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EAST OF THE SUN by Benson Bobrick


The Epic Conquest and Tragic History of Siberia

by Benson Bobrick

Pub Date: Oct. 1st, 1992
ISBN: 0-671-66755-6
Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Well-written, vastly informative history of a largely unknown land, by Bobrick (Fearful Majesty, 1987). Bobrick chronicles a Wild West show played out on the ice and tundra that began with raids by outlaw Cossacks in 1581. By the early 18th century, Russia was bringing the territory under control, setting the stage for Vitus Bering's famous explorations, which culminated in the acquisition of Alaska. Bobrick's descriptions of Bering's unthinkably huge expeditions driving across the ice, through the Aleutians to Alaska, with their doctors, scientists, writers, philosophers—and near-starvation and disasters—come off like a nightmarishly hallucinogenic version of Lewis and Clarke. His depiction of local culture is sophisticated and detailed: ``Among the Chukchi there was no term for `girl' at all, but only for `married woman,' `woman living alone,' and `woman not yet put in use.' '' The author masterfully conveys the waves of immigration and the construction of the Trans-Siberian Railway, an achievement on a par with the building of the Panama Canal. Brutality is a constant: The discovery and extermination of the Aleuts are no more horrible than the civil war unleashed after WW I, with psychopathic brigands on one side, possessed zealots on the other. In the background are the prison camps, created by the czars ten years after the 16th-century Cossack invasion, carried forward for profit by Stalin. Powerful and moving—it's difficult to imagine a book that could say much more about Siberia, or say it better. (Sixteen pages of b&w illustrations, maps—not seen.)