Already read and finished the Stephen King book (ok) and now about to start on the then-scandalous Crawford memoir about the Queen’s childhood (and that of her sister). Ohh la la. (Rather a craze on the royals right now. 🙂 )
Travel writing at its best… relates a journey of discovery that is frequently risky and sometimes grim and often pure horror, with a happy ending: to hell and back. The traveler ends up at home and seizes your wrist with his skinny hand and holds you with his glittering eye and relates his spellbinding tale.”
Paul Theroux, Introduction.
Seeing as we have been rather stuck at home, I thought that now would be a really good time to read some travel writing and, having had some success with this series in the past, found an old volume on the old TBR shelves. I did have some hesitation seeing the editor was Paul Theroux (only because I’ve heard of his reputation as a rather grumpy writer), but pulled it down nevertheless, primarily because it was what I had. 🙂
In actuality, despite my initial reservations, this turned out to be a really good read. As with any kind of writing collection chosen by whoever is the editor, there are going to be hits and misses but this compilation was mostly hits, which made it fun to read.
(The only slightly eye-wincing moment was when I saw that Paul Theroux’s eldest son, Marcel, was also selected as part of this collection of American Travel Writing. One, the optics don’t look that great for a father to choose his own son’s writing for inclusion in a project such as this, and is M.T.’s writing so much more superior than anyone else’s who was up for submission? Oh, and the gender split of authors was a bit eye-watering. This then leads on to related question: how many of these selectees are POC?)
Looking through the index, the selected writing travels far and wide: from Siberia to the U.S. and parts in between, the quality of writing and its content was enjoyable. In fact, it was a really good read overall and actually hit the sweet spot for reading in a pandemic. Plus it fit really well with my COVID reading style which seems to be rather a scattershot approach at the moment. Plus it was a TBR.
Excellent writing came from Peter Hessler (who I adore anyway), Susan Orleans, and 24 other authors, with a gender break-up of five female authors (and 19 males). Grumble, grouse, but this lack of gender balance is a common characteristic for these editions (especially when they are edited by males). Is it really so hard to find someone who is a strong writer and is not a typical white male? Hmm.
Moving on… The majority of these reads did exactly what they said on the tin: excellent writing combined with strong descriptions and interesting narratives of places off the beaten track.
Despite its weaknesses (see above), I actually really enjoyed this volume and have just realized that I haven’t bought the 2019 volume just yet (edited by Alexandra Fuller – Hey! A woman slipped into the mix. I’m a bit behind with the book-buying.) This year’s volume (2020) will be edited by Robert McFarlane, another white male Oxbridge fellow, I see (with gritted teeth)…
Still, fingers are crossed to a more balanced gender breakdown inside both of these…
In the end, I am happy to have read this volume and able to travel outside my home, even if it was only in my mind. Along those same lines, I did just go to the grocery store, which counts as adventurous travel in this day and age. 🙂
If you’re on FB at any time, you might look up George Takei (yes, that one) and read his feed because he has some good stuff going on. You also might be interested in looking up this graphic memoir because it’s fascinating and it’s really well done.
Takei is a son of first-generation immigrants from Japan – his father’s parents had immigrated from there and his mother, although born in the U.S., had been sent to Japan to go to school. George (and his young brother and sister) were raised with a foot in both cultures – all U.S. citizens but fully cognizant of their Japanese roots.
(Interestingly, George gets his name from Anglophile father after King George VI and his brother, Henry, is named after King Henry VIII [since he was a chubby healthy infant when he was born]. The sister didn’t get a royal name though, but was named after one of the parents’ friends for whom both the parents had high admiration.)
So, the Takei’s were a typical immigrant family, working hard and minding their own [dry cleaning] business. It was at the start of the American involvement in WWII and although the war seemed distant, all that changed when Japan launched its attack on Pearl Harbor catapulting the U.S. into this event. It also immediately changed the lives of the Takeis and thousands of other Japanese-American families.
I’d been sort of familiar about the awful history of the U.S. internment (really, imprisonment) of Japanese-Americans at the start of WWII, but reading about Takei’s experience of this was heartbreaking. And the fact that the Powers That Be reacted to an outside force in such a knee-jerk and paranoid way reminds me of another U.S. administration, 70 years later, but who’s naming names? ;-]
This is a thoughtful read through the memories of Takei from when he was a young boy and from the after-dinner conversations that he has held with (mostly?) his father, it seems. I really appreciated how honest Takei is when he admits that his childhood memories of how fun and novel this whole situation was for him as a kid starkly contrasts with his parents’ more honest appraisal of how this edict uprooted them and forced them to lose almost all their possessions.
