At 58, Thubron had already lived 10 years longer than the average Siberian when he made his 15,000 mile trip and was as much a novelty to locals as they were to him. Until 1991, foreigners were only allowed along the Trans-Siberian railway. Now all is open, as Thubron writes: "The exhilaration of freedom never quite left me." In In Siberia
he searches for the "core of Siberia"--a difficult quest in a land mass larger than the USA and Europe combined.
Siberia is Russia's wild east--pillaged by the Cossacks for furs, later populated by exiles and prisoners, who diluted the native culture of hunters and Mongol-Turkish nomadic tribes. Thubron travels from unknown town to unknown town, hunting at sunset for shelter. Some of it is as bad as you would fear--endless, uninhabitable, treeless tundra, frozen solid eight months a year. There are ghostly gulag towns like Vorkuta with its smoke stacks, "black detritus", and death camps where prisoners worked 12 hours a day, living in minus 40 until death (usually two weeks).He finds grim broken-down people living only for vodka, freedom having escaped them again. "Scarce jobs and high prices were the new slave masters."
At other times In Siberia is more surprising--the rebirth of Christianity and eager building of monasteries; Mongol shamans; the 2,500,000- year-old mummified remains of a princess; sweaty 85 degree temperatures; Akademogorodok, an abandoned science city where a lone professor experiments with cosmic consciousness.
Like many of the people he meets, Thubron's book is weighed down by history, but it does succeed in quenching the curiosity about that great blank in the Atlas. --Sarah Champion
--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
About the Author
Colin Thubron is the author of six novels and a number of bestselling travel books, including Among the Russians and most recently The Lost Heart of Asia - all of them are available in Penguin. He lives in Holland Park, London.