I picked this one up from the ANTIBOOKCLUB booth at the Brooklyn Book Festival. The guy at the booth knew my last name. Anywhere else, that would've cI picked this one up from the ANTIBOOKCLUB booth at the Brooklyn Book Festival. The guy at the booth knew my last name. Anywhere else, that would've creeped me out; here, it was cool.
Now, one very busy month later, I'm finally starting to read it. So far, so great....more
Fantastic. The author was born in a fishing village on the farthest coast of Siberia, and the book is a history of his people. Part One contains theirFantastic. The author was born in a fishing village on the farthest coast of Siberia, and the book is a history of his people. Part One contains their creation stories and legends -- from the raven's droppings that formed the world to the man who brought deer-herding to the region to the village's first encounters with Russians ("hairmouths"). Part Two covers more recent history, mainly following the story of the author's grandfather as he becomes a shaman and goes on journeys, first within Siberia and then as far as Chicago and New York. The book closes with the birth of the author and the coming of the Bolsheviks to the village.
I really enjoyed the stories, and the author found a great balance between the narration based on the oral history of the village and a larger-scale narrative (pausing, for example, during the shaman's exile on the tundra to explain the strange wooden poles near a camp -- part of a failed Russian-American attempt to string a telegraph line across the Bering Strait -- in a way that is fascinating rather than awkward). There is certainly sadness in this book as ancient ways of life collapse, diseases are introduced, and outside power structures are enforced. There are beautiful parts, too -- one that particularly struck me was when Mletkin, the author's grandfather, was learning Russian from a traveling naturalist, and simultaneously began understanding more about his own language:
"Mletkin had never dreamed that his native language could be disassembled into parts, like a portable tundra yaranga [hut], and then be stacked together again" (p. 188).
Such a good description of that moment when it clicks that a language can be analyzed into smaller pieces.
Overall this was an excellent book. I would recommend it to anyone, and I am definitely going to look for the author's novels....more