By Chet Yarbrough
By Ian Frazier
Narrated by Ian Frazier
Writing well enough to capture a reader’s interest is difficult. Ian Frazier’s “Travels in Siberia” wonderfully succeeds with a good read as well as a guide for the untraveled and those who are thinking of traveling to Russia. This is not the Russia seen from Sarah Palin’s back yard but the Russia of real people living in a hard and beautiful country.
Ian Frazier, in a workmanlike way, explores the history of Siberia. Frazier researches Siberia’s history with a plan to travel the width of Siberia’s frontier. It is much more than a travelogue. In fact, his five-week Siberian sojourn in summer and his later trip in winter are likely to scare rather than entice travelers.
Frazier’s summer sojourn involves camping and fishing with few, very few, hotel rooms, baths, toilets, or travel comforts. Mosquitoes, rough roads, dark nights, and bandit rumors are constant reminders of Siberian hardship, deprivation, loneliness, and danger.
However, when a listener is finished with Frazier’s adventure, the beauty, tragedy, and complexity of one of the least known areas of the world shines like a faceted jewel. With no city lights in isolated camp sites, the beauty of the Siberian night dazzles a listener’s imagination as tales of Russian Decembrist’s idealism, courage, and exile in Siberia are recounted by Frazier.
Frazier does not have the writing flourish or humor of Andrew Mueller’s travelogue, “I Wouldn’t Start From Here…”, but it is an interesting and informative journal of the history of Russia and the scary beauty of Siberia. Whenever “Travels in Siberia” begins to lag, Frazier recounts some interesting artifact about Siberia, i.e. one of its famous denizens, or its storied history of exile. A reader’s interest is repeatedly renewed.
Listening to Frazier’s book makes the listener think about purchasing a hard copy. This is not to discourage listening to an audio version but a listener is gob smacked by comments about beautiful Siberian women on a desolate plain in a country draped in the history of Tolstoy, Dostoevsky, Pushkin, Genghis Khan, Yul Brynner, Baryshnikov, Godunov, Mendeleev, many Czars, Lenin, George Kennan (actually two George Kennans), a 16 year old John Quincy Adams and a host of others; i.e. a listener wants to see a picture of what Frazier is writing about.
Russia, its people, its history, its complex and corrupt way of doing business in the 21st century are revealed in Frazier’s book. One realizes the importance of not judging less ye be judged but living life in Siberia is not for the weak. Seeing something from your back yard is nothing like traveling in a van across Siberia or retracing the steps of early Siberian travelers like George Kennan. Frazier has written a fascinating piece of history.