdrop of war, shared intimacies within stolen moments together that are tender and touching in their urgency.
Opposites defined not only within their country’s political machinations but in personality as well, we initially see Luka as the frightened rabbit caught in a snare, while Tarik is strong, capable, and eager to explore his growing attraction to Luka. As the first tentative touches give way to a desperate physical need, we see Luka in a war of his own, a battle between his long-held belief that he is an abomination and his deep desire to be loved by Tarik. Until, that is, we begin to see glimpses of a subtly emerging strength in Luka. Where it might have been easy to dismiss him as fragile, we see in him the strength of a survivor, and just as in war, his progress is made in a series of advances and retreats.
As Tarik and Luka’s trials and travails come to a tension-filled climax, I was so fully invested in their lives that each emotion—the happy, the sad, the terrified—was an emotion I shared right along with them. Varian Krylov goes straight for our compassion, and succeeds in wringing every bit of it for her characters.
Trasmundo: Escape isn’t a war story but an anti-war story, where love is the weapon that conquers the ideology of hate. Luka and Tarik are far from their journey’s end, but we are left with a tentative hope—tentative because there is still so much uncertainty in their future in a country that doesn’t recognize or accept their love, but hope nonetheless that whatever comes their way, they’ll face it together as Escape becomes Exile.
You can pre-order Trasmundo: Escape here: