I was most fascinated by the historic flashbacks, such when he writes about Genghis Khan, the development of the Russian aristocracy and the Decemberists. The travel writing is not so interesting, although Frazier certainly has a gift for storytelling. I haven't finished the book and might not ever because, so far (perhaps 2/3 in) not much has happened. I think for the most part, he relies too much on the reader having a strong idea of what Siberia is like. He tends to play against such assumptions, but since I had so little understanding of the difference between Siberia and Western Russia, much of the impact fell flat for me. I hope that the hardcopy book contains maps and photographs. The endless listing of places doesn't work particularly well in an audiobook format and, while he describes locales fabulously, there are plenty of you-had-to-be-there moments which slowed down the pace.
I wanted to like this one more than I actually did. Frazier goes through a lot of Siberia's history, which I thought was really fascinating and very well told. However, I didn't find him quite so compelling any time he was talking about his travels there. He goes on and on about how much he loves Russia, and yet...he didn't convince me, despite the fact that he went back so many times. To me, it seemed that he talked an awful lot about the inconveniences, and the things that he found gross, and the things that didn't work or that broke down, and how horrible the bugs are, and the ways that his Russian guides/travelling companions/people he stayed with/other people staying in the same places annoyed him or made him mad. He does a great job of describing all those things, but there are not a lot of descriptions that actually made me think that he felt genuine affection for Russia or the people he met there (other than maybe all the hot Russian women he sees walking around), or that made Russia seem as magical to me as he says it seems to him.
I might have enjoyed this a bit more if I'd read it instead of listening to the audio version; Frazier reads it himself, and, while he's certainly not a terrible reader, he's not really a great one either. Sometimes he would get going and read in a very natural way; other. times. he. would. read. like. this. Which, personally, I find really painful to listen to. There were also some really weird pronunciations here and there, as though he wasn't actually thinking about what he was saying.
Anyway, whether it was his personality I couldn't get behind or whether it's just that I found his reading off-putting, I ended up just...so ready for it to be over by the time I was halfway through. I'd rate this two stars only, if not for all the lovely history parts, which really are great. And for Sergei, who is the one person he managed to convey with some little bit of depth.
Meh to the rest of it though.
Rarely should an author narrate his or her own book, and unfortunately, this is another example of why. Frazier's reading is like a elementary student carefully reading and slowly enunciating the larger words. His narration is almost always slow and halting, and then occasionally sped up so one sentence runs into another. The author or publisher should have invested in a proper narrator. As for content, the subject is fascinating and certainly the journey across Siberia must have been amazing, but unfortunately, this does not come across in this telling. The books gets lost in one aside to another, and one never gets a real feel for the amazing,people, cities, and countryside the author must certainly have encountered. A hollow, lackluster account. Indeed, except for the fact that Siberian cities have very many beautiful women, a fact the author likes to relate with every passing city, Siberia remains as vast and distant as it was before reading this book.
While I enjoyed the book overall, there were a few areas I think could have been better. The book is way too long. The actual trip across Siberia didn't happen until about one-third of the way through the book. The first third being taken up by a not-always-too relevant or interesting recitation of the author's activities leading up to the trip. One thing that really annoyed me after a while was the author's tendency to drop in a large, obscure (often cumbersome) word when a simpler, more direct word would better fit the narrative -- again, my opinion. (I like to think my vocabulary is pretty good, but he used a few words -- yes, in English -- that I've never heard of! Humbling!) And last, the author has never met a prepositional phrase he didn't love. They abound. But all in all, the book is packed with interesting information, and the author's fascination with his subject shines through.
Frazier speaks v-e-r-y slowly; enunciation on steroids, which is unfortunate as the book doesn't exactly open with a bang. Still, once the travels actually get going, I found I enjoyed his dry humor better spoken than I likely would've in print (see also: Eric Weiner reading his "Geography of Bliss", though Weiner's hardly a "dry" writer). Some reviewers have said he whines a lot, but I didn't think so. I found his humor the best when things went wrong.Not saying I wouldn't have liked to see the author's sketches and photos, and I would've liked to skim the history sections at times; I did actually engage in some slight fast-forwarding in a couple of places, but by the end I felt this book was a great use of a credit.
Avid reader and traveler. I love mysteries and series that weave history and real world experiences with the story.
Ian Frazier's travels through Siberia are discussed, but you get the feeling it is more about the idea of travel than really being involved in the trip. He is thorough in his discussion of the history and description of what people look like and wear, but it doesn't seem that he really gets involved in the trips themselves. I'm all for a challenge in travel, but be better if he was in the moment or if he wrote about the history, but the author doesn't quite meld the two together as well as other travelogs.
It was interesting to hear about the locations and their history, so three stars is the most I could muster.
Just reaching the end of this book. I have to say it is a really mixed bag. The author's love of Russia/Siberia shines through and he deals with the history really well. Some of his descriptions are great too (e.g. the fishing sections),
But he seems almost pathologically incapable of mixing with the people of Siberia, whether they be Russian or indigeonous. So many descriptions of him spending time alone at the camp site or in the hotel while his Russian guides go out and mix with the locals! The whole thing also features the author's inner thoughts so much you get exasperated with him. It's a long book. This makes it feel longer
A good historian, but terrible travel writer.