In Travels in Siberia, Ian Frazier relates the incidents and observations of several trips to Siberia over the course of 10 or so years. Frazier explains his fascination with Siberia as a sort of embarrassing infection and makes repeated trips to visit it, first crossing the Bering Strait, then traveling along the entire breadth of the region from the west to the Pacific, and finally journeying from Yakutsk to the “coldest place on earth outside Antarctica.” In doing so, he tells us about what happens to him and relates a lot of interesting history and facts.
The book is quirky and not what you would expect from a travelogue. For one thing, he seems strangely reluctant to take part in the adventure himself but often sits aside. He is sometimes an insensitive traveller–he often stays apart from his guides; he is not always grateful or gracious to his hosts, refusing to drink any vodka; insisting on viewing things that his Russian guide would rather avoid, to the point of rudeness (although maybe you had to do that in Soviet times); and actually treating his principal Russian guide at times as a menial when I believe he is a university professor trying to earn extra money.
Another fault of the book from my own point of view is that he often concentrates on his own philosophical musings. I am much more interested in the sights and people of the area. Frankly, he often doesn’t seem very interested in interacting with the people, even though he has the opportunity for some unique experiences, for example, being stopped along the highway by a wedding party and invited to attend the wedding (and contribute money to the bride and groom). This could have been an entertaining social occasion but he seems to view it more as a delay. He also sticks pretty much to the highways instead of investigating any of the byways and wilderness parks.
The book contains no photographs, but it has quite a few good little drawings that Frazier made of what he saw, like the one on the cover. It is most interesting when it is reporting the results of his research rather than his travels, however. Travels in Siberia is written about a fascinating subject, but I couldn’t help feeling that Frazier was almost the wrong person to make the trips!