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The Reindeer People: Living With Animals and Spirits in Siberia Paperback – December 1, 2006

4.4 out of 5 stars 19 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. In northeast Siberia, temperatures can drop to 96 degrees below zero. Boiling water flung from a teacup will freeze before reaching the ground. In these unimaginable conditions, the Eveny nomads have lived and thrived for thousands of years. Vitebsky, who teaches anthropology and Russian studies at Cambridge University, has spent much of the last 20 years among these people and their herds of reindeer. No dry anthropological study, his story teems with strong personalities, perilous adventures and time-honored folkways. Wearing thick reindeer coats and boots, Vitebsky accompanies the tribesmen across Siberia seeking small animals to trap and sell. He meets hunters who live alone for a year at a time, Russian bureaucrats whose only concern is making quotas set by their comrades in Moscow, and the extended families whose ties bind them through month-long blizzards and the simple stuff of daily life. At the story's center are the reindeer, providing meat, clothing and income. While the Eveny's ancestors followed the reindeer, migrating from Upper Mongolia to northern Siberia, present-day Eveny now tame, cultivate and survive with them in almost perfect balance. With grace, courage and sensitivity, Vitebsky reveals an extraordinary world, spinning a tale to warm any winter's night. Photos.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Booklist

*Starred Review* British anthropologist Vitebsky has lived among the Eveny in Siberia off and on for more than two decades, closely observing the symbiotic relationship between polar peoples and reindeer, a complex interspecies connection perfected over centuries of shared nomadic life on the vast taiga. Vitebsky chronicles with great detail and much philosophical reflection the daily rounds of Eveny life, carefully explicating the roles of shamans and dreams in their spiritual beliefs. He also documents the brutal attempts of the Soviets to destroy Eveny culture. There has been a revival following the demise of the Soviet Union, but the reindeer population is much diminished, and people are living precarious hand-to-mouth existences made even more trying by high cancer rates caused by uranium mining, pollution, and atomic-bomb-test fallout. Vitebsky is a personable, knowledgeable, and passionate guide, portraying with unabashed feeling the people he has come to know, vividly describing the magnificently resilient reindeer and the luminous beauty of the land, offering amusing accounts of his adventures, and, most memorably, illuminating the "vast field of shared consciousness" that enfolds land, animals, and humans. Vitebsky's generous study elucidates Siberian reindeer culture to a depth never attained before. Donna Seaman
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 496 pages
  • Publisher: Mariner Books; Reprint edition (December 1, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0618773576
  • ISBN-13: 978-0618773572
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1.1 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.8 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (19 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #566,299 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By kaioatey on December 28, 2005
Format: Hardcover
I don't know where exactly to put this book - it is partly a memoir, a travelogue, an anthropological study for the lay reader...

Vitebsky spent a number of summers with different bands of Eveny, a Tungus tribe in mid Siberia. These Eveny were all associated with a 'State Farm', a Soviet era relic that regulates the use of the territory assigned to the bands, shipping of reindeer meat and antlers and bringing in supplies. The Farm was in this case controlled by an incompetent, alcoholic director and his cronies, who had been responsible for a number of disastrous decisions that had a big impact on the region as a whole.

Eveny have been hit hard by Soviet times and even harder in the chaos of the perestroika. They lost their shamans and the number of men willing to spend their winters herding reindeer in the forbidding sub sub zero taiga is decreasing, especially as the women refuse to leave the relative comfort of villages for the traditional nomadic way of life. As Vitebsky trails the herders on their annual migration, he is witnessing the impressive array of skills these people have to survive in one of the most inhospitable regions n this planet; slowly, as he is taken into their confidences, he also sees a part of their life that is hidden from the casual visitor. Although their shamans have all been killed, and the rituals all but stamped out, a number of folk 'superstitions' control all areas of Eveny life. Propitiating spirits of the land, dead ancestors, interpreting omens and dreams all play a central role in Eveny activity. There is a number of striking similarities with NA Indians in the relationship to the land, their respect of silence, mutual assistance and the non verbal communication that happens in that silence.
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Format: Paperback
For someone who has only traveled so far as a few hundred miles in a sedan, my world is mind-numbingly small. Logistically, I rely on MapQuest to get me from "Point A" to "Point B"... and hopefully back in one piece. Without truly comprehending the land and life enveloping me in a "rural-suburban" town located somewhere in the cesspool of Bowash, I sorely needed a wake-up call to the raw emotion and spirit that has been inherently ingrained in the Eveny people, their reindeer, and their relationship to the expanses of Sakhan Siberia. As Vitebsky relives such experiences in The Reindeer People, his strikingly vivid account of living side-by-side with the Eveny not only intrigues, but brings to light the troubles faced by indigenous people that have been perpetuated by the Soviet era as well as its horrendous aftermath. Vitebsky's tale of the inevitable downfall of what was once a pristine way of life for these people offers a poignantly bittersweet glimpse of what is becoming all but history. Without a doubt, this is one of the greatest books to come my way in a long time!
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Format: Paperback
I learned here that Reindeer herding for the commercial meat market has been a staple of Artic communities throughout the 20th Century (hence the effort to translpant it to Alaska in the 1920s).

This is an amazing story of a British anthropologist's 25+ years visiting and documenting the life of some of the last indigenous Siberian people to herd domestic reindeer. We meet many keenly individual men women and children, from the university-trained to the descendants of shamans. I was reminded of the Mongul family in the documenary movie "The Weeping Camel," and of Amundson's antarctic expeditions, which used native skills while Scott died using modern mechanical aids. We learn what it was like to live under Soviet rule (when labor camps drove the meat markets); we watch Perestroika as it affects both animals and people, and we witness the region's disastrous ecological and economic decline under Putin's Russia.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Vitebsky's book is a wonderful look at the life, lives and living conditions in an area of the world most of us would consider uninhabitable. While it is an anthropological study, it overflows with human feelings and contact that make this a truly unforgettable read. This truly shows the need for humans to coexist with nature, not rule it.

Read this book.
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Format: Paperback
It was the book's title that drew me to view its content and the author's descriptive writing and sensitivity to his subjects that captured and held my interest to the end. I was pleasantly surprised by the inclusion of photographs and even more so with reconciling Asiatic faces with Russian-sounding names. Having maps inserted early on helped with fleshing out the "big picture." Being neither politically nor socially inclined to puruse the tedious details involving the structure of Soviet governance as it transcended the function of nomadic herding lives, sections of the book were selectively fast-forwarded. Overall, the book is a powerful testament to the strength and spirituality of a people who live in such a bleak and unforgiving landscape of permafrost (made tolerable with vodka) and likewise, to the author's obvious love and dedication, in narrating their story through solid field research which he tempers with humanity.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I picked this book on a whim for a research project and ending up loving it so much that I bought it. Extremely interesting and moving. A great insight into the problems faced by reindeer herders in the the changing climate and cultures of present day. Easy to understand and read.
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