Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Shackleton he is not, but you have to give some credit to Ian Frazier for doggedness in the face of immensity. Travels in Siberia, the long-time New Yorker writer’s latest book, chronicles his journeys across the garbage-strewn, mosquito-infested wasteland of the former Soviet Union.
Frazier is a self-admitted Russophile, charting his obsession with the country back to around the time of glasnost and his first trip to Moscow. He loves the region in all of its grandeur (countless beautiful women, mighty rivers, sheer expansiveness) and grossness (putrid bathrooms; trash and industrial waste lining the roads).
Although the book encompasses several trips taken by Frazier over the years, most of it is taken up with his first Siberian experience, in 2001. Along with his guides Sergei and Volodya, Frazier rents an old, finicky van and sets off to traverse the countless miles of steppe. This innocent abroad doesn’t idealise his experience – it’s a decidedly unromantic account, capturing the monotony of driving across such a huge landmass with
no native English speakers within a thousand miles.
It is to his credit, though, that Frazier also includes an honest portrayal of himself as the fretful, relatively high-maintenance American, who possesses only a limited command of the language and longs for the comforts of home. Frazier doesn’t quite manage to bring the obviously colourful characters he meets to life on the page, but the New Jersey resident does succeed in making some sense of the contradictory, utterly unique Russian landscape.