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By The Time We Leave Here, We’ll Be Friends

4.25 of 5 stars 4.25  ·  rating details  ·  178 ratings  ·  35 reviews
Siberia, 1953. Stalin is dead and a once-prosperous thief named Alek Karriker is feeling the pressure. Trapped in an icy prison camp where violent criminals run the show, betrayed by his friends and his body, Karriker is surrounded by death and disorder. Bizarre Inuit shamans are issuing ever-stranger commands that he must obey. Opium is running scarce and bad magic is ple ...more
Paperback, 168 pages
Published December 6th 2010 by Swallowdown Press
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Steve Lowe

Of everything that I've read and reviewed over the past 2 or 3 years, this is the one book that deserves to be read by a larger audience. It won the Wonderland Award for best novel of the year, and there's no doubt it was an honor well earned.

Dense, dark, parasitic, drug-infused nightmare set in a Stalin-era Siberian prison camp. Cormac McCarthy fans take special note of this one - it's bleak both in its subject matter and its stingy use of language. Nothing extraneous in here,
Jamie Grefe
This mysterious tale is beautiful and cold, perfect for a winter's evening alone in the night, alone in the dark (a mineshaft or a hospital). But your head is still a bit funny from how this book leaves you feeling once you pass over to the other side where the words end and you realize it's all done. It's the most you can do. There's no turning back. You're still cold, but a light's been set in the dark, a trail has been woven through the throat and the demons take flight, leave you to rest in ...more
EDIT: After writing a review for this -- no easy task -- I somehow deleted the damn thing. Maybe I'll have the heart at some point to come back and rewrite it, but for now I think I'll go get some lunch and cheer myself up. Maybe take a computer class or something so I can stop doing this sort of ridiculous nonsense.

Short version, I really liked this book. It was weird and I don't really get it, but the writing is gorgeous and the characters are strangely likable, even though they're not very n
Dustin Reade
Wow. This is a great book. The writing is solid. The plot original and gripping. The characters realistic and strange. The setting (Siberian Gulag) is so realistically portrayed I read the bulk of the book with a sweater on. It is odd, beautiful and violent. It is also well-informed.
The book deals with prisoners in a Russian Gulag during the reign of Stalin. The men have a cast system in place, where one's transgressions can be read on their skin in the form of tattoos. Body art plays a large pa
Chris Deal
Originally published at

In the frozen hell that is Siberia, Alek Karriker goes about his duties as gulag guard while losing himself in the fog of opium as an unholy light pores from the scar across his neck. Ilya Bogruv hauls starving inmates out into the wastes and puts a bullet in each man's head, telling his superiors they tried to escape. Anton Nikitin wanders the fences at night and sits during the hours after reveille reading Soviet propaganda and gingerly petting th
Grant Wamack
By The Time We Leave Here We’ll be Friends by J. David Osborne. He’s a young author but his debut is impressive. Probably one of the best books I’ve read this year.

I think his talent lies in his economic use of language. Every word is carefully chosen and adds to the overall harrowing atmosphere of a Russian gulag.

Former thief and prisoner, Alek Karriker is a guard and is searching for a way out of this hellish place. The only way he can achieve this is by finding someone who could serve as a sa
Impressive debut novel. It's a difficult feat to write something so economical in language and yet so rich in symbols. This book is not for the easily offended but Osborne uses this tapestry of the extremity of human misery and depravity to tell an important story about the things that really matter once human dignity and social niceties have been stripped violently away. I am convinced that I could read this book fifteen more times and find some new layer hidden within its many clever layers ev ...more
David Barbee
Set on the insides of a Siberian gulag, Osborne's debut novel is something beyond dark and gritty. It's a tense story of grizzled villains and gruesome horror, set in a deadly void where the depravity knows no bounds. The protagonist is Alek Karriker, a former prisoner given guard duty, and there's something seriously wrong with his neck. He and the rest of the people living in this prison are all doing their best just to survive, and while Karriker is tough as nails, he too might break under th ...more
Efficient and unsentimental. That’s not to say it’s without feeling, just that we’re talking about a Siberian prison camp here, and the writing’s a reflection of its conditions. There’s routine, labor, bread rations, gang brutality, and lots of opium. Lots. A significant number of the book’s short scenes are devoted to fever dreams induced by the drug. Seemingly, anyway. It bounces between a handful of characters getting by, where the distinction between prisoners and those who guard them is not ...more
Donald Armfield
Ushankas off to Osborne for this frosty horror. The winner of 2010 Wonderland Award. And a well written, blood splattered, debut novel.

