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Forgotten at civilization's edge

A writer's strange sojourn in Siberia reveals a land of beautiful women, crumbling hamlets, and untapped riches.

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I don't now remember exactly what got me started, but there was a time when all I wanted to read were true-adventure travel tales. And I do mean adventure. No mere crumbling Tuscan villas or sleepy Bretagne fishing villages for me – I craved instead tales of hitchhiking the Sahara or hacking through the jungle of Borneo.

It was at this time that I discovered Jeffrey Tayler. I picked up "Facing the Congo," the true story of Tayler's attempt to paddle down the Congo River in a canoe, and ingested it in one fascinated gulp. The expedition he undertook was hazardous (make that ridiculous) beyond belief, and his tale was dark. But the narrative was lucid, compelling, harrowing, and utterly unforgettable.

So I was immediately intrigued when I learned Tayler had written River of No Reprieve describing a trip he took down Siberia's Lena River in a 17-by-5-foot inflatable raft. It sounded every bit as willfully foolhardy as his Congo expedition, but then again, this is a man who insists that, "The only way to learn the value of life is to risk it."

But don't mistake Tayler for a mere thrill-seeking dilettante. Although US-born and educated – and drawn to write about some of the world's more dangerous corners – Russia is the country to which he has most firmly given his heart. Married to a Russian, he is also the Moscow correspondent for the Atlantic Monthly.

In fact, his first book, "Siberian Dawn," was about a trip to Siberia that haunts him yet. Enchanted by the region's stillness and pristine beauty – not to mention the hidden mineral wealth that makes it too valuable for Russia ever to renounce – Tayler decided to return, this time accompanied by Vadim, a burly Afghan war veteran and guide.

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