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A Dazzling Russian travelogue from the bestselling author of Great Plains In his astonishing new work, Ian Frazier, one of our greatest and most entertaining storytellers, trains his perceptive, generous eye on Siberia, the storied expanse of Asiatic Russia whose grim renown is but one explanation among hundreds for the region's fascinating, A Dazzling Russian travelogue from the bestselling author of Great Plains In his astonishing new work, Ian Frazier, one of our greatest and most entertaining storytellers, trains his perceptive, generous eye on Siberia, the storied expanse of Asiatic Russia whose grim renown is but one explanation among hundreds for the region's fascinating, enduring appeal. In Travels in Siberia, Frazier reveals Siberia's role in history--its science, economics, and politics--with great passion and enthusiasm, ensuring that we'll never think about it in the same way again. With great empathy and epic sweep, Frazier tells the stories of Siberia's most famous exiles, from the well-known--Dostoyevsky, Lenin (twice), Stalin (numerous times)--to the lesser known (like Natalie Lopukhin, banished by the empress for copying her dresses) to those who experienced unimaginable suffering in Siberian camps under the Soviet regime, forever immortalized by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn in The Gulag Archipelago. Travels in Siberia is also a unique chronicle of Russia since the end of the Soviet Union, a personal account of adventures among Russian friends and acquaintances, and, above all, a unique, captivating, totally Frazierian take on what he calls the "amazingness" of Russia--a country that, for all its tragic history, somehow still manages to be funny. Travels in Siberia will undoubtedly take its place as one of the twenty-first century's indispensable contributions to the travel-writing genre.


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A Dazzling Russian travelogue from the bestselling author of Great Plains In his astonishing new work, Ian Frazier, one of our greatest and most entertaining storytellers, trains his perceptive, generous eye on Siberia, the storied expanse of Asiatic Russia whose grim renown is but one explanation among hundreds for the region's fascinating, A Dazzling Russian travelogue from the bestselling author of Great Plains In his astonishing new work, Ian Frazier, one of our greatest and most entertaining storytellers, trains his perceptive, generous eye on Siberia, the storied expanse of Asiatic Russia whose grim renown is but one explanation among hundreds for the region's fascinating, enduring appeal. In Travels in Siberia, Frazier reveals Siberia's role in history--its science, economics, and politics--with great passion and enthusiasm, ensuring that we'll never think about it in the same way again. With great empathy and epic sweep, Frazier tells the stories of Siberia's most famous exiles, from the well-known--Dostoyevsky, Lenin (twice), Stalin (numerous times)--to the lesser known (like Natalie Lopukhin, banished by the empress for copying her dresses) to those who experienced unimaginable suffering in Siberian camps under the Soviet regime, forever immortalized by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn in The Gulag Archipelago. Travels in Siberia is also a unique chronicle of Russia since the end of the Soviet Union, a personal account of adventures among Russian friends and acquaintances, and, above all, a unique, captivating, totally Frazierian take on what he calls the "amazingness" of Russia--a country that, for all its tragic history, somehow still manages to be funny. Travels in Siberia will undoubtedly take its place as one of the twenty-first century's indispensable contributions to the travel-writing genre.

30 review for Travels in Siberia

  1. 5 out of 5

    Darwin8u

    “Sometimes travel is merely an opportunity taken when you can.” ― Ian Frazier, Travels in Siberia A gifted narrator, Ian Frazier for me seems to occupy a genetic/literary lovechild space somewhere between Bill Bryson (mother: Midwestern appetites) and John McPhee (father: New Yorker affectations). Like Frazier, I too have been drawn to Russia. I remember traveling to Moscow and St. Petersburg shortly after the wall came down (and before the 1993 Russian constitutional crisis). There is somethin “Sometimes travel is merely an opportunity taken when you can.” ― Ian Frazier, Travels in Siberia A gifted narrator, Ian Frazier for me seems to occupy a genetic/literary lovechild space somewhere between Bill Bryson (mother: Midwestern appetites) and John McPhee (father: New Yorker affectations). Like Frazier, I too have been drawn to Russia. I remember traveling to Moscow and St. Petersburg shortly after the wall came down (and before the 1993 Russian constitutional crisis). There is something magnetic (both attractive and repellant) about the people, the culture, the geography, that sucks a certain type/flux of person in. Both a travelogue and an historical review of Siberia, 'Travels in Siberia' never once disappoints. Frazier hits all the major markers about Siberia: its size, the cold, its history, language, food, the cold, gulags, the cold, transportation, hot women, resources, food, language, hot women, the cold, politics, people, the cold, and hot women. Seriously, the women in Siberia are apparently really hot. Other things I enjoyed while reading this: 1) All the books referenced by Ian Frazier (check out the selected bibliography. Some books just have a sexy bibliography). There is now a whole slew of Siberian exploration books, Russian novels, and Decembrist history that I want/need to read. 2) Frazier's simple, spare drawings were perfect for this book. 3) The dynamic arc created by this book being written over the last 15+ years. It reminded me of certain Impressionist paintings done at different times of the same exact scene. The colors, light, and shapes shift because of shifts in time and season. The same is true of Frazier's book. You exit the book with a significantly different view of Siberia from which you entered it. That large and desolate country changed in 15 years, certainly, but more than that Frazier changed by both his experiences in and his experiences THRU Siberia. Now that Pussy Riot* have been released from their own stint in a Siberian penal colony, the book seems like a perfectly timed pre-read for the Olympics. While Sochi is more Caucasus/Black Sea than Siberia, it is still Russia in the way it seems focused on the repressed, totalitarian cold. Gays are to stay away. Stray dogs are being round up and shot. Pussy Riot is freed to garner some PR goodwill. It all seems like some 21st century match-up of Siberian protesters (gays and Pussy Riot) vs the modern Russian Tsar (Putin, obviously). I'm waiting for a whole new set of protesters gearing up for their slow train ride to a Penal Colony. Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose. * I should disclose that I am really attracted to Pussy Riot. Not that ooh they are sooo pretty attracted, but in that singular way you (Yes you faithful reader) are attracted to people with a sharp purpose, excess energy, the ability to capture a moment perfectly, and a willingness to go badasshard against institutions as big and strong as the Russian Orthodox Church and the Putin Totalitarian State. Pussy Riot did everything the Decembrists did, but they did it in heels and backwards. Plus they have the name Pussy Riot, which is kinda silly, but still also makes my tongue swell, and eyes dart back and forth (looking for Mom) when I say it out loud.

