Travels in Siberia

Travels in Siberia

by Ian Frazier

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781429964319
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Publication date: 10/12/2010
Sold by: Macmillan
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 544
Sales rank: 308,196
File size: 2 MB

About the Author

Ian Frazier is the author of Great Plains, On the Rez, Lamentations of the Father and Coyote V. Acme, among other works, all published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux. He graduated from Harvard University. A frequent contributor to The New Yorker, he lives in Montclair, New Jersey.

Ian Frazier is the author of Travels in Siberia, Great Plains, On the Rez, Lamentations of the Father and Coyote V. Acme, among other works, all published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux. He graduated from Harvard University. A frequent contributor to The New Yorker, he lives in Montclair, New Jersey.

Read an Excerpt


Chapter 1

Officially, there is no such place as Siberia. No political or territorial entity has Siberia as its name. In atlases, the word “Siberia” hovers across the northern third of Asia unconnected to any place in particular, as if designating a zone or a condition; it seems to show through like a watermark on the page. During Soviet times, revised maps erased the name entirely, in order to discourage Siberian regionalism. Despite this invisibility, one can assume that Siberia’s traditional status as a threat did not improve.

A tiny fraction of the world’s population lives in Siberia. About thirty-nine million Russians and native peoples inhabit that northern third of Asia. By contrast, the state of New Jersey, where I live, has about a fifth as many people on about .0015 as much land. For most people, Siberia is not the place itself but a figure of speech. In fashionable restaurants in New York and Los Angeles, Siberia is the section of less-desirable tables given to customers whom the maître d’ does not especially like. In one of the most important places to be seen having lunch in midtown Manhattan, Siberia is the tables next to the ketchup room, where the condiments are stored.

Newspaper gossip columns take the word even more metaphorically. When an author writes a book about a Park Avenue apartment building, and the book offends some of the residents, and a neighbor who happens to be a friend of the author offers to throw him a book party in her apartment, and the people in the Park Avenue building hear about this plan, the party giver is risking “social Siberia,” one of them warns.

In this respect (as in many others) Siberia and America are alike. Apart from their actual, physical selves, both exist as constructs, expressions of the mind. Once when I was in western Russia, a bottler of mineral water was showing my two Russian companions and me around his new dacha outside the city of Vologda. The time was late evening; darkness had fallen. The mineral-water bottler led us from room to room, throwing on all the lights and pointing out the amenities. When we got to the kitchen, he flipped the switch but the light did not go on. This seemed to upset him. He fooled with the switch, then hurried off and came back with a stepladder. Mounting it, he removed the glass globe from the overhead light and unscrewed the bulb. He climbed down, put globe and bulb on the counter, took a fresh bulb, and ascended again. He reached up and screwed the new bulb into the socket. After a few twists, the light came on. He turned to us and spread his arms wide, indicating the beams brightly filling the room. “Ahhh,” he said triumphantly, “Amerika!”

Nobody has ever formally laid out the boundaries of the actual, physical Siberia. Rather, they were established by custom and accepted by general agreement. Siberia is, of course, huge. Three-fourths of Russia today is Siberia. Siberia takes up one-twelfth of all the land on earth. The United States from Maine to California stretches across four time zones; in Siberia there are eight. The contiguous United States plus most of Europe could fit inside it. Across the middle of Siberia, latitudinally for thirty-six hundred miles, runs the Russian taiga, the largest forest in the world.

The Ural Mountains, which cross Russia from the Arctic Ocean to Kazakhstan, are the western edge of Siberia. The Urals also separate Europe from Asia. As a mountain range with the big job of dividing two continents, the Urals aren’t much. It is possible to drive over them, as I have done, and not know. In central Russia, the summits of the Urals average between one thousand and two thousand feet. But after you cross the Urals, the land opens out, the villages are farther apart, the concrete bus shelters along the highway become fewer, and suddenly you realize you’re in Siberia.

