Lawrence's Reviews > Travels in Siberia

Travels in Siberia by Ian Frazier
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M 50x66
's review
Nov 09, 2010

really liked it
Read in July, 2011

I enjoyed this book very much. Mr. Frazier describes places and scenes excellently. For example, his "painting" of Irkutsk in the distance in its vast landscape was magnificent. On a smaller scale, the description of the woman hunting mushrooms on the road's verge with a basket made of twigs communicated a case of Mr. Frazier's "Russia love" to my system. The book is filled with such images.

Mr. Frazier also informs very well about the inconveniences and chances of road travel in Russia. The car breaking down, the 500 mile railroad journey from where the road disappears to where it begins again, the road that ran past the abandoned prison camps on the way to the northernmost point of the road journey, etc. engaged the attention completely.

I thought that Mr. Frazier also did a fair job of narrating the journeys of other travelers over the centuries and of the history of Siberia as a place of exile. His discussion of the Decembrists was very nice in and of itself and because I personally feel that their shadow falls back in time in the last pages of Tolstoy's "War and Peace". I did not feel, however, that he was deeply engaged with the story of Siberia as Stalinist gulag. He allowed opportunities to visit lagers to go by a number of times when he ceded to the stronger wishes (or personality) of Sergei, his guide and companion. Then, his narration of his actual visit to an abandoned camp in the far north was brief and conclusory. I am puzzled by this, and, in all justice, should perhaps reread it.

The most remarkable aspect of the book is Mr. Frazier himself. Even though he was not engaged in classic adventure travel (that is, swimming with great white sharks or tramping over glaciers in storms at 90 below), he was brave enough to travel to a remote place where the road is haphazard, the language is unknown, and Americans never seen before. Nonetheless, he tells us about his clashes with Sergei, his sulks over his behavior, and his giving in frequently to what Sergei wants. He also tells about his anxieties about how he is sure some truck will run over the tent in the night, the car will go through the ice, etc. He is such a sissy. But the comparison between his personality and his goals is what makes me truly like him as a man.

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