Antonina is a student at the prestigious Academy of Art in St Petersburg, though at times she feels she might be a better fit at the Centre of Non-conformist Art across town. She knows she stands out as someone different, being neither Russian, Korean nor Kazak—and yet she embodies them all. She is Koryo-Saram–a descendant of the exiled population Stalin labelled the unreliable people.
But what does that mean? And why did the strange, elegant woman entice her as a young child to climb out of her bedroom window to go on a long train journey through Kazakhstan? A journey that shrouds Antonina’s life in the mythology of the ghost train that channels its way out through Antonina’s art during her quest for identity in the recently collapsed Communist Russia. This is a story where love and loss intersect unexpectantly through the centre of an overarching Korean fable about a crow king and a rice farmer’s wife.
This novel has its roots in three countries: Korea, Russia, and Kazakhstan. Three generations after the deportation of the Koryo-Saram into central Asia by Stalin, the intergenerational trauma of the lost honour of Antonina’s people is still working its way out to find some kind of solution to the sense of displacement and humiliation the exile caused.