To the east, about three thousand miles beyond the Urals, Siberia ends at the Pacific Ocean, in the form of the Sea of Japan, the Sea of Okhotsk, and the Bering Sea. Since Soviet times, Russians have called this part of Siberia the Russian Far East.

The Arctic Ocean borders Siberia on the north. West to east, its seas are the Kara Sea, the Laptev Sea, and the East Siberian Sea. For most of the year (though less consistently than before) this line is obscured under ice. The land here for as much as 250 miles in from the sea is tundra—a treeless, mossy bog for a couple of months of summer, a white near-wasteland otherwise.

In the south, Siberia technically ends at the border between Russia and Kazakhstan, Mongolia, and China, although Siberian watersheds and landforms continue on into them. This region is mostly steppe. The steppes of Siberia are part of the great Eurasian steppe, which extends from almost the Pacific westward as far as the Danube. For more than two thousand years, the Eurasian steppe produced nomadic barbarians who descended upon and destroyed cultivated places beyond the steppe’s margins. The steppes were why China built the Great Wall. Out of the steppes in the thirteenth century came Genghis Khan and the Mongol hordes, civilization’s then worst nightmare, the wicked stepfathers of the Russian state and of its tsars and commissars.

Sakhalin Island, which almost touches the Russian coast north of Japan, is considered part of Siberia. The island was a prison colony during tsarist times. Six hundred miles northeast of Sakhalin, the peninsula of Kamchatka descends from the Siberian mainland, dividing the Sea of Okhotsk from the Bering Sea. Kamchatka lies within the Pacific Rim’s Ring of Fire and has active volcanoes. Kamchatka’s Klyuchevskaya volcano, at 15,580 feet, is the highest point in Siberia. Among Russians, Kamchatka has served as a shorthand term for remoteness. Boris Pasternak’s memoir, Safe Conduct, says that for Russian schoolchildren the far back of the class where the worst students sat was called Kamchatka. When the teacher had not yet heard the correct answer, he would cry to the back bench, as a last resort, “To the rescue, Kamchatka!”

Coincidentally, Kamchatka was the first geographic fact that many people my age in America knew about Siberia. I am of the baby-boom generation, who grew up during the Cold War. In our childhood, a new board game came out called Risk, which was played on a map representing the world. The object of Risk was to multiply your own armies, move them from one global region to the next while eliminating the armies of your opponents, and eventually take over the world. This required luck, ruthlessness, and intercontinental strategizing, Cold War–style. The armies were little plastic counters colored red, blue, yellow, brown, black, and green. Of the major global powers, you basically understood which color was supposed to stand for whom. The Kamchatka Peninsula controlled the only crossing of the game board’s narrow sea between Asia and North America, so gaining Kamchatka was key.

Risk didn’t openly mention the world politics of the day—the Soviet Union’s name wasn’t even on the board, just regions called Yakutsk, Ural, Ukraine, etc.—so the struggle with the dark forces was only implied. But that mysteriousness was very James Bond–like and thrilling, too. Among my friends in my hometown of Hudson, Ohio, Risk had a period of great popularity, completely eclipsing the previous favorite, Monopoly, and its old capitalist-against-capitalist theme.

Some of our Risk games went on for days. A favorite story among us was of an all-day game one September just before school started for the year. One of the players had not reenrolled in college for the fall and thus had become eligible for the military draft. A few weeks before, he had received his draft notice, and in fact he was supposed to show up for his induction physical that very day. Our friend played along with the rest of us, conquering countries and drinking beer without a care. In those years, being drafted meant you were going to Vietnam, almost for sure, and not showing up for your induction physical, it went without saying, was a crime. We kept suggesting to our friend that maybe he should get busy—call the draft board, at least, do something about the situation. Late in the afternoon a call came from his father, a prominent lawyer in Akron, with the news that our friend’s draft deferment had been approved. To cheering and amazement he hung up the phone, opened another beer, and returned to the game.

