Irina Zhorov was born in Uzbekistan, in the Soviet Union, and moved to Philadelphia on the eve of its dissolution. After failing to make use of a geology degree she received an MFA from the University of Wyoming. She’s worked as a journalist for more than a decade, reporting primarily on environmental issues. Her first novel, Lost Believers, was published by Scribner in 2023.
Thursday, September 21
Table Rock Room, 201B Plemmons Student Union
Craft Talk: 2-3:15 p.m.
Reading: 6 p.m.
Reading Group Guide summary:
Set in Soviet Russia in the 1970s, Lost Believers explores a chance encounter between two young women that forever alters the course of their lives. Galina is an ambitious young geologist with an influential father, leading a state scouting mission for iron deposits in a remote stretch of Siberian wilderness. Agafia is the youngest daughter of a family of Old Believers, a persecuted sect of Christians, who have been living in total isolation for decades. Galina and her pilot, Snow Crane, are the first people outside of her family Agafia has ever met. The growing friendship between the two women begins to challenge the beliefs and futures they had previously thought unshakable. As Agafia learns more about the world beyond her homestead and suffers several grievous losses, Galina begins to question her own role in the construction of a mine that threatens to displace her new friend’s family. Against the backdrop of the icy taiga and Soviet-era Moscow, this powerful novel explores faith and politics, family and friendship, and the relentless march of “progress” as it threatens the natural world.
A rich, immersive debut novel, inspired by true events, about a meeting between two women in 1970s Soviet Russia—a deeply religious homesteader living in isolation with her family on the Siberian taiga and an ambitious scientist—that irrevocably changes the course of both of their lives.
Galina, a promising young geologist from Moscow, is falling in love with her pilot, Snow Crane, on a trip exploring for minerals in Siberia. As their helicopter hovers over what should be a stretch of uninhabited forest, they see a small hut and a garden—and, the following day, when they hike from their field camp to the hut, they find a family.
Agafia was born in Siberia into a family of Old Believers, a small sect of Christians who rejected the reforms that shaped the modern Russian Orthodox church. Her parents fled religious persecution four decades earlier, hiking deep into the snowy wilderness and eventually building a home far away from the dangerous and sinful world. Galina and Snow Crane are the first people she has ever met outside of her immediate family. As the two women develop a friendship, each becomes conflicted about futures that once seemed certain—and each is hindered by the immovable forces shaping their lives: Galina can’t shake the confines of her Soviet upbringing, and Agafia’s focus drifts from her faith to the beauty of the relentlessly harsh taiga. Even worse, Galina begins to see her work opening mines as a threat to Agafia and her home, mirroring the exploitation of the natural world happening all across the Soviet Union.
A vivid and eye-opening story about fate, ambition, and Soviet politics, Lost Believers is an unforgettable journey.
"Zhorov deftly explores the landscape of the two women's lives and the choices they must make as their worlds converge, mapping the forces of faith and fate, progress and preservation onto the backdrop of 1970s Soviet life."
"A beautiful, mournful novel about faith gravely tempered by grief and the brutal iron of modernity bringing the greatest of losses. Zhorov's voice is fresh and appealing."
—Joy Williams, author of The Visiting Privilege and Harrow
“Lost Believers reads like a journey into the heart of a dark Siberian fairytale—Irina Zhorov a guide I trusted and believed in completely, and admired for the compassion she has for her characters, and for the earth itself.”
—Carys Davies, author of West and The Mission House