Two Spaniards, a doctor and a journalist, forge their relationship on a journey on the mythical train that anchored Siberia in the Empire of the Tsars and definitively associated it with the dramatic history of the Soviet Union

Sara and Eva on the trans-siberian

A human eye inside a small glass jar. Of course, it is unusual to surprise the person for whom you feel a special attraction with such a gift. But this is how the Asturian doctor Sara Gutiérrez showed her interest to the Aragonese journalist Eva Orúe. Both lived in Moscow, the former working at the Fyodorov Institute of Ocular Microsurgery and the latter as a press correspondent, a post she would also take up in London and Paris. It was 1994 and Russia was presided over by Boris Yeltsin, the man who forced Mikhail Gorbachev to resign, who stopped a coup d'état and who would end up making Vladimir Putin his successor, a decision he himself would describe as a "grave mistake" shortly before his death.  

With that unexpected gift, Sara showed Eva the clean beauty of a crystal clear glass. The two discovered each other and Sara decided to propose to Eva a trip that was impossible to refuse at the time: to travel the 9,288 kilometres (the return line is 10 kilometres longer) that separate Moscow from Vladivostok, on the train conceived by Tsar Alexander III, inaugurated in 1916 and only fully electrified in 2002.  

"On the Trans-Siberian" (Ed. Reino de Cordelia, 413 pp.) and its corresponding long stops of several days in Ekaterinburg, Irkutsk, Lake Baikal, Khabarovsk and Vladivostok, a double intertwined story unfolds: that of the novel of the relationship between the two women, at a time when such love could not be experienced in the light of day, and that of the history of Russia itself.  

Sara writes this personal story, drawing on their own conversations, often full of anecdotes and amusing jokes, and making the most of the descriptions of the landscapes, the atmosphere of the train and the stations, as well as the way in which the frequent bureaucratic problems were solved, with the corresponding visits to the police station and the usual police threats.  

Along the way, Eva explains the history of the train that formed the backbone of the Empire. This was the understanding of Tsars Alexander III and Nicholas II, before during the First World War, after the October Revolution and the ensuing civil war, the line became a battlefield. She turns her narrative into an authentic and thoroughly documented reportage, explaining how the Bolsheviks made the train a tool of propaganda, but also a means of punishment and an instrument of progress. The Siberian railway network grew with the construction of the Second Trans-Siberian (the BAM, Baikal, Amur Maguistral) and other lines beyond the Urals. Another Tsar, Nicholas I, had already realised the importance of iron roads for Russia's entry into the gritty race of industrialisation, inaugurating the first Russian railway in 1837, between St Petersburg and Tsárskoie Seló, followed by the one linking Warsaw, then part of the Russian Empire, to the Austrian-Hungarian border in 1848.  

Thirty years after that trip, when Sara and Eva decided to join their destinies, they both wanted to repeat the same journey in order to compare the state of that immense Russia, which had just emerged from communism, with the current one. It was not to be. When they had everything ready, President Putin decreed the invasion of Ukraine, "a special operation to denazify it". The borders were closed, both to keep out uncomfortable foreign observers and to prevent the departure of tens of thousands of Russians who did not want to be recruited to reduce Ukrainians' desire for freedom to rubble. The invasion and massive shelling of Ukraine is particularly painful for Sara, who had long resided and written her doctoral thesis in Kharkov, the country's second city.  

The book, therefore, does not offer such a hypothetical comparison, but instead gives a very complete picture of a Russia, which was then shaken by the collapse of the USSR and the crumbling of communism. Its inhabitants - both authors acknowledge - always expressed a deep-rooted feeling of sympathy for Spain and the Spanish, no doubt based on the conviction that it was the two extremes of Europe, Spain and Russia, which at the time stopped Napoleon's expansionist and hegemonic ambitions.  

The edition is particularly well edited; one would not expect anything else from the current director of the Madrid Book Fair, Eva Orúe. It is worth noting that the authors write places, institutions or expressions in Cyrillic Russian, immediately accompanied by their Latin spelling and their meaning in English, which satisfies the most demanding readers and encourages the most eager to know to delve deeper into the language of Pushkin and Dostoyevsky. 

As an enriching complement, the wide selection of photographs accompany both the sentimental account and the main landmarks and places through which the Trans-Siberian has marked the history of Russia. "Vladivostok should be the real capital of Russia", they both declared at the presentation of the book in the Madrid bookshop La Mistral.  

The reason they argue is that already in 1994 they found the final destination city of the Trans-Siberian fascinating and very advanced. Its proximity to China, Japan and South Korea," they stress, "shows a vitality and a vision of the future far ahead of Moscow or St. Petersburg, anchored after all in a Europe that is struggling to keep pace with the most avant-garde cities and minds.