  2. 5 out of 5

    RandomAnthony

    Ian Frazier, the author of Travels in Siberia, wants people to know that Siberia is filled with mosquitoes and isn't always cold. Russian women are also, in his estimation, among the world's most beautiful. And apparently there are huge trash heaps spread along many of the roads. But this book is more than the sum of its travelogue plus history plus reflective essay parts. Frazier researched Travels in Siberia for a couple decades. He integrates the past, the landscape, and daily observations wi Ian Frazier, the author of Travels in Siberia, wants people to know that Siberia is filled with mosquitoes and isn't always cold. Russian women are also, in his estimation, among the world's most beautiful. And apparently there are huge trash heaps spread along many of the roads. But this book is more than the sum of its travelogue plus history plus reflective essay parts. Frazier researched Travels in Siberia for a couple decades. He integrates the past, the landscape, and daily observations with admirable literary grace. He's not afraid to admit he's freaking out when driving over frozen lakes or worried that he didn't explain pain reliever directions well enough to an older Russian who may have passed out in the front seat. His guides piss him off when they refuse to visit abandoned prisons. I would have hated these trips. He eats cottage cheese and sour cream sold by random women on the side of the road and sleeps in a tent while his guides wander away from the campsite to pick up women. Fuck that. But Frazier also sees the good, the alien, and the familiar in those same guides and comes to call them friends. Frazier masters Russian enough to travel on his own and marvels when he connects stories of the Decemberists (not the shitty band, the real Decemberists) with the concrete cities on his path. The Russian spirit fascinates him; these Siberians who live in a middle of nowhere that sometimes looks like rural Ohio in February but way, way colder are complex and wonderfully portrayed. And his spooky walk through an abandoned gulag mixes masterfully with his narrative of that dark stretch of Russia's story. Frazier knows when to modulate scope. He'll describe his notes for a three hundred mile car ride in two paragraphs then spend four pages on a city's museum and the curator's fascination with the local geological history. Not only can Frazier write, he understands that when he's writing about Siberia he's writing as much about the mythical otherness associated with the word as the people he meets and the places he visits. When he describes the chaos of the Trans-Siberian railway he adds small details about the dust and garbage while outlining the broad, swirling pressure to make sure his guide bribes the right guy so their car can get on the right train. Siberia is funny and horrible and unrecognizable and filled with hot women. And Frazier does a brilliant job addressing an expanse that compromises one-twelfth of the earth's surface. Travels in Siberia left me appreciating a professional writer, a man who knows and respects his craft. I didn't expect to love a 460 page book on what I perceived as a really big Midwestern cornfield, just in Russia, but I did. Erik Simon, upon whose recommendation I read Travels in Siberia, called the book "riveting". Erik's dead-on accurate. Highly recommended for anyone who wants to read sublime travel literature.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Chrissie

    Wow, even the last chapter was superb - Siberian climate change and what this may portend for the future. *************************. I am almost, almost done with Travels in Siberia which will be given four stars. From start to finish it has been very interesting, and the travel experiences are entertaining. Maybe it is better to read this rather than listen to it, as I am doing. You have to stop all the time and rewind. It is important to have access to maps. I assume the paper book has them. T Wow, even the last chapter was superb - Siberian climate change and what this may portend for the future. *************************. I am almost, almost done with Travels in Siberia which will be given four stars. From start to finish it has been very interesting, and the travel experiences are entertaining. Maybe it is better to read this rather than listen to it, as I am doing. You have to stop all the time and rewind. It is important to have access to maps. I assume the paper book has them. The author reads the book himself, in this audio version. He speaks slowly, but this I appreciate; there are too many facts for a quick reading. The author made five trips to write this book. He learned the language so he could talk to Russians on his trips. He has clearly a thorough knowledge of all that is Siberian and Russian. I am now in the last chapter, devoted to his return in 2009 to gain further knowledge of the oil and gas industry. His first trip was, if I remember correctly, in 1997. So ten years has passed and changes are noted. I love his discussion of Russian ballet, the beauty of Russian women, how he throws in quotes from Russian authors and enriches the travel experiences with facts of history. What shines through is his enthusiasm and fascination for all things Siberian. I particularly like that he is a normal guy; his reaction to events are those that we the readers would most probably share. This isn't a bad way to travel. It is nice, Frazier can deal with the bugs and cold and heat and "toilets" and broken cars, leaving me to sit back in a comfortable chair and listen. **************************** I have just listened to chapter 8 of part two: Clearly there will be sections of travel stories and others focused on history. I just listened to a fabulous account concerning the role Mongols played in Russian history. Fascinating. In such sections I must stop and rewind and take notes and look in Wikipedia. You don't have to, of course, but it's fun. ********************** SOME THOUGHTS AS I LISTEN TO THE AUDIO BOOK:This is easy to follow on an audio book. The beginning is chock-full with facts, which makes me want to rewind the narration so I can better absorb each bit. That stops and you get more about his day-to-day travel, who he meets, what the housing was like and the food and the landscape. Small annoyances and unexpected delights. Some reviewers say nothing happens.....but that is not true at all. It all depends on how you define happenings. I enjoy reading about a walk on a beach, under gray clouds, hearing rumbling surf. I remember by own walks. But he is so lucky to see huge whale skulls mounted along the beach. Not one, but many! You see them with him. For me, that is not nothing; it is definitely something. And the people he meets are philosophically observed. A few are complaining because they have paid what they think is an exorbitant amount for the outing. The tents are inferior and the food scant. What is really bothering them is: Why the hell did they have had to pay so much for this?! They complain to Frazier too, a fellow tourist. There is nobody else to complain to. The guide has disappeared; it is not his problem! When Frazier points out that perhaps the money was spent on bribes, bibes that were necessary for the trip to take place, then they calm down. Finally they are quiet. Interesting to ponder, don't you think? People just don't want to be cheated, and what does this say about Russian society and life? And then there is humor - much wisecracking and complaints too, but this is all down to earth and probably exactly how any of us would react to the given circumstances. Humor: they see some whales and all in the group scream w-h-a-l-e-s!!! In at least two languages. The choice of words makes you feel like you could be there and take part in this experience. Then Frazier thinks.....the whales have submerged and isn't it true you can calculate when they will come up again by when they will need more air? So of course he asks, "How long are they going to be down there?" The answer: "Until they come up." Come on: aren't you smiling? This is fun and you get a feel for Siberia. What you might see and how it would feel to walk on that beach and maybe you learn a little bit about the character of Siberians and how it might be to live there. I was in Russia, not Siberia, in 1972. Everything was broken. In Moscow, in the best hotel, there were 10 fancy elevators, but only two worked. Upstairs the walls between the bedroom and the entrance hall didn't fit each other. Windows could not be shut due to faulty window-casings. Behind the hotel were heaps of extra bathtubs. Everywhere, things were broken. Things didn't work. In restaurants you recieved menus but only one dish was available. Frazier runs into this too, and I laugh and remember my own experiences. He was there two decades later and little had changed.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Lisa

