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.
The author read the book and that was a downer. He was flat and basically boring. I didn't need to hear him practicing his Russian. He does translate the Russian but not the French - some of us took German or Spanish NOT French. A professional reader was needed.
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.
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.
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.
I am a prolific reader, backpacker, flyfisherman, tennis player, traveler who admires the works of Paul Theroux, Denis Johnson, Richard Ford , Barbara Tuchman, J.M. Coetzee,Robert Massie, David McCollough and many others
The description of the journeys was ok.The reader was poor.
No, but I have to pick narrators more carefully.
Too folksy. Compare John Lee or Simon Vance.
No. See Werner Herzog's movie instead.
A Bit rambling. "Wild" was much better. Blue Highways extraordinary.
I would have given anything to have heard this book read...by someone else. It could have been an magnum opus. Instead, due to the ponderous and stilted narration, it became as monolithic and featureless as post WWII Stalinist architecture. I so regret the author's decision to read his own work given the amazing amount of information and care that went into its creation. The subject matter and history were fascinating but could not survive the weak narration. I gave up half way through, which is saying something given the length of the reading.
As a travelogue, this is entertaining enough, although I agree with other reviewers that it's also not especially insightful. It's often just a straight-up narrative of what happened, interspersed with (sometimes badly researched) history. It's the latter that really undermines the work. I can't speak for his grasp of Russian history, but his account of the Mongols is at least fifty years out of date and terribly bigoted. It's too bad, because the trip he takes is really epic, and he clearly had a lot of guts and a sense of adventure to take it on at all.
He's also not the greatest narrator of his own writing; the book would certainly have benefited from a professional reader who would have given it a greater sense of adventure through his/her delivery. The author undercuts his own authority because he hasn't bothered to find out how to pronounce names like "Genghis Khan" and "Ranulf Fiennes." The former comes up a lot, and it makes him sound particularly ignorant. At one point he quotes from a historical source which evidently uses the more modern (and more phonetic) spelling "Chinggis Khan." But at the end of the quote, the author returns to his own mispronunciation of the name, apparently not having noticed the difference.