Brittany Kubes's Reviews > The Reindeer People: Living with Animals and Spirits in Siberia

The Reindeer People by Piers Vitebsky
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Jun 04, 2012

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Read from May 18 to June 04, 2012

Above all, I cannot get over the weather in the Siberian taiga: 20 hours of darkness in winters, “warm” weather being -30 degrees Fahrenheit, and saliva solidifying before hitting the ground. The studied inhabitants of this region, the Eveny people, often sing songs on themes of mondji, or the quality of being self-reliant, able to survive in extreme situations, and never giving up. It was really inspiring to get insight on a people that have so few possessions and so few societal concerns, but seem to focus largely on bare survival in the face of many neighbors succumbing to violent and premature deaths due to the terrain.

I think it would be harder for me to understand how this lifestyle carries joy (aside from being brought up in it and not knowing other lifestyles) IF, while reading this, I had not coincidentally watched a video on ‘happiness’ musings by a Christian/Buddhist. In the video, among other things included in the 4 hour youtube vid, Anthony de Mello emphasizes that we can’t place happiness on the acquisition of things/people/jobs/statuses because we will become attached, and then be too anxious we’ll lose the object to enjoy it OR when we lose it suffer a feeling of never being happy again (like when you were a child and didn’t get a specific Barbie and thought you’d never be happy again – but that period of depression was hollow because you did become happy again, silly child). De Mello has a simple philosophy, but it helped me understand that Eveny may be happy in part due to this lack of attachment. Inspirational!

Author Piers Vitebsky is clearly in love with these people, as he followed them for decades, and it shows in his writings. It was a little hard to follow the twisting directions of the book, and I often had no idea chronologically what was happening – although chron was not the point here, it usually makes non-fic reading easier. The end was a bit heartbreaking because Vitebsky paints a picture of an inevitable demise (“At the 2002 spring festival…., where 30,000 reindeer – more than have ever existed in Sebyan – had been reduced to a mere 6,000, the younger people danced away the night in a disco, while the older herders sat and wept.”). I need to visit Russia.
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