The peripatetic author of Great Plains (1989) and On the Rez (2000) returns with an energetic, illuminating account of his several trips to Siberia, where his ferocious curiosity roamed the vast, enigmatic area.
Veteran New Yorker contributor Frazier (Lamentations of the Father: Essays, 2008, etc.) begins bluntly. “Officially,” he writes, “there is no such place as Siberia.” It is not a country, nor a province, yet the region bearing the name is extensive, comprising eight time zones. Throughout, the author confesses to a long love affair with Russia, a relationship that has waxed and waned over the decades but in some of its brightest phases sent him back repeatedly to see what few have seen. Here Frazier records several visits: a summer’s trip via cantankerous automobile across the entire region, in the company of a couple of local companions; a winter’s journey by train and car, during which the car sometimes used frozen waterways for roads; and a return visit to see the effects of the emerging Russian energy industry. He prepared in a fashion familiar to readers of his previous works—read everything he could, talked with anyone who knew anything, planned and schemed and made it happen. He also studied Russian extensively and tried gamely to engage local people he encountered along the way. On the road, he visited local museums and monuments and natural wonders, and he pauses frequently for welcome digressions on the historical background. He camped, fished and ate local delicacies (and indelicacies). Endearingly, he freely admits his inadequacies, fears (during one perilous icy trip he actually composed a farewell message to his family), blunders, dour moods, regrets and loneliness. The contrasts are stark—one day, he walked through the ruins of a remote, frozen Soviet-era prison camp and later saw a ballet in St. Petersburg—and the writing is consistently rich.
A dense, challenging, dazzling work that will leave readers exhausted but yearning for more.