Actually I only read Travels in Siberia, by Ian Frazier, Thanksgiving was in Virginia with my in-laws.
This is one book that is best as an audiobook, as Ian Frazier is more a storyteller than an author, and his reading of his own book greatly adds to its pleasures. Audio also works well for Travels in Siberia due to all the Russian - hearing Frazier's pronunciation (and growing fluency over the 16 years he spent writing the book), greatly adds to the narrative.
There are many reasons to read about Siberia and about Russia. Driving home from Virginia on the Garden State Parkway we passed many LUKOIL gas stations. The first 3 letters of LUKOIL come from three Siberian oil fields, Langepasneftegaz, Urayneftegaz, and Kogalymneftegaz - and the fact that we fill up our minivans at a Russian owned gas station should remind us how important this vast country remains to us. Frazier's interest in Siberia is less about energy, although he does talk about the impact on Siberia and Russia of the growth of the energy sector (Russia is the 2nd largest oil exporter after Saudi Arabia, and the world's largest producer of natural gas). Rather, Frazier decides to criss-cross Siberia multiple times (in a van, on trains, and other various forms of transport) for love. Not the love of a woman (his wife seems and family seem inordinately and amazingly patient with his extended Siberian wanderings), but for the love of Russia.
Siberia is fascinating for all sorts of reasons. Mostly, we are fascinated by Siberia by its size (5.1 million square miles - or about three-quarters of all of Russia), remoteness and cold weather. Across the Bering Strait, Russia and the U.S. are only 53 miles apart - a fact that Frazier takes advantage of in his early trips from Nome Alaska to Siberia.
Travels in Siberia will not make you want to replicate Frazier's adventures and spend your next spring break in the Russian North. Siberia, as Frazier describes it, concentrates Russia's tendencies towards dysfunction, corruption, and inefficiency. The end of the Cold War, the rise of the Russian energy industry, and the waning of democracy have only heightened these tendencies. As bizarre and brutal as Siberia can be (Frazier spends time visiting Soviet era Gulags), the Siberian people Frazier meets are (almost) uniformly welcoming, literate, and generous in hosting a traveling American.
Highly recommended if you are curious about Russia, Siberia, or just want to escape to another world for 20.5 hours, (the length of the audiobook), with a funny and learned traveling companion.
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