In This Review

The Shaman's Coat: A Native History of Siberia
The Shaman's Coat: A Native History of Siberia
By Anna Reid
Walker, 2002, 240 pp

Some books are sheer pleasure. Reid, a British journalist, has traveled Siberia from the Urals to the far northeastern lands of the Chukchi. She mixes history, landscape, and the lives of native peoples in post-Soviet Siberia with a lightness, acuteness, and masterful writing that speed the reader along. Thirty different peoples inhabit a region covering one-twelfth the world's land surface, and she visits nine of them (including the Khant, Buryat, Tuvans, and even the Nivkh on Sakhalin), sometimes even travelling on horseback. Her journey is driven by one question: What remains of traditional culture, particularly of faith in shamanism? To a surprising degree, given the wrecking effort of the Soviet years, shamanism survives -- in remarkably different quarters. It is even being rekindled. Meanwhile, life in these desolate, isolated communities and outpost cities grows harsher amid the decay and neglect of Russia's new ways.