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In Siberia Paperback – December 26, 2000

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Editorial Reviews Review

In Siberia explores a region of astonishments, where "white cranes dance on the permafrost, where a great city floats lost among the ice floes, where mammoths sleep under glaciers." Colin Thubron's latest chronicle also delivers its subject from rumor into reality. An expanse larger than the entire United States, Siberia is undoubtedly a country of contrasts, which elicits from the author both awe and melancholy. Here on one hand is a northern wilderness "shattered into a jigsaw of ponds and streams," and on the other a "black detritus of factories and ruins." No less memorable than the landscape are the people that Thubron encounters. He gathers their stories like rough jewels, showing us a self-proclaimed descendant of Rasputin, an isolated Jewish community, and a parade of "indestructible babushkas."

Woven among the often bitter and eroding memories of a Siberian past is a sense of new freedom. After all, this is the first time in Russia's history when foreigners can travel freely throughout the region--and its inhabitants can comment openly about their government without fear of reprisal. Thubron coaxes an institute official at the Akademgorodok Praesidium to speak his mind:

His face was heavy with anger. "We have one overriding problem here. Money. We receive no money for new equipment, hardly enough for our salaries. There are people who haven't been paid for six months." Then his anger overflowed. He was barking like a drill sergeant. "This year we requested funds for six or seven different programmes! And not one has been accepted by the government! Not one!"

Thubron's portrait is as elegant as it is evocative. But just as notably, his journey to the east manages to break the long and destructive Siberian silence. --Byron Ricks --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

Many adventurers plunge into Siberia in search of untrammeled roads or unspoiled grandeur; only a handful bring with them a significant knowledge of the land's history, geology and wildlife. Even rarer are those who relay the experience as magically as does this award-winning author. Thubron (The Lost Heart of Asia) recounts a journey studded with fantastic encounters: in Pokrovskoye, a peasant who claims to be a descendant of Rasputin wrestles with his own identity as he nears the age of the infamous holy man's death; in Omsk, wizened grandmothers talk of skinny-dipping in holy water; in the Pazyryk valley, excavators remove a prince, his concubine and a team of stallions from two and a half millennia of frozen slumber; in Kyzyl, a local shaman places an order for Scottish walrus tusks. The author marvels: "wherever I stopped seemed atypical, as if the essential Siberia could exist only in my absence." In fact, that phantom essence pervades Thubron's journey, which stretches from the site of the grisly murder of the Romanovs to the Far Eastern epicenter of the brutal penal camp system that killed millions of Soviet citizens. More than a report of an inquisitive traveler's adventures, Thubron's account doubles as a haunting elegy to the victims of the bloodshed and hardship that are Siberia's most lasting legacy. Only his tender treatment of Siberia's enchanting characters and extraordinary natural beauty brighten what would be an otherwise dark and desolate path. 4-city Author tour. (Jan.)
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Harper Perennial; First Perennial Edition edition (December 26, 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 006095373X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0060953737
  • Product Dimensions: 5.3 x 0.7 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 9.1 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (47 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #220,454 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

