Travels in Siberia

  • by Ian Frazier
  • Narrated by Ian Frazier
  • 20 hrs and 30 mins
  • Unabridged Audiobook

Publisher's Summary

A Dazzling Russian travelogue from the best-selling author of Great Plains.
In Travels in Siberia, Ian Frazier trains his eye for unforgettable detail on Siberia, that vast expanse of Asiatic Russia. He explores many aspects of this storied, often grim region, which takes up one-seventh of the land on earth. He writes about the geography, the resources, the native peoples, the history, the 40-below midwinter afternoons, the bugs.
The book brims with Mongols, half-crazed Orthodox archpriests, fur seekers, ambassadors of the czar bound for Peking, tea caravans, German scientists, American prospectors, intrepid English nurses, and prisoners and exiles of every kind - from Natalie Lopukhin, banished by the czarina for copying her dresses; to the noble Decembrist revolutionaries of the 1820s; to the young men and women of the People’s Will movement whose fondest hope was to blow up the czar; to those who met still-ungraspable suffering and death in the Siberian camps during Soviet times.
More than just a historical travelogue, Travels in Siberia is also an account of Russia since the end of the Soviet Union and a personal reflection on the all-around amazingness of Russia, a country that still somehow manages to be funny.
Siberian travel books have been popular since the 13th century, when monks sent by the pope went east to find the Great Khan and wrote about their journeys. Travels in Siberia will take its place as the 21st century’s indispensable contribution to the genre.


Audible Editor Reviews

Travels in Siberia by Ian Frazier and read by the author could very simply be described as “Siberia: history of, people of, remoteness of, mythology about, and travels in”. This description would not, however, do justice to the mixture of joy, comedy, and incredulity with which Frazier reads his book.
The author goes to great lengths to explain why he became fascinated by what he calls “the greatest horrible country” in the world. It certainly was not the smell of Russia — the olfactory amalgam of sour milk, cucumber peels, wet cement, and mud that slapped Frazier in the face whenever he first stepped from an airplane into any Russian airport terminal. Nor was it the extraordinary amount of trash that befouled every town, village, and roadside rest stop he visited. Those were merely minor distractions as Frazier continued to try and learn the language, read more books, and visit by car, train, and plane Siberian destinations even more remote and more physically taxing than those on his previous trip. Frazier’s infectious wonder at the breadth of the land and the scope of its history, his wry observations about the incongruities of normal life lived at degrees far below zero, and his hapless and frequently acrimonious adventures with his occasional Russian guide, Sergei Lunev, leave the listener equally enthralled with Siberia.
Frazier has a talent for comically pointing out aspects of Siberian life that are most different from what Americans consider “normal”. For example, curiosity turns to puzzlement then to all-out disbelief as Frazier realizes that couples are holding their weddings literally alongside parts of the trans-Siberian highway. The reality of what is taking place only sinks in as one boisterous celebration spills onto the highway and stops traffic in either direction. Then there is the airport in the town of Providineya, where the rusted wreckage of helicopters and airplanes at the end of the runway greet visitors who, presumably, consider themselves lucky for their safe landing. And there’s the only hotel in the isolated village of Khanyga with its 20 guests but only one bathroom.
Ian Frazier infuses the historical parts of Travels in Siberia with passion for characters from Siberia’s past, such as the Mongol conqueror Genghis Khan, the American adventurer George Kennan, or the anarchic Decembrists, each providing delightful counterpoints to Frazier’s musings about the eccentricities of modern-day Siberians. Throughout his travels Frazier ponders the concept of “Siberian exile” and how that notion became imbued into the psyche of Russian people. Through his own insights and the words of others, Frazier pulls no punches as he describes the soul-shattering despair of those who endured Russia’s ultimate punishment for charges ranging from the criminal and political to the completely capricious. Having experienced the almost incomprehensibly stark and unforgiving landscape spanning thousands of frozen miles in every direction, Frazier soberly recounts the cataclysmic mental and physical agony consuming those exiled to Siberia.
The author’s enchantment for his subject matter is so consistently enjoyable that all who indulge in the listening experience will be profoundly grateful for Ian Frazier’s love of Siberia while remaining relieved that they did not make the journeys themselves. —Carole Chouinard