On the Risk game board, the lines between regions and around continents were angular and schematic, after the manner of familiar Cold War maps having to do with nuclear war. On the walls at think-tank strategy sessions and as illustrations for sobering magazine articles, these maps showed the arcs of nuclear missiles spanning the globe—theirs heading for us, ours heading for them. Almost all the missile arcs went over Siberia. In the Cold War, Siberia provided the “cold”; Siberia was the blankness in between, the space through which apocalypse flew.

In the best and funniest of all Cold War movies, Doctor Strangelove, the arc of the nuclear bomber sent to attack Russia by the deranged General Jack D. Ripper crosses the war map at the Pentagon slowly, inch by inch, while frantic officials argue what to do. Then we see the plane’s pilot, Slim Pickens, in a cowboy hat, and his brave crew. Then there’s an exterior shot of the B-52 flying low to elude the Russian radar. Below the plane, practically at its wing tips, rise the tops of skinny pine trees. Then clearings open up, all covered with snow. Then more pines. This can only be Siberia. Suspensefully, the sound track plays “When Johnny Comes Marching Home.” As a kid I knew the scenery was probably just stock footage, not really Siberia. Still, it seemed romantic to me—so far away and white and pure. I watched the scenery more closely than the plane.

Cold War movies with happy endings showed the bomber or missile flight paths on the Big Board making U-turns and heading back home or out to sea. Doom had been averted, as the generals threw their caps in the air and shouted for joy. In a sense, that ending actually did occur. The United States and Russia are no longer aiming so many missiles at each other, and you almost never see those maps with dozens of missile arcs on them anymore. The apocalyptic tracks in the sky over Siberia have gone from being hypothetical to being practically nonexistent. Today, Siberia is an old battlefield in which the battle it is known for never took place; the big worries have moved elsewhere.

As a landmass, Siberia got some bad breaks geographically. The main rivers of Siberia are (west to east) the Ob, the Yenisei, the Lena, and the Amur. I have seen each of these, and though the Mississippi may be mighty, they can make it look small. The fact that these rivers’ tributary systems interlock allowed adventurers in the seventeenth century to go by river from the Ural Mountains to the Pacific Ocean with only five portages. Seeking furs, these men had crossed all Siberia in less than a hundred years, and built fortresses and founded cities along the way. In western Siberia, there are cities more than four hundred years old. Siberia’s rivers still serve as important north–south avenues for barge traffic, and in the winter as ice highways for trucks.

The problem with Siberia’s big rivers is the direction they flow. Most of Siberia’s rivers go north or join others that do, and their waters end up in the Arctic Ocean. Even the Amur, whose general inclination is to the northeast and whose destination is the Pacific, empties into the stormy Sea of Okhotsk. In the spring, north-flowing rivers thaw upstream while they’re still frozen at their mouths. This causes them to back up. This creates swamps. Western Siberia has the largest swamps in the world. In much of Siberia, the land doesn’t do much of anything besides gradually sag northward to the Arctic. The rivers of western Siberia flow so slowly that they hardly seem to move at all. There, the rivers run muddy; in eastern Siberia, with its real mountains and sharper drop to the Pacific, many of the rivers run clear.

In general, then, much of Siberia drains poorly and is quite swampy. Of the mosquitoes, flies, and invisible biting insects I will say more later. They are a whole other story.

Another bad geographic break is Siberia’s continentality. The land simply stretches on and on; eventually you feel you’re in the farthest, extra, out-of-sight section of the parking lot, where no one in the history of civilization has ever bothered to go. Only on the sea can you travel as far and still be in apparently the same place. The deeper into Siberia, the farther from the mitigating effect of temperate oceans, the harsher the climate’s extremes become. Summers in the middle of Siberia are hot, sometimes dry and dusty, sometimes hazy with smoke from taiga fires. In the winters, temperatures drop to the lowest on the planet outside Antarctica. In the city of Verkhoyansk, in northeast-central Siberia, the cold reaches about -90°. When I mentioned this frequently noted Siberian fact to my friends and guides in St. Petersburg, they scoffed, as Russians tend to do. Then they said they knew of someplace in Siberia even colder.

