Luka doesn’t think he is brave. However, he has a quiet, everyday kind of bravery. His parents sent him away at the age of thirteen and he has been on his own working as an apprentice in a barbershop ever since. He cannot seem to escape the never ending hurt and humiliation that is levied his way, even from those he thought were his friends. He could have given up hope a long time ago, but he has finally enrolled himself in an art class as his art is the one place his mind can escape to. But once again it is not to be as war breaks out. Luka is forced to flee his home solely because of where his ancestors came from long ago.
Luka is resigned and knows his fate is already sealed when he is beaten and left for certain death. In a twist of fate, he is then captured by an enemy soldier, Tarik. Taken prisoner by Tarik, the men make their way on foot over many weeks and many miles through enemy territory. Luka sees Tarik as fearless and strong, but his final destination and purpose remains a mystery.
Luka is terrified to answer any of Tarik’s questions. He can’t let Tarik know about his past or why he had been beaten. But Tarik may not be all that he appears either and the one person who is holding him captive may also be the first person ever who will completely understand Luka and accept him for who he is.
Varian Krylov pens a gorgeously written novel in Trasmundo: Escape. It is her signature style where she can take what would appear to be a simple sentence and offer it from an introspective, colorful, and unique perspective that transports us to her world.
Luka is the loneliest of characters. His family discarded him in a heartbreaking manner yet he still sends them money…hoping. Misfortune and pain seem to follow him wherever he goes, yet he has his painting and he continues to hope. There is the sense that Luka doesn’t even know exactly what he is hoping for, but love, safety, beauty, and a sense of belonging somewhere certainly factor in highly.
The first portion of the story is slow but it is needed to fully get a sense of Luka and then the impending unrest in the fictional Eastern European country that he lives in. While the country is fictional, the themes of genocide and ethnic cleansing are all too real. We see Luka reach his own internal breaking point as he resigns himself that the end will be near and he can finally escape his pain. He then gets an unexpected second chance.
At one point Luka’s art teacher tells him that his painting is exceptional and so are Krylov’s words. There is true artistry to her prose and even when Luka is beaten, tied, and left for dead the sun rises once again and he takes in the landscape.
Lapis yielded to sapphire, then palatinate; the horizon caught fire, singeing the edges of a thin trail of clouds and setting them in sudden relief against the brightening sky. As the world above him bloomed and burned in aureolin and jonquil, in amber and amaranth, the terrain before Luka pierced the darkness, spilling the molten sunrise over its stark, brutal face.
When Luka meets Tarik it quickly becomes clear that both men are afraid. Tarik is more forward thinking than what we are shown of the men in that climate and a relationship grows between them. Luka is terrified of so many things, but it’s the constant fear that someone will learn that he is attracted to men that once again keeps him on edge. While the war is the initial catalyst and the driving force of the story, it becomes the background to their love story. There is shame and desire tightly wound together within the mind of an artist, and their story, as well as the writing, is intensely personal. The men travel a great distance, hide, face danger, fall in love, and in the middle of a war, in the middle of their escape, they find the beginnings of a home.
Tarik’s breath against Luka’s throat. Brush of lips. Touch of tongue. Panting, melting, Luka surrendered to that stunning rapture, too big to believe, almost too intense to bear.
We are left with hope at the end, but Krylov is known for not making it easy for her characters and we can only wait to see what she has in store for them when they finally reach their destination in the upcoming sequel.
You’re the one, Luka. My one. I’ve been wanting you, longing for you, fantasizing you my whole life…. I didn’t know what the person I was looking for looked like. But when I see you, when I touch you, when I hear your voice my whole body, my soul knows, it’s you, Luka.