Looking back upon this time, it’s quite astonishing that the U.S. government allowed this situation to happen (let alone continue for a few years), but sometimes power corrupts. Hmm.
Good read about a shameful historic time that has led me down a few rabbit holes since finishing it.
February has passed pretty quickly for me, but it’s also a short month and smack in the middle of the school semester so it’s not surprising really. Still, weird to believe that Spring Break is just around the corner and then, it’s only a matter of weeks until the summer break. Whoosh. Time does fly faster as you get older, doesn’t it? 😉
My February reading was steady but slow, sadly. The most impactful read for me (as part of Black History Month) was, no doubts about it, Invisible Man by Ellison. What an amazing read. (It’s also a Scary Big Book [in terms of page count – 581 pp], but the story carries you along nicely for the most part.
I must admit to wading in the weeds of confusion for parts of it, but the big picture is that it’s a memorable read and is a classic for a reason.
If you haven’t read it, do pull this title off the shelf. Just know that there are passages that are a little dense (or perhaps it was me who was a little dense?) Just keep on truckin’ through these and know that it all makes sense in the end. 😉
They Called Us the Enemy – George Takei et al. (NF/Graphic/Memoir) POC (post to come)
Eye on the Struggle: Ethel Payne, the First Lady of the Black Press – James McGrath Morris (NF/auto) POC
Inside this Place, Not of It: Narrative from Women’s Prisons – Robin Levi and Aeylet Waldman (NF/bio) POC
Total number of books read in February: 4
Total number of pages read: 1,229 pages (av. 308 pages)
Fiction/Non-Fiction: 2 F and 2 NF
Male authors: 4. Female authors:0. (Yikes.)
Library books vs. books I owned (and thus removed from the home abode): 1 library book and 3 owned books. 0 e-books this month.
Books off TBR pile this year: 12. (Go me.)
Plans for March? Spring Break is on the horizon, so very looking forward to that (as are the students!) I’m also going to continue the POC topic/author and the reading-my-own-TBR trends and yet, at the same time, open my reading selection up to the rest of my TBR pile. There are some other authors I’ve been itching to get my little hands on…
And I’m not sure if I’ve told you this yet, but I’m also on a serious book-buying ban. It started on January 27 and I’m holding out until the end of April. An occasional library book can get thrown in the mix, but for the most part, my focus is on my own TBR. It’s going pretty well so far – only one book purchase and it was for the Kindle. :-}
“When this book was first published, I hoped it would soon become only a history of what racism used to be. I feel profound regret that it has not.” Lois Mark Stalvey.
When I was reading through “Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria: And Other Conversations About Race” by Beverly Daniel Tatum (2003) last semester, I found it to be an amazing resource for several things, one of which happened to be a bibliography of further reading. That’s where I came across mention of Stalvey’s book, considered by some to be a historical publishing landmark in terms of sociology and racial awareness in the U.S.
Piqued by the title, I tracked it down in the university library… And then, I even read it. 🙂
A biography of sorts, a journey in many ways, Stalvey’s book recounts her (and her family’s) gradual awareness of racism in its many forms in the U.S. in the 1960s. At first just living on the peripheral edge of racism’s impact, the Stalvey family (who were White and who are led mostly by Lois) slowly become more knowledgeable about the Civil Rights Movement and its importance. Seeing it negatively impact their friends, family and community, this social “awakening” (of sorts) leads to a solid commitment to Stalvey and her husband to become deeply involved in the issue. And involved they get. The family jumps in with both feet first.
This autobiography of a family’s experience of one of the most troubling social ills of our time was eye-opening for me in several ways. I used to think I am quite informed about the issue on the whole, but to actually LIVE it, every day… To commit your family to the cause with such focus is the stuff of legend. The Stalvey family didn’t just walk the walk.
It’s especially amazing when one considers the time period when this occurred. It’s the early 1960s. Racism is rampant throughout the country. Segregation is widespread throughout the American culture and there is a lot of societal resistance to any changing of the ways (notably from the whites). There are increasing pockets of violence and unrest in the larger cities, and the U.S. is facing one of its toughest challenges: how to integrate (or even if they should integrate). It reads as though the place is a tinderbox (which it was in many ways).
As the book continues, you read about the family and their efforts to effect change: among their friends, in the community, and in the larger area of federal impact (such as housing and education). The family face ongoing racist resistance from their neighbors; they lose friends and have to move to different cities from time to time, but their commitment doesn’t waiver. (They are scared. They are worried. But they don’t lose their bravery.)
Looking back at this time from the twenty-first century, it’s very sad and disheartening to see how far we haven’t come. The Civil Rights Movement was more than 60 years ago, and the country has improved in some ways. That’s true. But reading this book was a constant reminder of yet how far the U.S. has to travel to make the promises of yesteryear come true.