    When I returned from spending several months in Russia as a graduate student, a friend asked what it was like and whether I enjoyed it. My reply was something like, “It was great, I loved it, never go there.” Russia is a place guaranteed to frustrate anyone who has to have things go according to plan, expects problems to be solved quickly and transparently, and likes things orderly and sanitized in that uniquely American way (my friend was all three). Plans fall apart, problems are addressed with When I returned from spending several months in Russia as a graduate student, a friend asked what it was like and whether I enjoyed it. My reply was something like, “It was great, I loved it, never go there.” Russia is a place guaranteed to frustrate anyone who has to have things go according to plan, expects problems to be solved quickly and transparently, and likes things orderly and sanitized in that uniquely American way (my friend was all three). Plans fall apart, problems are addressed with a shrug (and perhaps a bribe), and, to put it politely, standards of cleanliness differ overseas. But Russia is also a place of striking beauty — natural as well as artistic — warm hospitality and an incredibly complex cultural and historical tradition. This contrast is probably why, in “Travels in Siberia,” Ian Frazier calls Russia “the greatest horrible country in the world.” Frazier has what he calls “Russia-Love,” and those who have it know exactly what this is -- not being able to get enough of this great and horrible country. Frazier’s fascination is not with the cultural and historical centers of western Russia, but the vast, wild frontiers of Siberia. And Siberia is about as vast as it gets: Flying to Novosibirsk from Moscow, I looked out the plane window and saw nothing but green. No roads, no towns, no buildings, nothing but miles of trees. Had I gone in the winter, it would have been uninterrupted miles of white. Frazier made several trips to Siberia, including in the winter, and the view from the ground is endless steppe, thick forests and the blanketing dark of night. This very readable book details his travels to and across Siberia — one trip was by van from St. Petersburg to Vladivostok — and his observations of the people and the landscapes, warts and all. He encounters swarms of biting insects, village poets, unexpected churches, sprawling rivers, brutal cold, and the largest bust of Lenin in the world. He exhaustively read travel books by foreigners visiting Siberia — including a 19th-century account by George Kennan, the namesake of Cold War historian George F. Kennan — and keeps an eye out for things they saw or places they visited. But Frazier also delves deeply into the history of Siberia, from the time of Genghis Khan through the tsars, the Soviets and the modern era; the fur trade, the construction of the railroads and the tapping of mineral wealth. And, of course, the worldwide image of Siberia as a place of banishment and imprisonment. “Using a place as punishment may or may not be fair to the people who are punished there,” he writes, “but it always demeans and does a disservice to the place.” In Siberia, Frazier was quite interested in seeing some gulags, even a marker Kennan mentioned that lay along the route taken by a century’s worth of exiles. His guide, however, was not at all interested in showing him any prisons, dismissing his requests without explanation. When they finally happened across an old one, the guide was nervous about getting out and looking around, but Frazier insisted. “What struck me then and still strikes me now was the place’s overwhelming aura of absence. The deserted prison camp just sat there -- unexcused, un-torn-down, unexplained. ... ‘No comment,’ the site seemed to say.” Frazier’s subject is huge and unwieldy, but his book grabs hold of it and shows us many facets. The history offered is not comprehensive — nor does it claim to be — but touches on crucial figures and events as well as some that are lesser-known but no less interesting. The travelogues are fascinating and he’s included a few of his own sketches of places he visited. And his writing is thoughtful, even meditative at points, but never bogs down; instead he compels the reader forward, making us want to know what else happened. His descriptions give us a sense of this land beyond the thousands-of-miles, biggest-coldest-longest geographical facts, Frazier brings even the bleakest places to life — not that most of us would want to go there, but that’s the point: He went, we can enjoy reading about it.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Hana

    Ian Frazier is in love with Russia. He’s not sure just why, but that’s how love is sometimes. Frazier makes a splendid tour guide to the land he dubs “the greatest horrible country in the world.” Over the course of fifteen years Frazier learned Russian and made five journeys to Siberia, each at different times of the year, one taking him across the entire region over the course of a two-month long, rather harrowing, bug-infested drive. But Frazier never ‘goes native’ (he doesn’t drink!) and his Ian Frazier is in love with Russia. He’s not sure just why, but that’s how love is sometimes. Frazier makes a splendid tour guide to the land he dubs “the greatest horrible country in the world.” Over the course of fifteen years Frazier learned Russian and made five journeys to Siberia, each at different times of the year, one taking him across the entire region over the course of a two-month long, rather harrowing, bug-infested drive. But Frazier never ‘goes native’ (he doesn’t drink!) and his sometimes neurotic American sensibilities are part of the book’s on-going humor. When he highlights Siberia’s flaws it is in a rather disarming, self-deprecating way that takes much of the sting out of his critique. On Russian bathrooms: “What I have to say next concerns the Omsk airport men’s room. I regret this. I’ve noticed that in books by Siberian travelers of the past they don’t talk about bathrooms, and that’s probably good. I reluctantly break with this tradition for two reasons. First, I am an American, and Americans pay attention to and care about bathrooms. The habit may show childishness and weak-mindedness, but there it is. Second, if the world really is going to become a global community, then some of our trading partners (I’m talking to you, too, China) need to know how far apart we are on the subject of bathrooms.” I will spare readers of this review the next three paragraphs of description. Frazier’s last trip was in the winter of 2009-2010 so he missed the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics. That’s unfortunate, since it is clear that much progress has been made on the Russian Bathroom Front. Then there are the insects: “I spent the night in a hotel on the Neva...The room had become stuffy so I opened the high narrow windows facing the river. Two or three mosquitoes flew in--the advance pickets of a vast, continental army.” Frazier is clearly in love not just with Russia, but with its impossible, inventive, and endlessly stoic people. Like all great travel-writers, Frazier has an eye for the telling detail, the little cultural windows that let us enter briefly into another world. Driving across the ice road up the Lena River to Yakutsk with his intrepid guide Sergei, their Soviet-era car, a Uazik, died several miles from land. “The driver seemed overwhelmed, but Sergei had taken a piece out of the engine and was strolling on the ice, hunting around….After more tinkering by Sergei, the driver turned the key and the car started and ran at a rough idle.” Sergei later explained that a screw had come off and the small rod that held the float regulating the gasoline level of the carburetor had fallen out and disappeared so “all we needed was to find a piece of wire or a nail of the right diameter in order to temporarily replace that rod…I found a bolt of approximately the right size belonging to some other machine under our car’s wheels….Thus I was once again convinced that the Russian car is the most reliable in the world, because it is possible under necessity to replace any part of it with a piece of wire or with a nail.” Not only was the carburetor fixable, but garbage of just the right size and shape was right there out on the ice in the middle of a frozen river just where it was most needed. What a wonderful country! Russia is a land of beauty, but it is also a land filled with broken things. Still, as Sergei proved, one man’s trash is another’s treasure--or at least opportunity. And sometimes, time and nature transform trash into something of startling beauty. This is the steklyannyi plyazh, the glass beach in Vladivostok “where every square foot of beach is made up of small, water-smoothed pieces of glass....Whatever its origins, the beach was gorgeous, like a shattered church mosaic glittering in the light....sand,slowly returning to sand.” I loved Frazier's book, but it would not be my first choice as a history of Siberia--it's vivid and colorful but a little too scattershot and big chunks of the story get left out. For a more comprehensive and linear history of Siberia, I would recommend East of the Sun: The Epic Conquest and Tragic History of Siberia. Be sure to check out the many other excellent reviews--I particularly enjoyed Chrissie's review of the audio version and like her, I loved the whale scene and the discussion about bribes. Content rating G: A few f---s, and the not-too-graphic bathroom discussion.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Trish

    Travels in Siberia is BIG, and I thought the expanse of white cover particularly appropriate, too--just like the place. It seems peculiar to describe a trip (several trips, actually) across Siberia and say honestly at the end: "nothing much happened," but that about sums it up. For a traveller, nothing (unexpected) happening can be a very good thing, and readers can take heart that we had such a pleasant and wryly funny guide to the biggest country on earth ("too big, really"). I, for one, w Travels in Siberia is BIG, and I thought the expanse of white cover particularly appropriate, too--just like the place. It seems peculiar to describe a trip (several trips, actually) across Siberia and say honestly at the end: "nothing much happened," but that about sums it up. For a traveller, nothing (unexpected) happening can be a very good thing, and readers can take heart that we had such a pleasant and wryly funny guide to the biggest country on earth ("too big, really"). I, for one, was very glad Frazier did this trip for me. While I am curious about Siberia post-USSR, I really cannot see myself hiring a van and a translator...Later in the book we read about Dervla Murphy who shows up in Severobaikalsk on a BICYCLE. I made a note to look up that trip report. By we time we get to the last chapter (Chapter 30) in Travels , we have been steeped in Russian lore for so many pages that the litany of bald facts regarding Russia selling off its enormous resources of natural gas, oil, rare earth minerals, and animal parts is sickening and disheartening. We have come to care for Siberia, mistreated and remote as it is, and to respect it's plucky population. The exploitation of it's riches seems imprudent, careless, and short-sighted--perhaps even grotesque. We would hope that such an outsized country would have outsized leadership, but this is earth, not heaven. God bless us, every one.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Seth