Because of the cold, a lot of central Siberia and most of the east lie under permafrost—ground permanently frozen, sometimes to more than three thousand feet down. Permafrost also covers all the tundra region. Agriculture on any large scale is impossible in the permafrost zone, though in more forgiving parts of it people have kitchen gardens, and greenhouse farming occasionally succeeds. Much of Siberia’s taiga rests on permafrost, implying a shaky future for the forest if the permafrost melts, and a shakier one, scientists say, for the earth’s atmospheric chemistry. Huge amounts of climate-changing methane would be released into the air.

Cities and villages in the permafrost zone must have basic necessities brought in. Fuel comes in steel barrels that are about three feet high and hold fifty-three gallons. Around settled places these empty barrels are everywhere, sometimes littering the bare tundra surreally as far as you can see. In 1997, the Los Angeles Times estimated that in Chukotka, the part of farthest Siberia just across from Alaska, the Soviets had left behind about two million barrels, or about sixteen barrels for each person living there. Fewer people, and probably more barrels, are in Chukotka today.

What, then, is good about Siberia?

Its natural resources, though hard to get at, are amazing. Its coal reserves, centered in the Kuznetsk Basin mining region in south-central Siberia, are some of the largest in the world. The Kuznetsk Basin is also rich in iron ore, a combination that made this region Russia’s armory. Siberia has minerals like cobalt, zinc, copper, lead, tin, and mercury in great abundance; in Norilsk, the second-largest city in the world above the Arctic Circle, the Soviets dug the world’s largest nickel mine. The diamond mines at Mirny, near the Vilyui River, are second only to South Africa’s. Siberia has supplied the Russian treasury with silver and gold since tsarist times; during the 1930s, the Kolyma region of eastern Siberia produced, by means of the cruelest mines in history, about half the gold then being mined in the world. Russia has some of the world’s largest reserves of petroleum and natural gas. A lot of those reserves are in Siberia.

Along the route of the Trans-Siberian Railway, trains of oil tank cars extend across the landscape for miles. Each tank car, black and tarry-looking, with faded white markings, resembles the one that follows it; slowly rolling past a grade crossing of the Trans-Siberian Railway, a trainload of these cars defines monotony. The Trans-Siberian Railway covers 9,288 kilometers between Moscow and the Pacific port of Vladivostok, or 5,771 miles. In other words, if it were twenty-one miles longer, it would be exactly twice as long as Interstate 80 from New Jersey to California. Lying awake near the tracks in some remote spot, you hear trains going by all through the night with scarcely a pause. Sitting beside the tracks and observing the point in the distance where they and the cables above them merge—the Trans-Siberian Railway is all-electric, with overhead cables like a streetcar line—you find that the tracks are empty of traffic only for five or ten minutes at a time.

Besides oil, the railway carries coal, machinery parts, giant tires, scrap iron, and endless containers saying HANJIN or SEA-LAND or MAERSK on their sides, just like the containers stacked five stories high around the Port of Newark, New Jersey, and probably every other port in the world. Now and then a passenger train goes by, and if the time is summer and the weather, as usual, hot, many shirtless passengers are hanging from the open windows with the curtains flapping beside them. Not even the most luxurious car on the Trans-Siberian Railway offers air-conditioning. Then more freight comes along, sometimes timber by the trainload. Siberian timber can be three or four feet in diameter, a size only rarely seen on logging trucks in America today. Some of these trees are called korabel’nie sosni—literally, “caravel pines,” trees from which ships’ masts were made.