This was an astonishing and very sad read for me. It has removed any doubts I may have had about how societally-entrenched racism and other social ills are in the fabric of our world here in America, and I finished the book feeling rather low about any hopes for change in the future.
But you have to pick yourself up, brush yourself down and keep on truckin’. Change comes. It may not come on my timetable, but its forward movement is incremental but inevitable. Educate yourself first. Then do something about the world around you. It’s evolving, but crikey. It’s slow.
January has come and January has gone, and what do I have to show for it? Not a bad turnout for reading, as it happens. I’m particularly chuffed about the number of titles that have been picked from the TBR, a trend I am planning on continuing since I’m on a book-buying ban until May. (We’ll see how that goes, yes?) Additionally, five titles meet the criteria for being POC-related. Here are the deets:
Living Earth – DK Eyewitness Books – Miranda Smith (ed.) (TBR) – no blog post
Bop – Maxine Chernoff (F- short stories) (TBR) – this was a DNF. – no blog post
101 Things I Learned in Culinary School – Louis Eguaras and Matthew Frederick (NF) (TBR) – no blog post
A slight lack of blog posts about a lot of these reads, but this was a combination of being busy, going on vacation, going back to school and procrastination/not that much to say, so it’s all good.
Moving on to February, it’s one of my favorite celebratory occasions – Black History Month – so expect some focused reading on that. Right now, I’m fully immersed in Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man (1947) which is an amazing read. It’s a large book (Scary Big Book in terms of page numbers) – 580 pp – so it’s taking a little while. But whoo-whee — it’s good.
And the Band Played On – Randy Schiltz (1987) NF – DNF, but on hold for a later date.
Hostages to Fortune – Elizabeth Cambridge (1933) F
Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria? – Beverly Daniel Tatum, Ph.D. (2003) NF
Plus (because I am a complete nerd) this jigsaw puzzle:
November plans? Not really. I am very open to whatever comes my way and I’m happy to keep jogging along in this particular lane. I might need to rein in the book purchases though. (With the caveat that there is a December book and jigsaw puzzle sale on the cards…) :-}
Autumn has finally arrived here in my region of the world. The
temps have been cooling down significantly – even enough for us to put the flannel
sheets on the bed. (I’d forgotten how delicious these feel to sleep between: it’s
like sleeping in clouds. Sigh. Bliss.) I’m wearing socks more regularly during
the day and even had to pull on a coat last week. I’m loving it all.
There are some Octobers when I’m just pulled back into one more read of “Dracula,” the 1897 classic by Irish writer Bram Stoker. (For a previous review, see here and here.) My typical experience is that I really enjoy the whole experience, even if it’s not the first time of reading it – I’m up to about five times now… And now I think it’s time to give it a break.
It’s got all the same great ingredients: epistolary, scary-but-not-too-scary, familiar storyline but, for some reason, this year’s read dragged for me which signals that perhaps I need a break. It’s been fun, Bram, but I’m gonna to put you aside for a while so I can get your “special” back. No hard feelings. You’re still awesome. I’ll still come back to you. Just not for a while. (And if you’d like to see a review of an earlier version of Dracula-like creatures, try The Vampire by John Polidori (1819).)
In other news: we went to a really good play over the weekend. Called “Black Girl, Interrupted”, it was written by Iyanisha Gonzalez, a Ph.D. student at our university here, and was stupendous. Seriously. It was an excellent play-going experience and was completely professionally run. The play is based on the real-life rape and murder of a black female soldier in the Iraq conflict and how the U.S. Army covered it up as a suicide. (The drama is fictionalized from there, but the actual basis of the plot is true.) So – phew. Hard topic but again, an excellent experience. If this play comes to your area, I highly recommend it.
I’ve been reading but have had some titles recently which have been good, but for some reason, haven’t had a blog post about them. One, especially, deserves its own post but for time reasons, this mention will have to do. “The Absolutely True Dairy of a Part-Time Indian” by Sherman Alexie (F) was a fast and thoughtful YA read, epistolary (as the title implies) and about a young teenager who goes against the cultural mores of his tribe when he decides to go to a high school “off rez”. A sensitive and provocative read about the importance of fitting in balanced with being true to yourself. I bet high schoolers love this read. (Maybe not. They might be more enamored of “Twilight” or playing on TikTok or similar…:-} )
(although this was not half as good) was a quick peruse through “The
Well-Dressed Lady’s Pocket Guide” by Karen Homer (2013), who has written for Vogue
and other fashion mags. Fairly ok, but didn’t really have that much helpful
information in terms of wardrobe, but a pretty ok foundation overall. I’m
trying to make more use of my current clothes, especially with our cooler
temperatures, and was rather hoping that this guide would help with that. It
was actually more of a brief historical overlook of fashion, which was ok –
just not what I had been looking for/hoping for.