91 of 96 people found the following review helpful By Taylor McNeil on January 19, 2000
Format: Hardcover
An ex-political prisoner, an elderly shaman, a vodka-sodden drunk, a KGB agent turned Baptist preacher, a Rasputin lookalike, a lonely babushka - they are all part of the landscape of Siberia brought to life in Colin Thubron's latest masterpiece of travel writing. Siberia's not an easy assignment: covering one- third of the northern hemisphere, it has a haunted past and a harsh present, inevitable, Thubron implies, given Siberia's history as "a rural waste into which were cast the bacilli infecting the state body: the criminal, the sectarian, the politically dissident."
Speaking accented Russian in areas where Westerners were forbidden until only a few years ago, Thubron sometimes passes for a down-at-the-heels Estonian as he crosses Siberia, making forays north to desolate Arctic towns founded as Stalinist labor camps.
The people he meets stick in the memory, captured with the eye and ear of a novelist. (No surprise there: when not traveling, Thubron writes edgy, dark fiction.) In Rasputin's hometown of Pokrovskoe, Thubron meets Viktor, "a ghastly distillation" of the dark magician, a disturbing man shunned by other villagers. In the Arctic town of Vorkuta, where hundreds of thousands perished in labor camps during Stalin's reign, he finds an old woman watching dubbed Mexican soap operas. She is a faithful Communist, arrested in 1938 on a whispered denunciation and sent to the coal mines for a dozen years. Despite herself, and to Thubron's dismay, she still can't condemn the system that wasted her life. And then there are the babushkas in Omsk, celebrating the blessing of a pool of water near a new Orthodox monastery by plunging in with joyous abandon once the archbishop has moved on.
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62 of 64 people found the following review helpful By Grady Harp HALL OF FAMETOP 100 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on January 29, 2000
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Russia metamorphosed in the 20th century assuming and shedding identities as often as it did heads of state. Finding an examination of the history of these events that maintains some semblance of neutrality and pure observation seemed unlikely - until now. IN SIBERIA is a rare combination study of geography, economics, political science, sociology, and history in a format of conversations with the people who live there. Author Thubron is a modern day Richard Halliburton (remember him?), a man brave enough to singly explore the vastness of Siberia in search of the identity of its people. What he gives us is a lushly detailed panorama of physical grandeur and a near clinical insight into the psyches of the people he meets along his journey. His characters are so well reported that they seem to inhabit a fine fiction/history novel. But the sweep of his conversations with these time worn people is so honestly presented that the reader feels privy to shrouded secrets of the past and intimations of the future of a much maligned and misunderstood country.
Thubron seems intent on finding the sustaining spirit of his acquaintances; we encounter myriad variations of Russian Orthodox /Buddhist/atheist religion. We hear personal accounts of the labor camps of Stalin and Kruschchev that surpass even Solzhenisyn's descriptions. But more important we are introduced to the ordinary people of this vast country and Thubron shares these characters with insight and intelligent reportage that makes us feel as though we journeyed with him.
And this is supposed to be a Travel Book? I think not. This is a volume of first-hand information that leaves the reader enriched and enormously fine read!
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21 of 22 people found the following review helpful By Buckeye on March 13, 2000
Format: Hardcover
This is one of the few books that I've wanted to read again the moment I finished it. It's like a cross between Conrad's Heart of Darkness and Kosinski's The Painted Bird with one crucial distinction - it's not fiction.
The surreal and tragic effect of this book builds relentlessly as it goes along. By the end, I felt like I had a sense of a place that went well beyond a familiarity with appearance, to a much more important (and difficult for an author to convey) sense of what it feels like. The unspeakable tragedy of this land - centered around the hideous legacy of the Stalinist years - is conveyed in a thorough, convincing and compelling way. You cannot read this book and remain untouched by it - it is powerful stuff.
A unique feature is the author's language and style, which is often very poetic. The juxtaposition of the fine writing with the often macabre and disturbing subject matter makes for a strong effect.
I haven't read any other books by this author, but I will before long. This is an excellent, and highly memorable piece of work. Highly recommended.
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20 of 22 people found the following review helpful By saskatoonguy on February 3, 2001
Format: Paperback
'In Siberia' is about the author's trek from the Ural Mountains to Magadan in northeastern Siberia, using train, bus, truck, boat, and air. Colin Thubron is not the most engaging of travel writers. He isn't witty, he reveals little of himself, and he isn't good at building his travel narratives around a theme or 'hook.' Thubron's approach is more like that of a journalist - to document what happens to him, what he sees, and the people he encounters.
The low spots of the book are due to Thubron's habit of getting bogged down in pointless, over-long interviews. In one instance he spends too much space on a crank-physicist who claims that 'magnetic waves' can cure any disease, and later, on a fringe-archeologist who claims the first humans evolved in Siberia. A couple of pages on these eccentrics might be amusing, but Thubron doesn't know when to move on. Still, the book is of value because it documents an intriguing region at a turning point in history. He describes communities far away from roads and rail lines and, thanks to his fluent Russian, he interviews people there and describes how they see the world. Perhaps most important are his descriptions of the abandoned prison camps, some of which have never been viewed by westerners, and which are scheduled to be bulldozed. His accounts of what the Soviet government did in these camps will stick with the reader long after the book is finished.
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