American companies have tried to put together deals to harvest Siberian timber, but as a rule the deals go wrong. Executives of these companies eventually give up in disgust at Russian business practices, particularly the corruption and bribery. In one story—hearsay, only—a major timber company of the American Northwest withdrew from negotiations after its representative in Siberia was taken up in a helicopter, ostensibly to look at some trees, and then was dangled from the door until he agreed to a contract disadvantageous to his company. He agreed, landed safely, and advised his company to get out of Siberia. Some environmentalists say that Russian corruption is the Siberian forests’ true preserver and best friend.

Geologists have always liked Siberia, especially its eastern part, where a lot is going on with the earth. Well into eastern Siberia—to a north– south range of mountains roughly paralleling the Lena River Valley— you are still in North America, tectonically speaking. The North American Plate, sliding westward, meets the Eurasian Plate there, while to the south, the Amursky and the Okhotsky plates complicate the collision by inserting themselves from that direction. All this plate motion causes seismic activity and an influx of seismologists. Eastern Siberia is among the most important places for seismic studies in the world. Farther west, Siberia offers other remarkable geology, in a formation called the Siberian Traps. These are outpourings of volcanic rock that covered a huge portion of present central Siberia 245 million years ago, in an event that is believed to have caused the massive die-off of predinosaur species known as the Permian extinction.

Paleontologists come to Siberia not for dinosaur fossils, which are not found nearly as often as in the Mongolian steppes to the south, but for more recent fossils of prehistoric bison, mammoths, rhinos, and other species that lived ten thousand to fifteen thousand years ago. The Siberian mammoth finds alone have been a bonanza, some of them not fossils but the actual creatures themselves, still frozen and almost intact, or mummified in frozen sediments. A museum in Yakutsk displays the fossilized contents of a fossilized mammoth stomach, in cross section, beside a whole preserved mammoth leg with its long, druidical hair still hanging down. In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, discoveries of mammoth remains were so common that for a while mammoth ivory became a major export of Siberia.

