LOST IN THE TAIGA: One Russian Family's Fifty-Year Struggle for Survival and Religious Freedom in the Siberian Wilderness by Vassili Peskov
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LOST IN THE TAIGA: One Russian Family's Fifty-Year Struggle for Survival and Religious Freedom in the Siberian Wilderness

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KIRKUS REVIEW

Peskov, a correspondent for Komsomolskaya Pravda, tells the story of a Russian religious dissident who, in 1932, took his wife into the remote Siberian Taiga and remained there, effectively frozen in time, until the 1990s. In 1978, while flying over the upper reaches of the Abakan River, a group of geologists spot what looks like a garden in the midst of the wilderness. On landing, they find not only a garden but paths, a house, and -- looking like a vision from the previous century -- an old man dressed in patched sacking, speaking a strange dialect. The man, Karp Lykov, and his family are members of a fundamentalist sect called the Old Believers, who insist that they are not permitted to ""live with the world."" The men and women live separately in this tiny primitive colony. We see daughter Agafia climb nimbly up pine trees to knock off the nuts for her father; we see the pitch dark house with no lighting. Later, as the Lykovs become slowly acquainted with the surrounding Russian society, we see their first reactions to horses, modern buildings, trains, and a boxing match, which so horrifies Agafia that she flees from it. Perhaps the most fascinating aspect of this saga is the Old Believers' system of counting time, which they reckon as did people before the time of Peter the Great: by the Psalter and the lunar phases. Given the resistance to modernity among religious fanatics, and given Russia's troubled encounter with modernity and the vastness of the land, Peskov writes, ""it is not hard to imagine many similar retreats cropping up...The taiga has swallowed up many small monasteries, poor huts and grave crosses."" At the end of his brisk and informative account, Peskov wonders if the Lykovs -- who missed the purges, WW II, and all the shake-ups that followed -- were happy with their life in the wilderness. ""I think so,"" he concludes.

Pub Date: July 1st, 1994
Page count: 352pp
Publisher: Doubleday