And thus, let us start the New Year, Orthodox style, with Ian Frazier's Travels in Siberia. The shorter version of what Mr Frazier relates to us is summarized in a brief P. J. O'Rourke passage from a Daily Beast essay on all the ways Vladimir Putin might go wrong.
“Exiled to Siberia” says everything about Russian economic and social development in that land of mountains, lakes, and forests with a climate, in its lower latitudes, no worse than the rest of Russia’s. I’ve been across it on the Trans-Siberian Railroad. If this were America, the route from Irkutsk to Vladivostok would be lined with vacation homes and trendy shops, and “exiled to Siberia” would be translated as “exiled to Aspen.”
That was my impression of the Ulan Ude to Irkutsk section. On the shores of Lake Baikal are some excellent resort grounds suitable for ski resorts in winter and 500 slip marinas for summer. And the Buryats might preserve their wigwams and teepees and at the same time set up casinos in the best Ho-Chunk tradition.
Mr Frazier's travels, however, sometimes unauthorized excursions from Alaska, sometimes in winter, give the reader a sense of what Siberians are up against, and that even if the Decembrists had used their exile to Irkutsk as an opportunity to develop lumbering and mining businesses rather than investing in simple palaces and salons, making a go of it on the permafrost might not have been easy.
Thus, the first review. Let us see if we reach the fifty.
(Cross-posted to Cold Spring Shops.)