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Travels in Siberia 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 49 reviews.
Pat2121 More than 1 year ago
This is one of the most engrossing, enjoyable and fulfilling books I've read in years. I happened to receive an advance copy from a friend who told me he thought it was amazing, and I couldn't agree more. Mr. Frazier spent an enormous amount of time studying the history of Russia, learning the language, and traveling throughout Siberia. What he gives is a combination of his own experience of the country during these trips, his encounters with many fascinating characters, including the two men he drove with on the longest, cross-Siberia trip, as well as the amazing landscape, the rivers, Lake Baikal (the world's deepest and second largest lake), the forests, the swamps, the cold, the mosquitos, and so much more. He integrates these experiences and descriptions with the equally remarkable history of Siberia as the land of exile. He goes deeply into the story of the Decembrists-the soldiers who revolted against Nicholas I in the 1820's and failed, many of them then being exiled to Siberia. He also visits one of Stalin's infamous prison camps, and his description of this is truly moving. Also, the book is just beautifully written. There is so much more to praise, but I'll just close by saying I couldn't recommend a book more highly. It is truly a masterpiece.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I traveled in Siberia last summer, and I loved it. When I saw this book, I had to read it. Frazier writes with wit and the studies eye of a curious traveler. I highly recommend it to anyone who loves to travel or has a passion for Russia.
scloyd More than 1 year ago
I looked at some of the locations through the photographs on Google maps. I could not see the actual things that Mr. Frazier described, but it gave me a good visual idea of the cities and villages. My favorite parts were his adventures, mis-adventures and the people he met along the way. I definitely will read again in the future.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This is a wonderful book about Siberia, a place you never hear much about, and the author's loveof all things Russian, which comes under a great deal of scrutiny and reflection. The humor is mild ( a rarity, since much travel writing is based on bad experiences, which he modestly plays down). It is a very companionable book, worth savoring.
nemoman on LibraryThing 8 months ago
I never have had any interest in Siberia - never been there and never wanted to go. My sense of the place was an empty vastness, swampy with short buggy summers and long, cold dark winters. The architecture was dreary, the food was terrible, and the history irrelevant. It therefore is a measure of Frazier's writing ability that he kept me turning the pages - all 471. Frazier nibbles at the edges of Russia before plunging into a cross-country drive with two Russian guides. He also makes additional sidetrips. In all, the book spans some seventeen years of his travels in Russia. He has an eye for detail, be it the landscape, the people or anything else that captures his fancy. He develops the character of his two guides and other assorted personages that he meets. He is entertaining, witty and informative. He has read widely with respect to other travel books on Siberia and shares its history - what history there is. In short, if you want to know more about Siberia, this may be the only book you need to read. As great a work of travel literature this book is, however, I still have no desire to visit Siberia. There are good reasons why historically it was a place of exile and imprisonment.
mythlady on LibraryThing 8 months ago
I have long been a Russophile, though I have yet to make the journey. So I was very pleased to read Ian Frazier's Travels in Siberia. Though it's a long book, my interest never flagged, and I kept going to a map to keep track of where in the Siberian wilds he was. He meets many interesting people along the way, and has very interesting adventures, from Nome to Vladivostok to Yakutsk. A lot of history and culture come with the stories, and I now feel that I know so much more than I ever did about this strange and wonderful place.
St.CroixSue on LibraryThing 8 months ago
I am thoroughly enjoying this book. It is a great way to visit Siberia without leaving the comfort of your home. Travel, adventure, geography, geology, natural history and extensive political history with a dose of what the people living there right now are like. Frazer covers his 5 trips to Siberia (including one major crossing); east to west and west to east. Easy to read, hard to put down. He touches on just about everything in this vast, little known expanse.
jrtanworth on LibraryThing 8 months ago
Excellent mixture of travel, history, and Russian culture, Frazier's prose is a pleasure to read and his sheer love of Russia is infectious.
readfeed on LibraryThing 8 months ago
Frazier describes five of his trips to SIberia, the highlight of which is a summer crossing filled with camping, roadside trash, and pouty fights with his guide. The tone is light and warm, and includes reflections on Russian history and literature. Frazier exhibits an annoying, fussy childishness, making it easy to understand why his guide got so frustrated with him. Was that supposed to be charming self-deprecation or is he clueless?
anutany on LibraryThing 8 months ago
Strong start, beautiful language, interesting subject but it should have been at least 100 pages shorter. As the story progressed it started to fizzle and become repetitive and thin. In addition some minor but annoying issues with Russian translations.
Niecierpek on LibraryThing 8 months ago
