Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Siberian Dawn

I've just discovered still another winning entry in the competition among English-speaking writers on Siberia. It's titled "Siberian Dawn: A Journey across the New Russia" by Jeffrey Tayler, published in 1999. It is based on an overland trip he took from Magadan in extreme northeastern Russia to Poland in 1993, when the shackles of Communism were just beginning to fall off Russia's extremities.

It is an excellent book, but very different from Ian Frazier's more recent book on travelling in Siberia. Like Frazier, Tayler is an American, but considerably younger and with far better command of the Russian language. In fact, he can pass for a native and on checking up on him, I discovered that he still lives in Russia although his most recent book is about the Congo.

His book is quite personal, detailing how he undertook this journey out of a need to live in the present as much as possible, and to penetrate beneath the surface of Russian life in a way that you cannot do when you stay in expensive hotels.

Along his very arduous route Tayler encountered many interesting characters, mainly working men and women living in remote areas. He travelled both by road and by train, and stayed in many dodgy places. Much of his journey took place in winter, the quintessential Siberian season.

Unlike Frazier, Tayler does not allude to earlier Americans who travelled in the region and wrote about it. But he does write well, and obviously has the knack of getting perfect strangers to open up about their lives.

His book is a worthy addition to Western writing about Russia, and an easy read. The edifice below  is a typical Siberian wooden church at an open air museum near Lake Baikal on the road from Irkutsk to Litvianka.

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