What the Critics Say

"Ian Frazier caps his travels through Siberia's vastness by narrating his own account of them, another enormous undertaking. The author doesn't have the polish or range of a professional voice actor, but soon we appreciate how this somewhat pedestrian tone suits both the crude reality of Siberia and the deadpan humor that pervades his book. How could anyone doubt that this is the voice of the actual man who, as he admits, had a 'chronic fear of being run over while asleep in my tent' or who was annoyed that his tea tasted like the shaving cream someone had mixed in his cup?" (Washington Post Book World)


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I don't know if my overwhelming love for this book will transfer to other readers but Ian Frazier's obsession with travel and all things Russian were infectious. I found the story laugh out loud funny with some beloved interludes striking me with the giggles randomly during the day while I sort socks and cook soup long after I finished the book. It was banned as bedtime listening because my laughter kept my husband awake! It may be that the author's stories about the Soviet ethos reminded me of my own trips through Central Asia and Eastern Europe. It brought my travel memories and personal brushes with the quirkiness of the Soviet/ Russian worldview into clearer focus. But, whatever the reason, to me, Ian hit the nail on the head and captured that world perfectly. I can't recommend the book more strongly. It is wonderfully engaging and funny as all get out. Listening to Travel's in Siberia is the next best thing to being right there with Ian Frazier on his next trip to Russia.

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- Sara "Avid Reader"

Literary lovechild of John McPhee & Bill Bryson

A gifted narrator, Ian Frazier for me seems to occupy a genetic/literary lovechild space somewhere between Bill Bryson (mother: Midwestern appetites) and John McPhee (father: New Yorker affectations). Like Frazier, I too have been drawn to Russia. I remember traveling to Moscow and St. Petersburg shortly after the wall came down (and before the 1993 Russian constitutional crisis). There is something magnetic (both attractive and repellant) about the people, the culture, the geography, that sucks a certain type/flux of person in.

Both a travelogue and an historical review of Siberia, 'Travels in Siberia' never once disappoints. Frazier hits all the major markers about Siberia: its size, the cold, its history, language, food, the cold, gulags, the cold, transportation, hot women, resources, food, language, hot women, the cold, politics, people, the cold, and hot women. Seriously, the women in Siberia are apparently really hot.

Other things I enjoyed while reading this: 1) All the books referenced by Ian Frazier (check out the selected bibliography. Some books just have a sexy bibliography). There is now a whole slew of Siberian exploration books, Russian novels, and Decembrist history that I want/need to read. 2) Frazier's simple, spare drawings were perfect for this book. 3) The dynamic arc created by this book being written over the last 15+ years. It reminded me of certain Impressionist paintings done at different times of the same exact scene. The colors, light, and shapes shift because of shifts in time and season. The same is true of Frazier's book. You exit the book with a significantly different view of Siberia from which you entered it. That large and desolate country changed in 15 years, certainly, but more than that Frazier changed by both his experiences in and his experiences THRU Siberia.

Now that Pussy Riot* have been released from their own stint in a Siberian penal colony, the book seems like a perfectly timed pre-read for the Olympics. While Sochi is more Caucasus/Black Sea than Siberia, it is still Russia in the way it seems focused on the repressed, totalitarian, corrupting cold. Gays are to stay away. Stray dogs are being round up and shot. Pussy Riot is freed to garner some PR goodwill (yeah, good luck with that Putinbaby). It all seems like some 21st century match-up of Siberian protesters (gays and Pussy Riot) vs the modern Russian Tsar (Putin, obviously). I'm waiting for a whole new set of protesters gearing up for their slow train ride to a Penal Colony. Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose.

* I should disclose that I am really attracted to Pussy Riot. Not that "ooh they are solo pretty" attracted way, but in that singular way you (Yes, you faithful reader) are attracted to people with a sharp purpose, excess energy, the ability to capture a moment perfectly, and a willingness to go badasshard against institutions as big and strong as the Russian Orthodox Church and the Russian totalitarian state. Pussy Riot did everything the Decembrists did, but they did it in heels and backwards. Plus they have the name Pussy Riot, which is kinda silly, but still also makes my tongue swell, and eyes dart back and forth (looking for Mom) when I say it out loud.
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- Darwin8u "I write for myself, for my own pleasure. And I want to be left alone to do it. - Salinger ^(;,;)^"

Book Details

  • Release Date: 10-12-2010
  • Publisher: Macmillan Audio