    Although I usually don’t read non-fiction, I am happily making an exception for Ian Frazier’s books, which are written in a compelling factual style. So far I have read On the Rez and now Travels in Siberia. A staff member at the New Yorker, Frazier has written about his favorite hobby of fishing, the Great Plains, Native Americans, Russia, and many other topics. He manages to make all of them absolutely fascinating. What unifies his writing is a love for particular places. A year or so ago, I he Although I usually don’t read non-fiction, I am happily making an exception for Ian Frazier’s books, which are written in a compelling factual style. So far I have read On the Rez and now Travels in Siberia. A staff member at the New Yorker, Frazier has written about his favorite hobby of fishing, the Great Plains, Native Americans, Russia, and many other topics. He manages to make all of them absolutely fascinating. What unifies his writing is a love for particular places. A year or so ago, I heard the author speak about Travels in Siberia at Politics and Prose bookstore in Washington, DC. I took this one picture. As you can see, he was wearing a baseball or fishing cap—a trademark. Ian—or Sandy, as his friends call him—hails from Ohio, where people go by nicknames. He told us that earlier in the day he had visited the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, where he tracked down the name of an acquaintance from his hometown on the commemorative wall designed by Maya Lin. He learned for the first time the real name of this individual, who was known to everyone as Buddy. Frazier’s attachment to Ohio plays a role in Travels in Siberia because he recounts the adventures of the many Ohioans—both famous and not—who explored Siberia. They include the celebrated American diplomat George Frost Kennan and his great-uncle George Kennan, who explored czarist Russia by dog sled on a mission to establish a telegraph link between Europe and the United States via Siberia—a project that was called off. So there were actually two George Kennans involved with Russia and the latter was named for the first. This is just one example of the insights to be gained from Frazier’s heavily researched work. By reading this book, you benefit not only from a detailed account of Frazier’s multiple journeys to Siberia but also from his meticulous research. Also worth mentioning are the author's fine sketches scattered throughout the book and gracing the cover that illustrate key landscape scenes. So Frazier is not only a fine writer, but also an equally talented researcher and artist! Traveling in Siberia entails hardship and Frazier’s experiences were no exception. Frazier had a bit of a personality clash with his guide for whom he gains grudging respect on account of his toughness and mechanical ingenuity. In addition, the author struggles with the Russian language, which amounts to a significant handicap. But he tries! And the Russian expressions he shares with us are very helpful. Make no mistake about it. This book constitutes a crowning intellectual achievement.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Bill

    boy, siberia is a realllly big place.the entire continental united states and most of europe would fit within its boundaries.the trans-siberian railway from moscow to vladivostock on the coast is 5,771 miles or twice the distance from new jersey to california.that's a long way.it would be really neat to take a trip on that train, but it is probably something that i would like to do but will never get around to actually doing it. the author actually makes 5 trips to siberia, although he mainly tal boy, siberia is a realllly big place.the entire continental united states and most of europe would fit within its boundaries.the trans-siberian railway from moscow to vladivostock on the coast is 5,771 miles or twice the distance from new jersey to california.that's a long way.it would be really neat to take a trip on that train, but it is probably something that i would like to do but will never get around to actually doing it. the author actually makes 5 trips to siberia, although he mainly talks about two of them,one in the summer and one in the winter.the one in the summer, he along with two guides drive from one end of siberia to the other in a van which seems to break down every few pages,but they do eventually make it, after more than five weeks on the road.siberia in the summer is hot, dusty and full of huge flocks of mosquitos.the winter in siberia is unbelievably cold.in one place the temperature can sometimes be as low as -96.that's fucking cold!i've lived in saskatoon one winter were it was -40 and that's really freezing. this book is not just a travel memoir, it's also a history of siberia,from the times of genghis khan,to the gulags to which stalin sent millions to their deaths,right up to the present day when russia has become the leading energy-exporting nation in the world and is also the world's leading producer of diamonds.but not everything is great though.the averge life expectancy of a russian man is only 59 years...that's worse than 165 other countries. all in all, it's a very well written, entertaining book which probably tells you pretty much all you need to know about siberia, so if you're interested in that kind of thing, you should read it. at the end of the book, the author is sitting in the moscow airport, waiting for his flight,and a teenage girl next to him is reading, in english, the short stories of somerset maugham.he asks her what grade she is in and she tells him grade 10.he then goes on to say that "in millions of air miles, you would be unlikely to sit next to an american tenth grader reading, in any language, the stories of somerset maugham." a pretty sad commentary on the reading habits of north american youth.

  9. 4 out of 5

    James Murphy

    This is an interesting travelogue describing Frazier's 4 trips into Siberia. He first flew into Siberia's Far East from Alaska. Later he took a road trip from Moscow to the Pacific. Wanting to experience Siberia during the winter a few years later he flew into Vladivostok intending to drive in the opposite direction during winter but farther north in order to see parts of the old gulag system. And around Christmastime in 2009 he flew into Novosibirsk for a short visit because he wasn't sure he'd This is an interesting travelogue describing Frazier's 4 trips into Siberia. He first flew into Siberia's Far East from Alaska. Later he took a road trip from Moscow to the Pacific. Wanting to experience Siberia during the winter a few years later he flew into Vladivostok intending to drive in the opposite direction during winter but farther north in order to see parts of the old gulag system. And around Christmastime in 2009 he flew into Novosibirsk for a short visit because he wasn't sure he'd traveled Siberia enough and he felt he should go "if only just to breathe the air." He went back to answer the tug. His descriptions of his trips and the people he meets make for absorbing reading. It's made even better by his feeling obligated to explain to the reader many major moments of Siberian history. The two trips into the teeth of the Siberian winter were arduous and as strange as I'd imagined. He was successful in finding some of the old gulag camps and, despite the reluctance of his guides, did spend some time poking around in them, more unsettled by the visits than he'd expected. Though he doesn't complain much, the rigors of travels through what he calls an "incomplete grandiosity", from the intense swarms of mosquitos prevalent everywhere to the uncertainty about some foods to the frequent breakdowns and jury-rigging of the van as they travel through a sparsely-inhabited landscape, were a trial for him but a delight for readers.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Wanda

    It is difficult to do a synopsis of a book that really does not have a plot. It has been called a travelogue. It most assuredly is not that. It has been criticized for "too much history." HELLLOOO! Even had it been a travel book, it should have historical context. Sometimes I wonder about reviewers. The closest word that comes to my mind when I think of this book is picareque. It seems to fit. It tallks about Frazier's trips to Siberia, which he was determined to see after he fell in love with al It is difficult to do a synopsis of a book that really does not have a plot. It has been called a travelogue. It most assuredly is not that. It has been criticized for "too much history." HELLLOOO! Even had it been a travel book, it should have historical context. Sometimes I wonder about reviewers. The closest word that comes to my mind when I think of this book is picareque. It seems to fit. It tallks about Frazier's trips to Siberia, which he was determined to see after he fell in love with all things Russian. It is humorous and informative, and yes, it has a lot of very interesting history -- without which who would have cared about someone's journey to a vast wasteland of resilient people that has served as the place for Russians to cast their undesirables? I liked this book. Frazier does not take himself or his goofy situations in which he finds himself too seriously. He paints a vivid portrait of the environmental damage, the insects, the vast terrain flawlessly and with feeling. He develops his characters fully and with a mixture of frustration and affection. There were a few bumps in his narrative in which I had to go back and read a few paragraphs over again -- sort of narrative hiccups. But all in all, this is a worthwhile and very interesting book in which you will learn about a place where few people actually WANT to visit. Bravo Frazier.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Mikey B.

