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Drawn to what he calls "the incomplete grandiosity of Russia, Frazier's extraordinary work combines personal travelogue with in-depth history and gives readers a firsthand account of a place most will never see: Siberia. After 16 years of research, five trips to Siberia and more to western Russia, Frazier (Lamentations of the Father) recounts his obsession with the inhospitable place that doesn't officially exist: "no political or territorial entity has Siberia in its name." From the Mongol hordes that galloped across the steppes to the Soviet labor camps that killed millions, he intersperses the vast region's history with his own visits. Determined to immerse himself in Russian-and particularly Siberian-culture, Frazier embarks on a drive eastward across the tundra in the summer of 2001, accompanied by two guides. Seeing such sites as Irkutsk, the onetime "Paris of Siberia," Frazier and his companions travel 9,000 miles from the Baltic Sea to the Pacific in five weeks and two days, arriving on September 11. Since he hadn't felt Siberia's renowned bone-chilling cold, Frazier returned for a month in March of 2005, this time starting in the Pacific port of Vladivostok and traveling east to west. Part long-gestating love letter, part historical record of a place shrouded in mystery, this is Frazier at his best. (Oct.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved
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Frazier (Great Plains, 1989; On the Rez, 2000) has long been fascinated by vast, empty spaces and the people who live in them. It's only natural that he is interested in the place that is almost synonymous with nowhere: Siberia. Here he tells of his repeated visits, from a summer trip across the Bering Strait to a winter trip to Novosibirsk; however, the centerpiece of the book is his overland crossing from the Baltic Sea to the Pacific Ocean. That's a massive journey, and this is a massive book. He captures the character and particulars of the place but lets us down, somewhat, as a tour guide. The very best travel writers possess physical and mental toughness, but Frazier is often surprisingly timid: he allows his Russian guides to drive past prisons he really wants to stop and see. And when, at the end of the book, he finally visits an abandoned, snow-covered prison camp, he doesn't explore the barracks building because it feels wrong: I was merely a foreign observer. His complaints about the discomforts of the journey occasionally leave us wondering whether he really loves Russia. Still and all, it's an unforgettable and enlightening portrait of a place most of us know very little about.--Graff, Keir Copyright 2010 Booklist
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New Yorker contributor Frazier's (On the Rez) latest is the culmination of nearly two decades of travel to Russia. He takes us on a fascinating journey through Siberia's history, from the 13th-century invading Golden Horde to banished Decembrists of the 19th century, Stalin-era prison camps, and enduring rich mineral resources. Siberia as we know it is a cold, barren place of exile; Frazier shows it as that and more as his travels take him through cities and villages, museums, salmon fishing camps, and ice roads. He travels with scientists who can fix car problems with roadside debris and rejoices in airplanes named after writers. Yet Siberia's gulags are slumping barracks, preserved by bitter cold, unmarked and typically avoided. Frazier explores Siberia's vast size and story as well as the region's contradictions. Verdict Highly recommended for history buffs, armchair travelers, and lovers of a good essay. [Ten-city tour.]-Melissa Stearns, Franklin Pierce Univ. Lib., Rindge, NH (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.