It is a very interesting and well written account of Frazier¿s ultimate trip across Siberia, few people, and I am sure even few Russians have ever undertaken. Throughout this journey, or many trips he took in the end, Frazier shows true engagement with the country and its history and a real affection for its people. It¿s a fascinating account, even though I think that he might have missed something very Russian there. Maybe, the fact that he didn¿t drink and went to sleep early, missing night parties at the villages he and his guides stopped by, prevented him from experiencing this very Russianness, but what he came up with is nevertheless very engaging. I have a feeling that he tried to model his account on the Lewis and Clark journals, with every little thing accounted for, and even though I felt a bit surprised by this type of an account at the beginning, I really came to like it.Frazier drew sketches of the places he visited and some of them are in the book- they are quite good actually, and I enjoyed them. Since I both listened to and read the book, I must say that he was good reading his stuff too. Overall, it was a very honest and enjoyable read.
khiemstra631 on LibraryThing 8 months ago
Ah, my journey to Siberia with Ian Frazier has ended, and I'm sad that it finally did. It took me almost two weeks to read what it took him seventeen years to travel. While I'm glad it was him instead of me who went to all of that effort, I really enjoyed reading this book. Frazier's quirky sense of humor adds a lot to the atmosphere of the book, and I found myself smiling frequently as I read. Russia fascinated Frazier, and he could only sate his appetite by going there. Siberia drew him like no other place in the country, and at the time of the book's publication, he had gone there five times. The book covers all of these trips. Having been to Romania myself shortly after the fall of Communism, the book brought back many previously forgotten memories for me. While probably not the book for everyone, I found it fascinating and hated to see it end. I doubt if anything else will measure up for a long while.
Clara53 on LibraryThing 8 months ago
A wonderful travelogue through Siberia. Several trips, starting in Russia's turbulent times in the 1990s and on, are described by the author, who, in his own words has given up "trying to reconcile or explain" the passion he feels "for Russia with the way Russia actually is"..., "both great and horrible". Ian Frazier is a writer born in Midwest, so such unexplainable passion for Russia makes his travelogue even more appealing to read.... I was very impressed not only by his engaging storytelling, full of details that only a sharp and loving eye could catch, but also by his thorough historical research which he presents as a very readable and vivid portrayal of the events. The trouble and pains the author took on his several travels through Siberia, experiencing this vast land both in mosquito-infested summer and in the severest of winters as well as coping with all the physical and linguistic discomforts that came along with such journeys are simply amazing. One really has to be determined to fulfill one's dream to go through such hardship and yet to record it to the minutest detail. A very enlightening and entertaining read.
co_coyote on LibraryThing 8 months ago
Ian Frazier is my kind of traveler. He has a wonderful eye for detail and I like his travel philosophy. He likes to go to out-of-the way places with large vistas and few people. Siberia is perfect for him. This book strings together several different trips to Siberia at different times of the year, but centers around a single long trip across the vast breath of the country. I had no idea the place was so damn BIG! Nor did I really understand how Siberia was used in the Soviet Union to punish its citizens. Nice book.
peace44 on LibraryThing 8 months ago
Ian Frazier gives an up-to-date view of Siberia, After my 1977 adventure through a pristine and beautiful Siberia, I was overwhelmed by his honest account. Honest, humorous, and well-written, this author captures the soul of a place and a people, as he did with Native Americans.
lynndp on LibraryThing 8 months ago
i read this book as a new member of a book club and I read it through to the end only to find that very few members had finished it. I agree with them that it was too long but despite this fact I enjoyed it. Frazier's descriptions are vivid. He captures sights, sounds, smells and the tiny details like the variety of TV antennas on Siberian rooftops and the voracious swarms of mosquitos that made me feel that I was along for the ride and grateful that I only had to imagine the cold and the mosquitos. I personally appreciated the excursions into Russian history from Genghis Khan to the Decembrists; however, if you are looking for plot or an explanation as to why Frazier loved Russian then you will go unsatisfied and should probably give this book a pass. But if you appreciate vivid writing that has a sense of humor (sorry, forgot to mention that earlier), then give this book a go.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Who knew that the author of "Coyote vs Acme" and "Dating Your Mom" could write a masterpiece like this?
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
One of the best books ever! I could not put this one down! You will love following the author on his travels.
Sara_Goff More than 1 year ago
I appreciated the pieces of history and literature mixed into Frazier's travel stories. His writing voice blends just enough humility and authority to make reading his work like having a long chat with an intelligent friend. The way he connects historical events to ordinary, yet outstanding people he admires, people I wouldn't have heard of otherwise, makes his look into the past feel more like a memoir. Having spent some time in Russia, I smiled reading about the discomforts he endured. Frazier is an honest, personable author with a gift for seeing the details in life we overlook and giving them significance. Whether you're hoping to learn something new about our world or just laugh, I recommend reading Travels in Siberia.
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I enjoy reading about Russia, and this one didn't let me down. A very knowledeable writer did a great job of expanding my knowledge of a rather esoteric subject. I'll reread it some day just to experience empathy for the victims and awe and wonder about the perpetrators of the gulag.