In This Review

Travels in Siberia
Travels in Siberia
By Ian Frazier
Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2010, 544 pp.

Perhaps it takes a writer as skilled as Frazier to pull off an account like this, with his longanimous, comic eye, gift for the startling apt metaphor, and ability to meld seamlessly life and literature. But to convey the sense and feel of Siberia as he does also requires someone more than a little obsessed with the place, and that Frazier became in the course of visiting or crossing it five times over 16 years -- summer and winter. His defining 2001 trek from St. Petersburg to Vladivostok was a seven-week adventure with two intrepid, infinitely creative Russian guides. They traveled in a fickle Renault van, sans hotels, over impassable or nonexistent roads, took many baths in rivers, stayed at primitive camping spots, and met an indelible list of Siberia’s citizenry. As his obsession grew over the years, Frazier read everything Siberian he could get his hands on, and he uses this considerable knowledge base not only to highlight key historical stages in Siberia's past but also to deepen the color of his own travels with vivid anecdotes about famous others who either came from the region (Vasily Surikov, from Krasnoyarsk; Rudolf Nureyev, the son of Tatars from Irkutsk; Yevgeny Yevtushenko, from Zima Junction) or were exiled there (the Decembrists; the city of Chernyshevsk’s namesake, Nikolai Chernyshevsky; and the many who dragged themselves over the "road of exiles," a path he assiduously traces). Readers will come away with a profoundly renewed respect for a warm, soft bed and other creature comforts, but only after accompanying Frazier vicariously on a truly remarkable set of journeys.