Monday, February 3, 2014

Travels in Siberia

Travels in Siberia, by Ian Frazier

I picked this book off the shelf at work on a whim just before winter vacation; I just happened to see it and thought it might be interesting.  Nope, it was fabulous!  At about 500 very dense pages, it is a slow and detailed read, and I enjoyed every minute. 

Frazier, a well-known non-fiction writer, fell in love with Russia in the early/mid-1990s and visited as often as he could.  His Siberian visits started with a flight from Alaska, and eventually decided that he wanted to drive all the way across Siberia--an idea that daunted most of his Russian friends.  So he hired a guy, who hired another guy, and they got a van and packed it full of stuff, and they started driving.  They mostly camped along the way, washing in rivers, or sometimes visited people.  Then they did it again by train, and then Frazier went back for a mid-winter visit.   He describes all of it in fascinating and humorous detail, and delves into the history of the places he visited.

There is so much material here that it's hard to describe.  The Mongol hordes, Decembrists, Yupiks, prisoners and exiles and more prisoners, the Great Patriotic War, scary taxi drivers and guys who import used cars from Japan, railroads, abandoned gulags...it's all there.  Not to mention geology and rivers and tundra and a whole lot of mosquitos and ice and snow.  And Cold War missile installations!

I was particularly tickled to read about Frazier's visit to Chernyshevsk, a city named for the writer Chernyshevsky who wrote a tremendously popular, but horribly written, novel that inspired many a reformer and Bolshevist.  I'm planning on participating in Tom the Amateur Reader's readalong of that novel, What Is To Be Done?, in April!  Frazier spends several pages explaining the background and quoting people on my Russian TBR pile for this year, so I was really happy.

This is a fantastic book.  I hope you read it!

14 comments:

JNC said...

This one sounds really good! You have a flair for making me want to add yet MORE to be my colossal TBR pile.

JNC said...

*don't know where that "be" came from!*

maphead said...

Ahhh, I loved this book too! So glad you read it! In case you're curious, here's a link to my review from a few years back:
http://maphead.wordpress.com/2011/09/16/ian-frazier-does-siberia/

maphead said...

Ahhh, I loved this book too! So glad you read it! In case you're curious, here's a link to my review from a few years back:
http://maphead.wordpress.com/2011/09/16/ian-frazier-does-siberia/

Jean said...

Thanks maphead--I'm glad you got to read it. JNC, grab it when you can; I think you would love it.

Amateur Reader (Tom) said...

No, there's a city, really?

Of course there's a city, what am I thinking.

I will have to poke into this before the Chernyshevsky event - thanks for the find.

Ekaterina Egorova said...

The book sounds interesting! When my mom tells me something about her travels in those distant regions, I always find something surprising about it!
What Is To Be Done? is not really THAT horribly written. If you try to close your eyes on all the communistic ideas, is has a nice love line and a lot of drama :)

Amateur Reader (Tom) said...

Ekaterina, none of the three elements you mention (ideas, love line, drama) have anything to do with how the book is written!

Ekaterina Egorova said...

Well, IDK, I don't see anything wrong about how it's written... I read it in the original, so maybe it's the translation that sucks :) The only problem for me was the ideology

Amateur Reader (Tom) said...

Nabokov read Chernyshevsky in the original.

When we all write about Chernyshevsky, it would be great if someone would be able to monitor Michael Katz's translation. I hope we have a volunteer now!

Ekaterina Egorova said...

Well, as much as I love and trust Nabokov, I still think it's much better to form your own opinion :) I just don't like when people approach Chernyshevsky already prepared to be bored...
And kudos for organizing the event, by the way! That's a good undertaking :)

Jean said...

OK, I promise to read the book without expecting it to be awful. :) I keep thinking of Sinclair's "The Jungle" and that was pretty good except for the last two chapters that take a run off a cliff of tedium.

Sam (Tiny Library) said...

I love it when random picks turn out to be this good...

Jean said...

I know, right Sam? I feel so lucky!