Travels In Siberia by Ian Frazier

Travels in Siberia

Travels in Siberia is a travelogue written by Ian Frazier, which explores the vast expanse of Asiatic Russia known as Siberia. The book covers many aspects of this often grim region, including its geography, resources, native peoples, history, and the challenges of living in such extreme conditions.

The book is not just a historical travelogue but also an account of Russia since the end of the Soviet Union and a personal reflection on the all-around amazingness of Russia.

The author takes readers on a road trip from St. Petersburg to the Pacific Ocean, covering over 6500 miles in just over five weeks. Along the way, he encounters Mongols, Orthodox archpriests, fur seekers, ambassadors of the czar bound for Peking, tea caravans, German scientists, American prospectors, intrepid English nurses, and prisoners and exiles of every kind.

The book also delves into the horrors of the Soviet gulag, with the author visiting the remains of former labor camps along the road he traveled. The writing in this section is filled with sober, elegiac comments, giving a sense of the magnitude of the suffering and waste of life that occurred there.

Useful takeaways from the book include:

  • Siberia is known worldwide primarily for its long, harsh winters, with a January average of −25 °C (−13 °F).
  • The two major challenges of living in Siberia are the huge distances and extreme cold.
  • The Russian character can be both helpful and friendly, sometimes hostile and uncommunicative.
  • The road itself varied from modern multi-lane pavement to barely passable dirt or gravel, sometimes with giant potholes.
  • The towns and cities in Siberia are beautiful, but many are dirty, polluted, and declining fast as young people leave to chase better opportunities in western Russia.
  • The Soviet labor-camp system was designed to take those citizens the Soviet Union did not need, for political or social or unfathomable reasons, and convert their lives to gold and timber that could be traded abroad.
  • At the peak of operation in the thirties and forties, the mines of Kolyma produced perhaps 50 percent of all the gold being mined at that time in the world.

What I Liked

This was one of the top 5 travel books I’ve ever read. The setting is incredible, the prose engaging, and the experiences memorable. It’s armchair travel at its best.

What I Did Not Like

Nothing – brilliant book.

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