In This Review

The House of the Dead: Siberian Exile Under the Tsars
The House of the Dead: Siberian Exile Under the Tsars
By Daniel Beer
Knopf, 2017, 464 pp

Beer gracefully brings to life the immensely rich and tragic history of Siberia since the territory’s colonization began in the sixteenth century. His focus is on the period from 1801 to 1917, when this “prison without a roof,” where tsars and serf-owning lords sent undesirables—brigands, murderers, prostitutes, and those who simply annoyed the powerful—swelled with growing numbers of political dissidents and revolutionaries. In this lush mosaic laced together with fluent prose, Beer profiles prisoners of all sorts, narrating their ordeals and the stomach-turning punishments they endured. He gives special attention, however, to the exiled instigators of the Decembrist revolution of 1825. After they arrived, Siberia became an unlikely crucible of rebellion. Siberian exiles never accounted for more than five percent of the Russian population, but that still added up to a million people over the course of a century. For the sake of comparison, consider that the United Kingdom shipped only around 160,000 criminals to penal colonies in Australia over the course of 80 years.