Set in the Siberian Gulag a slave labor camp. Slaves plan an escape into the freezing cold. Cold that would probably freeze you in place if hot water was thrown on you.

There escape becomes successful but now the four escaped slaves face nature in the frozen tundras. A small amount of food and some opium to smoke they start there trek to India.

If you want horror t
Jennifer Barrett
Prepare to have your mind blown. Set against the desolate Siberian landscape, a cast of desperate characters live an experience that challenges humankind to test the very limits of survival. Superlative descriptions overwhelm the senses as you familiarize yourself with a tenebrous situation sprinkled with demonic forces. JDO does a remarkable job of interweaving storylines into a masterful piece of literature that will leave you no doubt convinced that he is more than just the Stephen King of th ...more
Kyle Muntz
Sleek, brutal, and intensely strange, especially the conclusion. One of the blurbs describes this as "Like a David Lynch movie set in a Russian gulag," which I think is pretty close to right. It's not a plot driven story exactly, but like a sequence of (mostly private) moments where very subtle things are happening. Interestingly, WW2 Russia is mostly in the background, and the prison where the book takes place is a sort of abstraction that feels disconnected from any time and any world: where t ...more
I knew that this book would be bleak and gritty before I received it. It did not disappoint. Set in the Russion Gulag, the milieu very much resembles a concentration camp, with the conflict between hoping to stay alive by cooperation with your captors vs taking your chance are in sharp contrast.

The protagonist, Alex Karriker, is deeply addicted to opium, and no wonder considering the circumstances and the fact that it is readily available in the camp. The narrative dips into his opium dreams fr
David Agranoff
J.David Osbourne is an asshole. You know the type, The first time they
pick up a guitar they can play a power cord without any help. They
know how to ride a skateboard and do tricks the first time they try.
This is a first novel. An amazingly good, taunt fucked up mind binder
of Dark Bizarro that is so well crafted you wont believe it's a first
novel. I know, what an asshole. He should have to struggle through a
few good but not quite there novels before writing a masterpiece like
the rest of us. What
J. David Osbourne’s BY THE TIME WE LEAVE HERE, WE’LL BE FRIENDS is one of those rare stories that follows you long after you’ve finished reading. A nightmare inducing tale set in one of the most surreal and chilling locations you’ll ever find, it’ll leave you wondering how you got there, what your next move will be, and, most importantly, how you’ll ever manage to get the fuck out. Opium fevers, black magic, strange customs and guards that piss on you while laughing, Osbourne has created a stunn ...more
Santiago Leon
What a better place to develop this story than a gulag. The main character is Alek Karriker and his life is in danger. Threatened by the climate, the inmates and the people who are "close" to him. I've always thought this environments bring out the worst in you. There were real cases of cannibalism in gulags of mothers who ate their children. No man should ever be forced to experience such extreme conditions, but the worst thing is that they've had.

This book is a must for anybody who enjoys grea
Nicholaus Patnaude
I started reading By The Time We Leave Here, We’ll Be Friends in a bit of a haze. After reaching about the 60% mark, I decided I must’ve only been half paying attention…and I was a bit lost. I decided to consult some synopses. Was this book really worth my time? The reviews were unanimously stellar, many comparing the book to David Lynch and Clive Barker. Also: many of the synopses focused on the fact that, eventually, an escape from the Siberian Gulag would be attempted with a “calf” (a prisone ...more
This book got a lot of good reviews but I don't get it. It was disjointed and poorly written. On top of that, there were too many characters that the author interchangeably described with their first and last names. And the book devolved into some outre description of "limbo" or an afterlife that had almost no place in this book. I don't get it. Is it cool now to write disjointed novels and blame it on the characters taking drugs?
Samuel Richards-hastings
The author said once that he found such strange things happening to these characters because he doesn't know how Russians think.

I know more about prison tattoos and hollow deer than I did before.

This is disjointed and I do not know if all of it happened. I do not know what happened to the face on her shoulder. I do not know.