    The author is a good writer and there is humour throughout this travelogue. He goes on five trips to Siberia. The first is by airplane to the Lake Baikal region and the second exploring the area within the Arctic Circle. The fourth trip is to Northern Siberia and his last trip is to Novosibirsk. The major portion of the book (his third trip) is his cross country road trip from St. Petersburg to Vladivostok by motor vehicle – a distance of immense proportions. To prepare himself for his Siberia j The author is a good writer and there is humour throughout this travelogue. He goes on five trips to Siberia. The first is by airplane to the Lake Baikal region and the second exploring the area within the Arctic Circle. The fourth trip is to Northern Siberia and his last trip is to Novosibirsk. The major portion of the book (his third trip) is his cross country road trip from St. Petersburg to Vladivostok by motor vehicle – a distance of immense proportions. To prepare himself for his Siberia journeys, much to his credit, Mr. Frazier undertakes Russian language instruction. Mr. Frazier has a good eye for detail and we are given many of his observations - I am happy he noticed a young Russian teenage girl reading Somerset Maugham in English at the Moscow airport, as I admire his short stories. As Mr. Frazier aptly commented, most American teenagers would be fidgeting with their electronic equipment (iPods, cell phones, blackberries…) - although, to add my own anecdote, I did sit next to a young woman in the New York City subway reading “The Brothers Karamazov” – in English of course. It is with the second trip – the long road journey that I started having difficulties with the style – I found it too negative. Mr. Frazier himself seemed over-burdened with the long journey of being cooped up for so long with two men whose language he only partially understood. As the days wore on in this endless land, the claustrophobia of the vehicle was affecting all – and I felt it overlapping into the writing. Also the author tends to go on tangents – there was much on the history of 19th century Russia (the Decembrists) and too much on Nome, Alaska. A favourite line from chapter 20: “the panoramas just kept coming at us as if they were being brought to the windshield by a conveyor belt”.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Jonathan

    A travel book by someone who clearly hates to travel. Tempered slightly with self-effacement, his incessant whining and intermittent panic attacks make for a grating journey. By the middle of the book one is left empathizing heavily with his unfortunate guides. He would have been better off learning how to politely toss back a few shots of vodka than his hours spent studiously attempting to learn the Russian language. His autistic obsession with museums and prison camps might have been a source A travel book by someone who clearly hates to travel. Tempered slightly with self-effacement, his incessant whining and intermittent panic attacks make for a grating journey. By the middle of the book one is left empathizing heavily with his unfortunate guides. He would have been better off learning how to politely toss back a few shots of vodka than his hours spent studiously attempting to learn the Russian language. His autistic obsession with museums and prison camps might have been a source of comedy, if he had the courage to laugh at himself more than once. That said, I still actually like Ian Frazier. He comes across as very human, and I share much of his passion for the grand story Russia. I somehow finished the entire book (yes, one of my greater moral failings - I finish many things that I never should have started in the first place), and at the end my greatest disdain is reserved for the editor - or for the author for not submitting to one. There was enough material here for a decent book - the publisher just needed to slap Ian in the face a few times to get his creative juices flowing because clearly what might have happened on his travels in siberia would be far more interesting than the dull, unobscured truth.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Jules

    This was the first travel book I have ever read. Until now, I kind of avoided them, as I always feared that they would somehow spoil my own travels. I think Ian Frazier has changed my mind regarding this genre. I really enjoyed the book, the in depth background information of Russian history and his descriptions of landscape, people and Russian ways of doing things. But most of all Travels in Siberia made my wish of traveling the Transsiberian railroad move up on my 'list of things to see and do This was the first travel book I have ever read. Until now, I kind of avoided them, as I always feared that they would somehow spoil my own travels. I think Ian Frazier has changed my mind regarding this genre. I really enjoyed the book, the in depth background information of Russian history and his descriptions of landscape, people and Russian ways of doing things. But most of all Travels in Siberia made my wish of traveling the Transsiberian railroad move up on my 'list of things to see and do on this planet' quite a bit.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Lobstergirl

    A largely entertaining and delightful read. I'd read the excerpts of it in The New Yorker, and I've slowly been developing a fascination with Siberia myself (Frazier's is an obsession), so I knew I'd have to read this eventually. Siberia reveals itself to be a mysterious place, where they speak a difficult and confusing foreign language called Russian, and enormous heaps of trash lie everywhere (though the trash has a much smaller paper component than in America, and also here in America we don' A largely entertaining and delightful read. I'd read the excerpts of it in The New Yorker, and I've slowly been developing a fascination with Siberia myself (Frazier's is an obsession), so I knew I'd have to read this eventually. Siberia reveals itself to be a mysterious place, where they speak a difficult and confusing foreign language called Russian, and enormous heaps of trash lie everywhere (though the trash has a much smaller paper component than in America, and also here in America we don't have the same trash heaps usually, because we've created these wonderful things called landfills), and stunningly beautiful women parade the streets, highways, byways, city squares of many Siberian cities and towns. The beauty of the Siberian women was perhaps the most mysterious aspect of Siberia in Frazier's telling, because, how to explain it? None of the explanations he semi-gives seem terribly rational, and besides he's a man, so I don't completely trust his evaluation of womanly beauty to begin with. The two other most entertaining aspects of Frazier's travels are the mosquitoes - at times, so dense that Frazier and his guides have to go about their business in beekeeping headgear - and the hilarious unreliability of their van, which breaks down, refuses to start, or loses major parts every few days or so. One wonders, isn't there a window somewhere between August and winter, when the mosquito population comes close to dying off, but it's not yet -40º? The downside of Frazier's book is that there's actually way too much history. I came for the travel, not for the history (I'll get my history from other books), which is delivered in an annoyingly cutesy fashion, such as: "Many people who you might not think of as ever having been in Russia, were." (I smell a lingering John McPhee in that sentence, another very famous New Yorker writer whom Frazier thanks in his acknowledgements.) "Whistler's mother, of the well-known painting, got up from her straight-back chair long enough to go to Russia with Whistler's father..." The long section on the Decembrists bored me, but I understand even more having finished the book why Frazier had to include it. His Russian guides were too embarrassed to tell the locals that Frazier was writing a book about Siberia, so they told people it was going to be about the Decembrists, the 19th century Russian failed revolutionary heroes and a noble and satisfactory book topic. There's an excellent map at the beginning of the book, showing primary cities, major rivers, and the Trans-Siberian Railway and Baikal-Amur Mainline. What the map lacks (why?) are the routes of Frazier's two primary trips. It's not that difficult to pick out Frazier's routes on your own, but a couple colored or dotted lines would have been helpful.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Tasha

