Lee Broderick's Reviews > Reindeer People: Living with Animals and Spirits in Siberia

Reindeer People by Piers Vitebsky
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's review
Jan 02, 2012

liked it
bookshelves: anthropology, travel
Read from December 03 to 08, 2011 — I own a copy

This book isn't what I expected it to be. The English language ethnographic literature on Altaic people remains sparse, so when I saw a 500 page book by an anthropologist, presenting primary data, I was relatively excited. The prospect of fresh insights into herding practices and cosmologies to compare to my own research was too good an opportunity to pass up.

What the book actually focuses on though, is the author's very personal impressions of life in Siberia - throughout, the book is written in the first person and is perhaps more accurately fitted into the genre of travel than anthropological writing. The author is an anthropologist, and the book encompasses around twelve years of on/off fieldwork in a single village north of Yakutsk. It's very well written and highly entertaining, but those seeking an academic insight will be disappointed.

This is a highly personal view of the effects of Soviet Imperialism, and collapse, on Siberian natives, explored through extended stays with several families.

Though it may be short on detail on herding practices, it does contain two chapters, towards the end of the book, outlining cosmologies. Since the author previously conducted research into belief systems in India, this is an area of research which he describes with some authority.

One note of caution - earlier this year I read another book by an anthropologist which, like this one, was very well written and entertaining. That book was not an anthropological account, however, and I bemoaned its inaccuracies. There are some in the prologue of this book too - notably when discussing archaeology, but they were not so many or so grievous as to affect my enjoyment.

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Comments (showing 1-3 of 3) (3 new)

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message 1: by Terri (new) - added it

Terri This sounds like a wonderfully interesting book...with a lovely cover too. I have added it.

message 2: by Lee (new) - rated it 3 stars

Lee Broderick It is a nice cover, isn't it? Obviously I'm reading it for work as much as pleasure, but it's quite good so far. Very well written.

message 3: by Terri (new) - added it

Terri Well that make it sound even more fascinating. And yes, that is such a lovely cover. It was that which caught my eye first. I enlarged the cover just to see it closer.

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