Sunday, July 10, 2011

Travels in Siberia

That is the title of a wonderful book I'm reading, written by Ian Frazier and published in 2010. Some articles based on the book appeared earlier in the New Yorker. It is a worthy addition to the reams of travel literature that already exist about this fabled, feared part of the world that, as Frazier points out, does not really exist on a map. (However, Eastern and Western Siberia do exist as administrative subdivisions of Russia.)

Frazier is a native of Ohio, like me, and notes that many other Ohioans have been captivated by and written about Siberia. Best known is the great 19th century traveller George Kennan, who is not to be confused with his relative George F. Kennan, diplomat and historian who wrote the article in a 1947 issue of Foreign Affairs that enunciated a containment policy for the Soviet Union that was soon adopted by the U.S. and other Western governments.

Other well-known travel writers about Siberia include Farley Mowat, Paul Theroux, Dervla Murphy and Colin Thubron. I have read books by all of them having to do with Siberia, and enjoyed every one.

Frazier did not become fascinated by Russia until the 1990s, after the Iron Curtain had fallen. He writes of his many visits to the country, his attempts (eventually successful) to learn the language in middle age, an achievement I admire greatly. His trips culminated with a seven week driving trip across country starting in St. Petersburg, and camping out much of the time along with his two Russian guides.

If you hope to visit Siberia some day, or just want to read about what it is like now, this book is an excellent guide.

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