    I finished Travels in Siberia and am stuck on what rating to give it. I'm flipping back and forth between 3.5 or 4. Parts of it were pretty funny and I loved the way he described his travel guides and their antics and interactions with him, the people, the travel, all of it. I really did enjoy learning about the really interesting things about Siberia. I really only ever thought of Siberia as a cold, remote, vast and pretty empty land where all the prison camps were and many suffered greatly. Thi I finished Travels in Siberia and am stuck on what rating to give it. I'm flipping back and forth between 3.5 or 4. Parts of it were pretty funny and I loved the way he described his travel guides and their antics and interactions with him, the people, the travel, all of it. I really did enjoy learning about the really interesting things about Siberia. I really only ever thought of Siberia as a cold, remote, vast and pretty empty land where all the prison camps were and many suffered greatly. This book opened up Siberia to me by showing that there are MANY things about Siberia that I never knew: the natural resources, the history, the different types of people, the villages, the cities (!), the summers, the bugs, the ice roads, and much more. It was real interesting when he visited an old gulag prison in north Siberia, he was very respectful when visiting it. I enjoyed it all. But here's where I'm having trouble. The author seems a bit of an introvert which, in and of itself is completely fine, I'm one too so I'm okay with that. But it changes the dynamic when writing a travel book about a country. He gave LOTS of great info about Siberia but to me, it lacked in info about the Siberian people, food, customs, etc. I was expecting more of that I guess so in that area, I'm a bit disappointed. But he does have a great sense of humor which appeared throughout and made me laugh. And he truly knows a lot about this country and I learned a lot. So see, I'm a bit torn. I think I may give it 4 stars while I continue to think about it. He did travel there numerous times, he truly has a love of the country, he made some true connections with a few people there and he really desired to get to feel Siberia. It really is more than a travelogue, the man appreciates Siberia.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Camelia Rose

    Ian Frazier fell in love with Russia ever since he first traveled to Moscow after the collapse of Soviet Union. Travels in Siberia is a collection of travelogs of his visits to Russia (especially Siberia) from early 1990s to 2009. He flies to Russian border towns from Alaska, in summer of 2001 drives from St. Petersburg to Vladivostok, across Western Russia and Siberia, visits the major cities along the old Russia exile route (Perm, Yekaterinburg, Novosibirsk, Irkutsk, Ulan-Ude, to name a few), Ian Frazier fell in love with Russia ever since he first traveled to Moscow after the collapse of Soviet Union. Travels in Siberia is a collection of travelogs of his visits to Russia (especially Siberia) from early 1990s to 2009. He flies to Russian border towns from Alaska, in summer of 2001 drives from St. Petersburg to Vladivostok, across Western Russia and Siberia, visits the major cities along the old Russia exile route (Perm, Yekaterinburg, Novosibirsk, Irkutsk, Ulan-Ude, to name a few), and has a winter trip in Siberia a few years later. The author blends travel impressions, conversations with locals and travel companions, sceneries and anecdotes, the marvels and quirks of country, well with Russian history and literature. You get a good picture of Russia from Mongol invasion to modern day Russia under Putin. I shouldn't have been surprised to know how brutal the terror of Genghis Khan and his empire imposed on Russia. The author has an interesting pet theory that Russia's "incomplete grandiosity" has its root in a traumatized childhood. The popularity of Russian Decemberists only grows--before, during and after Soviet Union. The 19th century idealists had a grander dream. They failed, but nevertheless dignified, and to this day remain the best embodiment of Russia nobility and dignity their people love to remember. The discussion of Stalin's crimes is shelved before completed. Gulag is forgotten. It is the oil money that keeps the Russian Far East afloat, at the same time accelerates the melting of methane under the permafrost. I enjoy reading the author's description of the Russian smell: A lot of diesel fuels, cucumber peels and old tea bags, sour milk and a sweetness--currant jams or mulberries crushed into waffle threads of heavy boots, fresh wet mud and a lot of wets in it.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Mag

    It is a very interesting and well written account of Frazier’s ultimate trip across Siberia, few people, and I am sure even few Russians have ever undertaken. Throughout this journey, or many trips he took in the end, Frazier shows true engagement with the country and its history and a real affection for its people. It’s a fascinating account, even though I think that he might have missed something very Russian there. Maybe, the fact that he didn’t drink and went to sleep early, missing night pa It is a very interesting and well written account of Frazier’s ultimate trip across Siberia, few people, and I am sure even few Russians have ever undertaken. Throughout this journey, or many trips he took in the end, Frazier shows true engagement with the country and its history and a real affection for its people. It’s a fascinating account, even though I think that he might have missed something very Russian there. Maybe, the fact that he didn’t drink and went to sleep early, missing night parties at the villages he and his guides stopped by, prevented him from experiencing this very Russianness, but what he came up with is nevertheless very engaging. I have a feeling that he tried to model his account on the Lewis and Clark journals, with every little thing accounted for, and even though I felt a bit surprised by this type of an account at the beginning, I really came to like it. Frazier drew sketches of the places he visited and some of them are in the book- they are quite good actually, and I enjoyed them. Since I both listened to and read the book, I must say that he was good reading his stuff too. Overall, it was a very honest and enjoyable read. 4.5/5

  18. 4 out of 5

    Sanjay Varma

    Wonderful book. I have wanted to read it ever since a friend shared Ian Frazier's long form New Yorker essay about his drive across Siberia with two hired Russian guides. The author's enthusiasm shines, illuminating his prose descriptions of Siberia and its people. He also excels at weaving in historical points of view, and surveys of Siberian literature. The weaknesses in this book are its length, and the author's unfortunate habit of describing transition moments (planning the trip, landing in Wonderful book. I have wanted to read it ever since a friend shared Ian Frazier's long form New Yorker essay about his drive across Siberia with two hired Russian guides. The author's enthusiasm shines, illuminating his prose descriptions of Siberia and its people. He also excels at weaving in historical points of view, and surveys of Siberian literature. The weaknesses in this book are its length, and the author's unfortunate habit of describing transition moments (planning the trip, landing in the airport, etc.) with the same expanded sense of time that he uses to describe the actual travels in Russia and Siberia. He is also a bit uptight and so this book lacks the next level unpredictability that might result from someone more intrepid. For example, each night when they pitched tents in Siberia, the author would go to sleep early. His Russian drivers would head into the nearest village or town and drink with the locals. The author never once joined them!

  19. 4 out of 5

    Rebecca

    A fellow reviewer on Goodreads knocks Ian Frazier for not being "tougher and more adventuresome", but I think the tone is perfect. If I wanted to read about XTREME ADVENTURE GUY DOING XTREME THINGS, I'd pick up a book by that "Man vs. Wild" goofball. Nope, Sandy's just a regular dude (albeit a bestselling author who writes for The New Yorker) who gets to go on the ultimate road trip. His seemingly random observations of Russian life, his way of combining interesting historical observations with A fellow reviewer on Goodreads knocks Ian Frazier for not being "tougher and more adventuresome", but I think the tone is perfect. If I wanted to read about XTREME ADVENTURE GUY DOING XTREME THINGS, I'd pick up a book by that "Man vs. Wild" goofball. Nope, Sandy's just a regular dude (albeit a bestselling author who writes for The New Yorker) who gets to go on the ultimate road trip. His seemingly random observations of Russian life, his way of combining interesting historical observations with his daily personal struggles (who else would have the Decembrists and a leaky Sears' Junior Outdoorsman tent in the same paragraph?), and his dry sense of humor manage to make Siberia feel exotic-yet-totally-accessible for a Western reader. Frazier talks a lot about catching "Russia-love", and thanks to Travels in Siberia, I think I have it too.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Nick

