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Reindeer People: Living with Animals and Spirits in Siberia [Paperback]

Piers Vitebsky
4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)
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Book Description

4 Mar 2011

A voyage of discovery into the life of a remote aboriginal community in the Siberian Arctic, where the reindeer has been a part of daily life since Palaeolithic times.

The reindeer, along with the dog, was probably the first species to be drawn into a close relationship with man. This book, by an eminent British anthropologist, is the beautifully written story of how that relationship works and of the intimacy between the nomadic reindeer people and the landscape they inhabit. What to the Western eye looks like a vast, uninhabited Arctic wilderness is in fact filled with animals, humans and spirits – and the memory-traces of their interactions down the ages.

No other Western author has had such access (since before the Cold War ended) to these distant regions of the Siberian taiga. Living and travelling with the reindeer people over a period of a dozen years, Piers Vitebsky has seen how, first, Communism and collectivisation threatened the way of life of the nomadic tribesmen, and then the marketplace continued to transform their existence. Through all the changes of the late 20th-century the reindeer has retained its central place in the physical and spiritual life of the people. The book is also a celebration of human love at an elemental level.

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Product details

  • Paperback: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Harper Perennial (4 Mar 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0007133634
  • ISBN-13: 978-0007133635
  • Product Dimensions: 19.4 x 12.4 x 3.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 188,469 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description


‘Remarkable.’ Financial Times

‘Like all the finest anthropology, this book entertains readers with descriptions of an alien culture, only to imbue them with a deeper sense of common humanity.’ The Times

‘If you read one book this year on a subject you never suspected would grab your attention and hold it through 400 deeply researched and elegantly written pages, read “Reindeer People”. It will grip and enlighten anyone…Like the reindeer themselves, this book take wing.’ Daily Telegraph

‘A tender and highly personal piece of anthropology.’ Daily Mail

‘So intimate, so revealing and so moving…This book is required reading.’ The Moscow Times

From the Back Cover

For thousands of years, the reindeer's extraordinary adaptation to cold has sustained human life over vast tracts of the earth's surface. Images of flying reindeer carved into rocks and tattooed on the skin of ancient mummies illustrate one of the great mysteries of prehistory - the 'reindeer revolution', in which Siberian native peoples tamed and saddled the reindeer they had previously hunted.

Piers Vitebsky, the first westerner to live with Siberian reindeer people since the Russian revolution, enters the inner world of Eveny nomads and follows their migrations over the swamps, ice-sheets and mountain peaks of the coldest inhabited region of the world. Against a backdrop of political meetings, sledge races, helicopter mercy flights, Gulag prison survivors and reindeer sacrifices, the reader experiences the humour, wisdom and passion of a gallery of unforgettable personalities.

Soviet rule aimed to 'civilise' the reindeer people by subjecting them to productivity plans, killing their shamans and replacing their values of self-reliance and mutual help with the formalised ethics of communism. As the Eveny adapt to a new social order today, they still turn to the animal which moulds every aspect of their lives, from their economy to the intimate world of their dreams.

Reindeer People is a vivid and moving testimony to a Siberian native people's astonishing endurance at the ecological limits of human existence, as well as a frank account of how the author's own encounters with humans, animals and spirits over nearly two decades have changed his own life and the life of his family.

--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
18 of 18 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Gripping travelogue about Siberian culture 9 Aug 2007
Written by an anthropologist but as readable as a novel, Reindeer People is a seductive invitation into the world of the Eveny - the scattered nomadic herders of Siberia's far north. Part travelogue, part biography, it opens a window into the remote and ancient wilderness culture that flowed around the Soviet gulags.

Cambridge professor Piers Vitebsky was the first westerner to live inside this long-closed community. He brings a poet's insights to a world on the margins where half-forgotten shamanistic ritual is still tangled with the mechanisms of a semi-dismantled socialist state -- and vulnerable to the shortcomings of an infant market economy.

These people have always needed remarkable inner resources to withstand the extreme cold and punishing conditions of the taiga, as well as the Stalinist repression that broke up traditional family groups and tried to eradicate their native spirituality. But Vitebsky also shows them struggling to maintain their dignity in the face of more modern challenges - corporate corruption, cheap vodka and foreign TV.

Full of vivid characters and evocative prose, Reindeer People offers some unforgettable glimpses into a vanishing world.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Very informative and scholarly book 4 Jan 2011
Having lived with the Siberian nomads and reindeer in the coldest inhabited place in the world and carried out through research on their history, environment, anthropology, and languages, Pier Vibebsky has provided a comprehensive account of the Siberian nomads attached with handwritten maps, sign languages, photographs of people and landscapes, detailed notes and quotes of the news stories and findings.

His research includes the history of the ancient reindeer and relations between humans and the reindeer and wolves dating back from millions of years ago, history of transport e.g. sledges using dogs and reindeer, distribution of reindeer between Eurasia and North America continent as well as introducing a huge variety of ethnicities and languages.

He has encountered shamans, communists, aviators, and gulag prison survivors and talked to them, and gives a full picture of those people's life, which includes the periods of suppression and tortures caused by Stalin's politics, displacement and disruption caused by the Communists and perestroika's political movements, the massive decline of the herds of reindeer caused by Stalin's politics, pollutions, industrial accidents (many of which have not been told in the papers, although some of them are nearly as big as the Chernobyl nuclear power plant disaster!), civil wars, and global warming, and touching and painful tales of the people which are thought to have been inspired by the previously deceased people's spirits.

This is an excellent piece of anthropology, and it is highly recommended for those who are interested in indigenous people's life and culture, environment, and zoology.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Reindeer People 12 Sep 2011
By netti
An excellent book, very factual with lots of thought provoking material. Loved the way it made me ask questions of myself and others.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating 1 Sep 2013
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Really well written, insightful, sensitive and laced with quiet emotion, I've reread it several times and still find it fresh.
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