An enormous and mysterious land, Siberia remains an exotic unknown that has haunted the imagination of Westerners for centuries. Colin Thubron takes us into the heart of Siberia on a journey of discovery from Mongolia to the Arctic Circle, from Rasputin's village in the west through tundra, taiga, splendid mountains, lakes and rivers to the derelict Jewish community in Birobidzhan in the far eastern reaches of the region. More than a travel book, In Siberia is a moving and profound portrait of a region rich with history (and the remains of an intriguing prehistorical past), religions, and a profusion of fascinating peoples and cultures.
Traveling alone, by train, boat, car, and on foot, Thubron explores this vast territory, talking to anyone he can find about the state of the country today and what it is like to live there. He finds a land of spectacular natural beauty, marked by the horrors of the Gulag and Soviet exploitation of its abundant natural resources. Beneath the permafrost, all too near the surface, lie bones and nuclear waste. And yet in counterpoise to the horror is the extraordinary human compassion he encounters: Wherever he goes, somebody takes him in and feeds him, no matter how poor they are. Perhaps the "core to Siberia" for which Thubron is searching turns out to be an unshakeable desire to believe, a quintessentially Russian hopefulness that is born of faith. Thubron traces it from Dostoevsky through the wreckage of communism to present day Siberia where it appears under other names.
Written in a marvelously elegant prose, In Siberia penetrates a mysterious and beautiful part of the world in a way that no other book has been able to do.
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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 RicksAbout the Author:
Colin Thubron is the prizewinning, bestselling author of several travel books. In Siberia, his most recent volume, is the final book in a masterful trilogy about the Russian landmass, following Where Nights Are Longest and The Lost Heart of Asia. He lives in London, England.
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