    Frazier is a Russophile, admitting a love and fascination for all things Russian, in particular, Siberia. "Travels in Siberia" covers five trips to Siberia from the 1990's to around 2010. The main section of his travels is a road trip from St Petersburg to Vladivostok with two Russian companions in a car that continually breaks down. They cover a huge distance, see a lot of sights and people, get on each other's nerves and take a look at conditions in eastern Russia and Siberia. I'm not quite su Frazier is a Russophile, admitting a love and fascination for all things Russian, in particular, Siberia. "Travels in Siberia" covers five trips to Siberia from the 1990's to around 2010. The main section of his travels is a road trip from St Petersburg to Vladivostok with two Russian companions in a car that continually breaks down. They cover a huge distance, see a lot of sights and people, get on each other's nerves and take a look at conditions in eastern Russia and Siberia. I'm not quite sure, though, if the author enjoyed himself much at times! Travel can be hard work. There is a lot of history along the way ... the Decembrists, tsars, Mongol invasions, railway and road building, revolution, writers, exiles, communism and gulags, mammoths, the list goes on. There is also a very decent bibliography, which lists some further reading. (Cannot work out why he has not included Applebaum's work on the gulags.) It can be a frustrating travel read at times and I wondered about some of his inclusions. There are some awkward moments that would have been better left out. His long list of what he did not see; his account of calling on an acquaintance in Mongolia unannounced; his forgetting people's names ... I think these should have been edited out. In all, it was a good look at Russia and Siberia, a place I will probably never get to. Probably not quite four stars, but maybe 3.5.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Bruce

    Ian Frazier has a love affair with Siberia. In this delightfully conversational book, he relates his five trips in Siberia, touching briefly on his five or six additional trips to western Russia. More than a travelogue, the book includes fascinating accounts of Siberian history, anthropology, culture, and geography. Characters with whom Frazier travels come alive, as do the many people he meets along the way. Almost all his Siberian trips occurred after the breakup of the Soviet Union, and his o Ian Frazier has a love affair with Siberia. In this delightfully conversational book, he relates his five trips in Siberia, touching briefly on his five or six additional trips to western Russia. More than a travelogue, the book includes fascinating accounts of Siberian history, anthropology, culture, and geography. Characters with whom Frazier travels come alive, as do the many people he meets along the way. Almost all his Siberian trips occurred after the breakup of the Soviet Union, and his observations about life during the Soviet years and the deterioration of cities and infrastructure since that time are valuable. How different is life there from life in America. Yet in the last few years, as exploitation of energy and mineral resources in Siberia has accelerated, life in Siberian cities is to some extent beginning to recover and flourish. The vastness of Siberia is hard to fathom, but Frazier’s descriptions and lively prose bring it to life. The vagaries of traveling through this region are daunting, and the resourcefulness of his companions and the residents of this huge area are impressive. I found the atmosphere he created to be vivid and intriguing, although I can’t say that I would want to replicate his travels myself. Frazier’s writing is easy to read, mixed with a self-effacing modesty and a light sense of humor. The book was pleasant to alternate with simultaneous heavier reading, and I would not hesitate to read other works by the same author.

  22. 4 out of 5

    David

    This is an excellent book about the history of Siberia, and the author's travels across the great expanse. Brimming with interesting anecdotes, I never got bored with any of its many pages. My favorite little anecdote was about when the author was riding in a car in the north-central part of Siberia with his guide, a driver, and several other passengers. The road, though called a "highway", was narrow, unpaved, and bridges made of wood were often falling apart. One of the passengers was an old m This is an excellent book about the history of Siberia, and the author's travels across the great expanse. Brimming with interesting anecdotes, I never got bored with any of its many pages. My favorite little anecdote was about when the author was riding in a car in the north-central part of Siberia with his guide, a driver, and several other passengers. The road, though called a "highway", was narrow, unpaved, and bridges made of wood were often falling apart. One of the passengers was an old man with a painful, dislocated shoulder, taking the ride to a distant town with a medical clinic. A little boy passenger had to get out of the car to answer nature's call, so the author started to take notes down in his journal. He did not notice when the boy returned to the car, so he kept on writing. Nobody disturbed his writing for quite a while, but after a while, his guide gently told him that the boy had returned, and they could resume driving. The other passengers and the driver had refrained from disturbing the author, because in Russia, writing is sacred, and an author should not be disturbed lest he prevented from writing a materpiece.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Vanessa

    Oh Ian Frazier, will you be my tour guide through the "best most horrible country in the world"? What an incredible journey - or should I say FIVE separate journeys to Siberia - this man took me on! For anyone who has ever wondered what real Siberia is like, you must pick this up! Frazier strikes a good balance throughout the book of giving his readers a play-by-play of his crazy adventures as well as conveying rich, interesting history about Russia and Siberia. Fascinating stuff, although given Oh Ian Frazier, will you be my tour guide through the "best most horrible country in the world"? What an incredible journey - or should I say FIVE separate journeys to Siberia - this man took me on! For anyone who has ever wondered what real Siberia is like, you must pick this up! Frazier strikes a good balance throughout the book of giving his readers a play-by-play of his crazy adventures as well as conveying rich, interesting history about Russia and Siberia. Fascinating stuff, although given the corruption, lack of safety, interminable travel delays, trash and weather described.... I'm rethinking my brilliant idea of riding the trans-siberian railroad from one end to the other. All in all, pretty wonderful account. A bit long winded - he describes all five trips he made to siberia in painstaking detail - but it is quite interesting and very funny. Many funny, touching and memorable scenes from this book with stay with me. A very appropriate read for dead of February!

  24. 5 out of 5

    Betsy

    Frazier is, like me, a Russophile who is not shy about describing his inexplicable fascination with the country. This book presents his multiple trips to Siberia, from his first brief discovery of the region to his months-long road trip from the Baltic Sea to the Pacific. He mostly focuses on the quirky and downright crazy people and situations he encounters, writing with his usual wit. The book bogs down occasionally when he tries to explain the complex history of Russia's involvement in the re Frazier is, like me, a Russophile who is not shy about describing his inexplicable fascination with the country. This book presents his multiple trips to Siberia, from his first brief discovery of the region to his months-long road trip from the Baltic Sea to the Pacific. He mostly focuses on the quirky and downright crazy people and situations he encounters, writing with his usual wit. The book bogs down occasionally when he tries to explain the complex history of Russia's involvement in the region. While the stories are at times useful in providing back story to places he visits, I was mostly impatient to get back to the narrative of his modern adventures. Since he went places few tourists go, this is a worthwhile read if you are intrigued by Russia or curious about where you might travel in the future.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Calzean

    I couldn't get into this one. Long passages of things not related to Siberia (I did learn not to go to Nome), there was a lot about the author (in his use of "I" he must have worn out this letter on his keyboard), and a little bit condescending at times, were some of my hates. Oh, and his humour was pretty dull.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Campbell

    Not much to say about this, really. The subject matter was interesting but the author comes across as, not to put too fine a point on it, a complete pain in the arse.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Mitch

    TRAVELS IN SIBERIA Earlier this year I declared to my wife and parents that in two years, when I turned 40, I was going to going to take the trip of a lifetime and ride the Trans-Siberian Railroad across Russia. Still two years out from this voyage’s departure date, I have just finished Ian Frazier’s Travels in Siberia and I can say without regret that my future trip has been cancelled. Frazier’s book is a detailed and oft-humorous account of his several trips through and around the titular north TRAVELS IN SIBERIA Earlier this year I declared to my wife and parents that in two years, when I turned 40, I was going to going to take the trip of a lifetime and ride the Trans-Siberian Railroad across Russia. Still two years out from this voyage’s departure date, I have just finished Ian Frazier’s Travels in Siberia and I can say without regret that my future trip has been cancelled. Frazier’s book is a detailed and oft-humorous account of his several trips through and around the titular northern expanse. He flies and boats to specific places in the far eastern edge, road trips from St. Petersburg with some Russian guides all the way across the country in the summer, returns in winter to see what it’s like to do a more truncated trip when it’s cold and then returns for some time in Novosibirsk at the end. The key takeaways are firstly that Siberia and Russia in general to some extent are fascinating places. Fascinating places drowning in trash and mosquitos where nothing works and everything is broken. All meals are basically sour cream and they make you sick (except for the one time they had reindeer steaks). And anyone you have to work with while travelling is a corrupt individual who requires a bribe to do their job. I know I’m not selling this very well. But the story is great and the writing is terrific. And the net result of my reading it is a wave of gratitude towards Ian Frazier for taking my “dream trip” for me. His vivid detail and visceral reactions are all I’ll need and now I can probably just go to Tulum or something.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Daria