This is maybe my favorite read of 2013. Very odd. Frightening. Hollow.
Ryan Daley
Osborne's tale of gangsters struggling to survive in a freezing Siberian prison camp is trippy, violent, and disturbing. Admittedly, it took me about 60 pages to figure out what Osborne was going for. But once it clicked, this spare, roiling page-turner stuck in my brain like a tumor.
Apr 02, 2012 JK marked it as to-read
Such an awesome cover! I must have this.
Jeremy Maddux
You think you understand J. David Osborne, like Radiohead or Tool or Frank Zappa or Jackson Pollock, but as soon as you think you have him pegged, he goes and subverts every expectation you've cobbled for him.

It's strange and almost tragic that Osborne doesn't remember much about writing this densely layered book, because his answers regarding the work in interviews would be so much richer today as he helped us puzzle out much of the coded symbolism within it. The story goes that he was living i
Newbee (JoAnn) Brown

This review is hard, why? Hard to put into words what feel and want to say.

I've read many books that are graffic and violent, I'm not nieve about what a man can do to others.

But this book is some how different... Graffic, yes, horrifying, yes, deffinately NOT for the weak of stomach or of heart.

This book makes you feel like it is REAL ... Not just a story.

This book makes you wonder how some one can be so cold that these things don't effect them..

How they could even ENJOY doing these things!

Sean Ferguson
Imagine a Siberian gulag, but only if you dare. News of Joseph Stalin's death has reached the camps despite the continuous import of new prisoners. The plan, albeit risky, is to charge the prisoners as slaves. When the liberating Americans come, the guards will master the prison into a bustling town, with a school, and shops, and homes. As soon as the Americans turn to vacate the icy landscape, the fences go back up and citizens are once again slaves.

Alek Karriker is betrayed by the tattoos cov
I was drawn to this book by the cover, which is how you’re not supposed to judge a book, but I did it anyway. The colorful Alex Pardee art coupled with the description on the back were enough to make BtTWLHWbF seem promising. A blurb on the cover also refers to the David Lynchian nature of the book, which flags down my skeptic’s attention. Too many things are compared to David Lynch’s work, and most of the time, this is a stupid comparison, because all they have in common is a bit of “weirdness. ...more
Johnathan Meerfeld
3.5 stars, actually.

An excellent premise, with some very unique surroundings and both unique and brutal characters.
The story revolves around a man trying to escape a russian gulag, before its "citizens" catch up to him.

the story is told in short chapters and is sometimes very dreamlike, which makes it even more strange yet somehow very readable.

However, one should be aware: some aspects of the plot are very peculiar, namely(SPOILER ALERT): within the body of the protagonist lies some sort of a
An impressive debut novella.Beautifully written. The descriptions and imagery are stellar; J. David Osborne has a talent for painting tableaux with words. Most importantly, the book is not weird just for the sake of being different.
However, I was expecting a little more action and despite the thrilling last couple of chapters (that ending!!!!), I just felt a bit let down. I do not have any problem with slow-paced stories and I am certain that, had I not read all the reviews on Goodreads and Amaz
Skye Williams
By The Time We Leave Here, We'll Be Friends has to be one of the most bizarre books I have ever read. The interlocked story's of Alec, Milena, Bogrov and Hipolit spare no details of their gruesome lives. The way the author describes the visions of the opium user's is breath taking, and incredibly imaginative.

Though I did enjoy reading this book I would suggest it to a man over a woman, though this is not to say a woman wouldn't enjoy it, because I did.
Brian Tasler
Harsh, brutal, dystopian as hell in a Kurt Vonnegut meets Bizarro way Osborne has crafted a wholly unique work of fiction. I actually read it twice out of pure enjoyment and to ensure I had everything straight. The enjoyment was still there but there is no straight with this book.

Set in the world of the Suberian Gulags and written by a guy from Oklahoma. Supremely screwed up for those who like their literature dark and weird and leaves you thinking.
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J David Osborne is the Norman, Oklahoma based author of the Wonderland Award-winning BY THE TIME WE LEAVE HERE, WE'LL BE FRIENDS. His work has appeared in JOHN SKIPP'S DEMONS, WARMED AND BOUND, VERBICIDE, THE MAGAZINE OF BIZARRO FICTION, BARE BONE, and BULL SPEC. His second novel, the surreal Oklahoma noir LOW DOWN DEATH RIGHT EASY, is out now from Swallowdown Press.
More about J. David Osborne...
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