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It became possible for a foreigner to travel through Siberia almost at will following the collapse of Communism. Colin Thubron set out to traverse this vast country, making a journey of 15,000 miles from Yekaterinburg, the site of the last Czar's murder up the Yenisei river to the Arctic, into the mountains abutting Mongolia, east to the Pacific and the abandoned Gulags. He travelled by train, riverboat and truck, everywhere meeting the people most damaged by the political changes.
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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 an acknowledged master of travel writing. His first books were about the Middle East Damascus, Lebanon, and Cyprus. In 1982 he traveled in the Soviet Union, pursued by the KGB. From these early experiences developed his great travel books on the landmass that makes up Russia and Asia: Among the Russians; Behind the Wall: A Journey through China; The Lost Heart of Asia; In Siberia; and most recently, Shadow of the Silk Road.
Colin Thubron is an award-winning novelist as well as, arguably, the most admired travel writer of our time. He lives in London.
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