    Despite this book being too long and rambling, I really enjoyed it. There are some truly beautiful pages, for example, when the author talks about the Russian animism and how in Russia everything has a soul, or this part about St. Petersburg: Newly arrived from Siberia, I saw that St. Petersburg is not a European city but an Asian city with European architecture. Its physical structures imitate Europe’s, but its enormous sky is Asia’s. This being said, I didn’t like the narrator too much. In his fi Despite this book being too long and rambling, I really enjoyed it. There are some truly beautiful pages, for example, when the author talks about the Russian animism and how in Russia everything has a soul, or this part about St. Petersburg: Newly arrived from Siberia, I saw that St. Petersburg is not a European city but an Asian city with European architecture. Its physical structures imitate Europe’s, but its enormous sky is Asia’s. This being said, I didn’t like the narrator too much. In his first long Siberian trip, he travel with two guides who get to do all the difficult and uncomfortable stuff on account of the author having paid them quite a lot of money to be carried around like an overgrown baby. When there are some difficulties, the narrator just observes. When it’s the time to socialize and meet local people, one of the most important components of traveling in my understanding, he just misses everything out by sleeping early. As other readers have pointed out, he has a tendency of being whiny and often has a patronizing attitude towards his companions. At some point, I was looking forward for a real plot twist when the guides, sick of his behavior, abandon him in the middle of the taiga. That would have provided: - justice - finally some real adventure His attitude towards the local people he does meet is often too judgmental for me to truly enjoy the description of these encounters. However, while many people found that this book discouraged them from traveling to Siberia, I was on the opposite motivated to go there in the near future. I just wish the author would have been a little bit more laid back and adventurous.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Rebecca

    I enjoyed this book, but mostly because I have a personal interest in Siberia and its links to Mongolia - and although I am sure that Frazier does justice to the Russian memories of the Mongolian invasions, I quickly found myself annoyed by the default descriptions of the ruthlessness of the Mongols, and the intimation that all of Russia's crazy rulers might have gotten their inspiration - or at least some sort of karmic push - from Batu Khan and the Golden Horde. I am also pretty sure that ther I enjoyed this book, but mostly because I have a personal interest in Siberia and its links to Mongolia - and although I am sure that Frazier does justice to the Russian memories of the Mongolian invasions, I quickly found myself annoyed by the default descriptions of the ruthlessness of the Mongols, and the intimation that all of Russia's crazy rulers might have gotten their inspiration - or at least some sort of karmic push - from Batu Khan and the Golden Horde. I am also pretty sure that there are some factual inaccuracies around some of the other Mongolia related information (In one example, Frazier claims that all the Mongols converted to Islam; this is untrue, as modern-day Mongolia's Buddhist-Shamanist population attests. In another example,"Baikal," Frazier says, descends from the Turkic words "Bey" and "Kul," meaning "Big Lake." But "Baigal" is also the Mongolian word for nature and it seems strange not to mention this, even if the derivation is Turkic, since the bulk of the population around Baikal are Buryats, a Mongol tribe. They're the ones who named the lake, undoubtedly, so it seems possible that it also refers to this Mongolian word, which, beyond meaning 'nature' we we perceive it, has the connotation of a living, conscious landscape. Which, in turn, seems like it would be important in conveying an idea of what the Lake, so emblematic of Siberia, means to the people living there.) My personal pickiness over Mongolia-related items aside, though, the book gives an excellent introductory history to Russia as seen through the lens of Siberia, and I learned a lot from it. The author's relationship with Russia and Siberia seem conflicted, and although he claims a "deep Russia-love," he portrays a more timid and passive engagement with the country than one would expect of a grand passion; he's constantly afraid of food poisoning, seems to spend a lot of time sitting in the van, campsites, or his hotel instead of engaging with the population, and is so single-mindedly obsessed with finding derelict prison camps that he misses out on talking about other equally interesting Siberian themes (the landscape, the wildlife, conservation efforts, the indigenous populations, just to name a few of things he might have covered on the many occasions when prison camps eluded him, and which I would have been very interested in hearing about.) The pacing of the writing also sometimes bothered me, although sometimes the writing was outstanding. Some of the stories are beautiful and vivid; the standout, to my mind, is the discovery of an indoor tropical garden in the far north, and the story told by the woman who cares for it, of two profoundly lost flamingos that ended up housed in the garden through a fierce Siberian winter. Frazier does have an ear and an eye for the quirky and unique stories that make Siberia so surreal, but I was left with the idea that the place is simply too massive for anyone to truly understand or write about. I recommend this book for anyone who is interested in Siberia or in Russia, and anyone who has had a masochistic relationship with a Russian vehicle at some point during their lives. If none of those things apply to you, you might be less interested.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Filip

    The title is a bit of a misnomer. There isn't that much Siberia to begin with (the writer doesn't get to Siberia proper before page 200), nor is there much travelling going on: speeding non-stop across the Eurasian land mass in a van doesn't really provide for much of a a travelogue. "Clueless Petulant Older White Male" would do this book more justice. Frazier writes well (when he takes the effort - see below), but for a travel writer he has a severe lack of empathy (the patronising descriptions The title is a bit of a misnomer. There isn't that much Siberia to begin with (the writer doesn't get to Siberia proper before page 200), nor is there much travelling going on: speeding non-stop across the Eurasian land mass in a van doesn't really provide for much of a a travelogue. "Clueless Petulant Older White Male" would do this book more justice. Frazier writes well (when he takes the effort - see below), but for a travel writer he has a severe lack of empathy (the patronising descriptions of his Russian companions, who for him are little more than modern-day Dersu Uzalas, are cringe-worthy, and the way he insidiously implies that some laughing and dancing with Siberian belles by his companions led to much more, won't have made for a warm welcome when these Russian men returned home in the Russian West. What happens in Siberia, clearly doesn't stay in Siberia, as far as Frazier is concerned). This is especially ironic since the author has a bit of a roving eye, and marks virtually every Siberian city for the beauty of its womenfolk. In spite of his own frequent assertions to the contrary, his Russian is clearly flimsy at best. He doesn't seem to realise that female family names are different from male names (he keeps going on about Princess Trubetskoy), and other painfully tentative conversations indicate that he has a very weak grasp of the language. But since he spends most of his travelling time holed up in the back of the van, sulking, this might only be a minor detail. Despite allegedly having been 15 years in the making, some parts of the book are still rather sketchy: entire pages are little more than copies from his diary entries, as the staccato shorthand and irrelevant details indicate. Other parts are verbatim translations of conversations which he must have taped - translations that makes them sound like mad scientists from the '50s. These and other elements make the book feel a bit ramshackle. Frazier complains (a lot) about his Russian companions growing distant for no discernible reason. When you read this book, you will understand why. What with his sulking and derogatory, clichéd view of Russia and its inhabitants, it is a small wonder they didn't push him under the ice.

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