RandomAnthony's Reviews > Travels in Siberia

Travels in Siberia by Ian Frazier
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's review
Feb 05, 2011

really liked it

Ian Frazier, the author of Travels in Siberia, wants people to know that Siberia is filled with mosquitoes and isn't always cold. Russian women are also, in his estimation, among the world's most beautiful. And apparently there are huge trash heaps spread along many of the roads. But this book is more than the sum of its travelogue plus history plus reflective essay parts. Frazier researched Travels in Siberia for a couple decades. He integrates the past, the landscape, and daily observations with admirable literary grace. He's not afraid to admit he's freaking out when driving over frozen lakes or worried that he didn't explain pain reliever directions well enough to an older Russian who may have passed out in the front seat. His guides piss him off when they refuse to visit abandoned prisons. I would have hated these trips. He eats cottage cheese and sour cream sold by random women on the side of the road and sleeps in a tent while his guides wander away from the campsite to pick up women. Fuck that. But Frazier also sees the good, the alien, and the familiar in those same guides and comes to call them friends. Frazier masters Russian enough to travel on his own and marvels when he connects stories of the Decemberists (not the shitty band, the real Decemberists) with the concrete cities on his path. The Russian spirit fascinates him; these Siberians who live in a middle of nowhere that sometimes looks like rural Ohio in February but way, way colder are complex and wonderfully portrayed. And his spooky walk through an abandoned gulag mixes masterfully with his narrative of that dark stretch of Russia's story. Frazier knows when to modulate scope. He'll describe his notes for a three hundred mile car ride in two paragraphs then spend four pages on a city's museum and the curator's fascination with the local geological history. Not only can Frazier write, he understands that when he's writing about Siberia he's writing as much about the mythical otherness associated with the word as the people he meets and the places he visits. When he describes the chaos of the Trans-Siberian railway he adds small details about the dust and garbage while outlining the broad, swirling pressure to make sure his guide bribes the right guy so their car can get on the right train. Siberia is funny and horrible and unrecognizable and filled with hot women. And Frazier does a brilliant job addressing an expanse that compromises one-twelfth of the earth's surface. Travels in Siberia left me appreciating a professional writer, a man who knows and respects his craft. I didn't expect to love a 460 page book on what I perceived as a really big Midwestern cornfield, just in Russia, but I did. Erik Simon, upon whose recommendation I read Travels in Siberia, called the book "riveting". Erik's dead-on accurate. Highly recommended for anyone who wants to read sublime travel literature.
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Comments (showing 1-11 of 11) (11 new)

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message 1: by Paquita Maria (new)

Paquita Maria Sanchez Decemberists = mid-life crisis music.

RandomAnthony Heh. I guess I don't think they're shitty, and I like a bit of lead guy's (Colin something?) solo work, but yes, mid-life crisis music, that's perfect, Kristi.

message 3: by Mariel (new)

Mariel I kinda liked The Decemberists. I also forgot about them.

message 4: by Eh?Eh! (new)

Eh?Eh! Hahahah, awww, The Decemberists are so earnest! And local.

RandomAnthony I am sorry to disappoint Tommy...I think we should have Eh speak with the band personally about whether or not their music is good for mid-life crisises.

message 6: by Eh?Eh! (new)

Eh?Eh! Hold on, let me go next door and ask.

message 7: by tim (new)

tim Decemberists = mid-life crisis music.
This doesn't explain the bulk of their fanbase. Early-life crisis music?

Nice review, RA. You make me want to read this.

message 8: by Caris (new)

Caris not the shitty band, the real Decemberists

But I kinda love "O Valencia!"

message 9: by Eh?Eh! (new)

Eh?Eh! Those are the best juicing oranges, Valencias.

RandomAnthony I don't know I've heard that song, Caris...all the Decemberist songs sound the same to me, though, so maybe I missed it.

Thanks, Tim! That's how I felt reading Erik's review.

message 11: by Eh?Eh! (new)

Eh?Eh! I like the first song of their new album, "Don't Carry it All"?, maybe because of the opening blast of sound, maybe because the one line "lay its head on summer's freckled knees" is such a great image. But I don't know Music. Hah, I can't even name 15 top personal albums.

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