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Travels in Siberia Hardcover – October 12, 2010

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Editorial Reviews Review

Amazon Best Books of the Month, October 2010: Over 20 years after Great Plains, one of the more oddly wonderful books of the last few decades, Ian Frazier takes us to another territory worthy of his expansive curiosity: the vast eastern stretches of Russia known as Siberia. Through the stories of Russian friends, Frazier was drawn there in the early '90s, and he soon fell in love with the country--an "embarrassing" sort of middle-aged love, an involuntary infection. What he loves is its tragedy and its humor, its stoic practicality and its near-insanity: he calls it "the greatest horrible country in the world," and Siberia is its swampy, often-frozen, and strikingly empty backyard. He took five trips there over the next dozen or so years, and Travels in Siberia is based on those journeys. But as in Great Plains, when Frazier travels he follows his own curiosity through time as well as space, telling stories of the Mongols and the Decembrists with the same amused and empathetic eye he brings to his own traveling companions. His curiosity quickly becomes yours, as does his affection for this immense and grudgingly hospitable land. --Tom Nissley

From Booklist

Frazier (Great Plains, 1989; On the Rez, 2000) has long been fascinated by vast, empty spaces and the people who live in them. It’s only natural that he is interested in the place that is almost synonymous with nowhere: Siberia. Here he tells of his repeated visits, from a summer trip across the Bering Strait to a winter trip to Novosibirsk; however, the centerpiece of the book is his overland crossing from the Baltic Sea to the Pacific Ocean. That’s a massive journey, and this is a massive book. He captures the character and particulars of the place but lets us down, somewhat, as a tour guide. The very best travel writers possess physical and mental toughness, but Frazier is often surprisingly timid: he allows his Russian guides to drive past prisons he really wants to stop and see. And when, at the end of the book, he finally visits an abandoned, snow-covered prison camp, he doesn’t explore the barracks building because it feels wrong: “I was merely a foreign observer.” His complaints about the discomforts of the journey occasionally leave us wondering whether he really loves Russia. Still and all, it’s an unforgettable and enlightening portrait of a place most of us know very little about. --Keir Graff

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 529 pages
  • Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux; 1st edition (October 12, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0374278725
  • ISBN-13: 978-0374278724
  • Product Dimensions: 6.5 x 1.8 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.8 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (119 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #214,538 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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More About the Author

Ian Frazier is the author of Great Plains, The Fish's Eye, On the Rez, and Family, as well as Coyote v. Acme and Dating Your Mom, all published by FSG. A frequent contributor to The New Yorker, he lives in Montclair, New Jersey.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

74 of 82 people found the following review helpful By Downtown Pearl on October 13, 2010
Format: Hardcover
i read two excerpts from this book in the New Yorker Magazine a summer or two ago and couldn't tear myself away. It's such an adventure. If you've ever read one of the great Russian novels or studied world history at all you already have an historical vision filed away in your head and this book brings it all back, richly. The spirit in which Frazier traveled to research this book and because he's written it so well you feel like a fly on his shoulder throughout the journey. i'm so happy the book is finally published, i've been waiting a long time for it. Highly recommended!
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107 of 123 people found the following review helpful By Just lookin' on November 12, 2010
Format: Hardcover
I'm going to write my review without biasing myself by reading the others.

I lived and worked in Siberian and the Russian Far East for several years in the 1990s. Frazier has always been one of my favorite authors; he is king of detail. "On the Rez" was a phenomenal book. Missing my second home, Russia, I snatched up Travels in Siberia the instant it became available.

I'm going to start with the limitations of this book:

1. East of Chita and Yakutia, the locals uniformly call their land the "Russian Far East." They do not call it Siberia, any more than people from Idaho or California call their land the Midwest. Just like Americans have the Midwest and the West, the Russians have the corresponding landlocked Siberia and the coastal Far East. It perpetuates Westerners' geographic misnaming of the region.

2. Leaving the history of Siberia's Indigenous peoples out of the book. This is the most egregious oversight of this book, and it's particularly perplexing given Frazier's history researching and writing "On the Rez." Can you imagine an author writing on the history and the experience of the Dakotas without mentioning the Sioux? This book manages to paint Siberia and the Russian Far East as the historic battleground of Russians and the Mongols, without mentioning the couple dozen tribes - of Asian, Turkish, or European descent - that migrated to, lived in, and defined Siberia for centuries before either the Russians or the Mongols arrived. In a few of these regions, Indigenous peoples still outnumber Russians, and it is still common to hear the native languages spoken on the streets or in government offices. Frazier writes about two visits to the Republic of Buryatia without clarifying that Buryatians are Indigenous descendents of the Mongols.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful By P Magnum HALL OF FAMEVINE VOICE on December 14, 2010
Format: Hardcover
Ian Frazier's Travels In Siberia is a lengthy tome about not just Mr. Frazier's travels in Russia but a history of the country including Genghis Khan, the Decembrists, Stalin, Lenin and everyone in between. The book is extremely well written and you can feel Mr. Frazier's genuine love of the country coming through, but I felt a little shorted by the passages on his actual travels in Siberia. The first thing you think about when you think of Siberia is that it is a cold desolate place, but on his first trip he goes in the summer. While he does rectify this by going back and travelling through Siberia in the winter that trip seems more like an afterthought in the book. On his first trip, he spends much of his time sitting back in the camp his two travelling companions set up in various campgrounds, roadsides, etc. while they go out and experience the towns. It would have felt more like a travel book if Mr. Frazier had joined the two on their excursions into town and written about the locals instead of the many museums he visited. That being said, Mr. Frazier deserves credit for an extremely well written book especially his story of how he ended his first journey through Siberia on 9/11/01 and his resulting trip back to his home in New Jersey. It was quite compelling and the most heartfelt portion of the book.
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50 of 64 people found the following review helpful By Laura F on December 5, 2010
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I truly enjoyed reading this book. I am learning Russian and took my own first trip to the country this year; there is so much to learn and discover about Russia and I appreciated Frazier's interesting, concise and occasionally humorous lessons on the country's history, culture and geography. Indeed, I found myself laughing out loud at several passages - a valued experience during a good read for me!

Nonetheless, as much as I appreciate seeing an author's sense of humor and personality shine through a narrative like this, I found parts of Frazier's discourse to be simply grating and tinged with a familiarly uncomfortable, unmistakable East Coast self-importance. As many times as Frazier may call himself a Midwesterner in the text, his worldview is clearly that of an affluent New Yorker. This is perfectly evidenced by his reference to his guide/trip organizer/translator/mechanic throughout Siberia as his `driver'. It took a native Russian teacher later to point out to him that he should call the talented person who shepherded him (and his expensive fishing rods) across thousands of miles of Siberia his `colleague' instead (also worth pointing out that in addition to this man's guide credentials, he's the head of the robotics lab at St. Petersburg State University, hardly a `driver' qualification).

Frazier goes on to display a latent sexism in a passage about the beauty of post-soviet-era Russian women. He marvels at the `beautiful women walking everywhere' in Krasnoyarsk, recalling a negative Cold War American stereotype of Russian female appearance and questioning its origins.
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