22 August 2016

Siberia

“Siberia: it fills one twelfth of the land-mass of the whole Earth, 
yet this is all it leaves for certain in the mind. A bleak beauty, 
and an indelible fear.”  -  Colin Thubron

Five million square miles - that's Siberia. To compare - Canada's land area is 3,850,000 square miles while The British Isles is only 100,000 square miles. Yes, Siberia is big, very big. However, until this month arrived, what I knew about Siberia could have been written on the back of a small envelope. 

Sorting through book donations at the Oxfam shop where I work every Wednesday, I spotted a book called "In Siberia" by Colin Thubron and decided to buy it. Though I shall never visit Siberia, at least Colin Thubron could give me a vicarious sense of the region through the eyes of an inquisitive travel writer.

Just inside the front cover, there's a map of Siberia that shows Thubron's itinerary. Mostly, he skirted the region's southern underbelly - travelling from The Urals parallel to Kazakhstan, Mongolia and eastern China. But there are vast swathes of land on the map where he didn't venture. Perhaps these areas are uninhabited wildernesses without roads, landing strips or paths. I don't know.
He visited Omsk and the vast inland sea that is Lake Baikal and he visited cold, godforsaken places such as Yakutsk, Norilsk and Magadan. Along the way, Thubron met many people who related their memories and observations. He saw nature's wild beauty and witnessed the ruins of Soviet expansionism - abandoned mines, crumbling prisons, empty schools, lost people. Of course it helped that Thubron is quite fluent in the Russian language. Though there are other indigenous languages in Siberia, Russian became the lingua franca over a hundred years ago as the Russian state sought to spread its wings.

I think I will draw this blogpost to a halt very soon. Is there anything more boring than somebody summarising a book you haven't read or a film you haven't seen in tedious detail? 

Let me just say that Colin Thubron is an accomplished writer with an enquiring mind. He likes to get under the skin of a place and he has always displayed a passion for Asia. Sometimes we might forget that the Asian continent  isn't just India, China, Indonesia and other neighbouring exotic countries such as Thailand and Japan. It is also Siberia - vast, often brutally cold, rather empty and mysterious... even after you have finished reading the 286 pages of "In Siberia". 

22 comments:

  1. That book would catch my attention.

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    1. I'm a sucker for good travel writing Red.

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  2. Back on Sunday, January 12, 2104...I posted a post on my blog titled "ANDREI'S STORY" - Andrei was from Eastern Siberia. Fortunately, after many years and lots of searches on my behalf, I finally found Andrei again...after 20 years...and lots of searches.

    Andrei is now married and lives in Moscow with his lovely wife, Yulia. He was a thrilled and as I was that we re-connected.

    If you have a spare moment or two, Yorkie...I think you might enjoy the story I wrote about Andrei.

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    1. I will go over to "Kitchen Connection" to seek it out later today Lee. Thanks.

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    2. It sounded interesting enough that I wanted to read Andrei's story too. But Lee's blog only goes back as far as May 2006 -- what to do?

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    3. Sorry for the typo, rhymeswithplague...of course, I meant to type 2014. :)

      I'm sure you'll work out how to solve the problem! :)

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    4. Yes. I saw 2104 and thought of Back to The Future (a film the title of which I suspect most people have heard but which I, for one, have never seen.)

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  3. I don't find it boring to read about a book someone else has read, or a film someone else has watched but I haven't!
    What I especially like about the author is that he speaks Russian. So many modern-day "adventurers" seem to think a credit card and speaking English will solve any problem. Well, it certainly can solve many problems, but to me it is a sign of respect for the people of a place where one intends to travel extensively enough to write a book about when one makes at least an honest effort to learn the language (or at least a language most of them will understand).

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    1. I would love to be so fluent in another language that I could tune in to most conversations in a foreign land. That is an ability that you possess... so that when you visit Yorkshire you can absorb and understand nearly everything you hear. Magical.

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    2. I agree with both your comments Meike and YP. All through my life if I've been asked if I had three wishes for what would I wish, fluency in languages other than English has always come out first.

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  4. I love this book YP. About thirty years ago (about the end of the Gorbachov era I think) my then husband and I went on te Trans-Siberian railway. We couldn't start at Vladivostok as it was a closed city - we started at Khabarovsk, on the banks of the River Amur (the border with China). We went through Ulan Ude and Ulan Bator, along the edge of Baikal and of course to Omsk. It was the most wonderful holiday but the food on the train was awful.

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    1. You are full of surprises Mrs Weaver. What a wonderful journey that must have been.

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  5. I'm always happy to hear someone talk about a book they have enjoyed reading; this one sounds very interesting, Siberia is an enormous and fascinating part of Russia.
    However, I do not wish to live there.

    Alphie

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    1. ...But you might be sent there Alphie - to work in the salt mines.Don't forget to pack your pick axe as well as thermal underwear.

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  6. I recently visited the Russian Far East, crossing from Manchuria, China. An interesting place - physically part of Asia but psychologically European. Despite being located literally within a stones throw of booming China, the Russians prefer to look west, to Europe. The Russians feel insecure and forgotten, and highly paranoid about China encroaching on that art of their country. However i found the people to be open and friendly to this European - despite few of them being able to speak a word of English. It's hard to understand just how huge Siberaia is - and it's not bleak & icy all year. Probably equivalent to the some of the Mid West states or Canadian provinces.

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    1. Thanks for adding your personal Siberian summary Michael. I guess that Siberia is so damned big that it is nigh impossible to generalise about any aspect of it.

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  7. Sounds like an interesting book! Coincidentally I was just talking to one of my coworkers yesterday about a trip she took to Siberia over the summer. She went to a city where tourists were so infrequent that people couldn't conceive of her being from a foreign country. "She's from Moscow," they would say to each other.

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    1. Perhaps they thought she was from Moscow, Idaho or one of the other nineteen towns called Moscow in the USA.

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  8. Although I've never wanted to go to Siberia my youthful fascination with Russian literature which persisted even until the publication of The Gulag Archipelago meant that I had a fascination for Siberia too.

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  9. I recently finished reading the Inspector Pekkala books by Sam Eastland and some of the stories took place in grim Siberia. But the part that fascinated me was the Czech White Army that marched the whole way from west to east following the death of the tsar on a rather roundabout route home.

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