In the in-between times, I’ve been sucked into the flow of doing another jigsaw puzzle – I’m addicted to these things and time just disappears when I’m doing them sometimes. This one (on the right) is a redo of one my mum and I attempted a couple of years ago on one of her visits, but we had run out of time to finish it. I’m determined to finish this sucker now. 🙂
And now it’s
almost November. Thanksgiving is around the corner (wow) and then, I saw
Christmas stuff in Target yesterday…
And I found a big stash of Twiglets half-price (below) whilst I visited World Market. (They are typically very hard to find, locally, so this stash will need to last quite some time. In theory.) Life is good.
“My chief desire in presenting this book is to impress upon somebody’s mind the possibilities of prevention.”
Traveling around the web, as one does, I came across an interesting nugget of American history when I met Rebecca Lee Crumpler who was the first African-American female physician in the U.S. when she graduated from the New England Female Medical College in 1860. (She was also the college’s only African-American graduate.)
Consider this statistic: there were only 54,543 physicians
in the whole of the country in 1860. Only 300 of those physicians were women
and Crumpler was the only African-American female physician. (And, in fact, as
late as 1920, there were still only 65 African-American female docs in the
entire country. I wonder what the stats are now…
(ETA: Only 4 percent of practicing physicians in 2016 are African-American, most graduating from HBSUs. Only 2 percent of nation’s physicians are female African-Americans. Female physicians now make up 34 percent of the whole physician population, but are still underpaid compared with men (64 cents for every dollar a man earns). Overall population of US (now) is 15 percent black (2013, US Census Bureau).)
Back to Crumpler: Crumpler was a remarkable woman and this is thought to be the very first medical text by any African-American author.
Imagine the U.S. as the country as it was then when Crumpler
was getting her medical education as a “doctress” (as the title says). How very
courageous and determined she was:
1860 – Crumpler graduates from the medical college as a “doctress”.
1863: US Emancipation Proclamation (meant that slaves were now free in the Southern/Confederate States).
1865 – US 13th Amendment ended slavery in all states. Establishment of Freedman Bureau (agency to help millions of black slaves and poor whites in the South after Civil War.) (Actually, Crumpler and her hub moved to Virginia to work for the bureau and “more than 30,000 colored” after the war.)
1868 – 14th Amendment secured American citizenship for African-Americans.
1870 – 15th Amendment secured voting rights for African-Americans (on paper)
But obvs slavery still happening. (Look at Barracoon
by Zora Neal Hurston (2018) which covers the life of Oluale Kossula who
arrived in the U.S. from West Africa where he had been captured as part of the
slave trade in 1860, same year as Crumpler is attending her first year at the
So, absolutely loads to think about with this nonfiction read, and that’s not even getting to the actual contents just yet!
Since this book is more of a how-to manual for the
healthcare of people (not just African-Americans although they may well have been
the main (and only audience for this text), I’ve put together a few notes on her
healthcare guidance during this late Victorian period in case you’re curious. (Crumpler
was also more than likely to only have been allowed access to care for the African-American
populations as well…)
It’s in a bullet list since that seemed the easiest way to present such disparate info:
health advice (under 5s):
One of the main baby healthcare advice chapters is titled this: Necessity of Agreeable and Soothing Surroundings. It’s meant to be in reference to infants but it certainly works for me as well. 🙂
“All loud talking or laughing should be strictly prohibited. To insure this, no sly jokes should be indulged in by anyone present; for by so doing convulsions of an alarming nature may be brought on. “ (Chapter 5)
If the baby has a rattling or wheezing noise in its throat,
Mrs. Crumpler recommends using a real feather (that has been wetted to tamp the
down) to tickle the back of the tongue to make the child cough or gag… Don’t
give the baby “soot tea”, by any
Saffron tea is really crocus tea? And was popular for baby’s poop problems?
Don’t give infants a “little
weak toddy” to “bring up wind and
make them sleep”. It can cause intoxication and then a “fearful attack of purging”. Plus it may
“inculcate a desire for tippling in many
of our weak-minded youth”.
Later on:watch out if giving your baby any alcohol:it “tends to stunt the intellect and dwarf the stature of the youth of our land…”
And no oysters for the young one: they are “most dangerous”. A broiled lamb chop of beef would be fine to give the baby though, as support for the diet of mother’s milk though. (They help to prevent “cholera of infants at the breast, especially in our crowded cities”.)
And too much soda (i.e. in making breads) makes your baby bald.
And don’t overfeed or do the “coarse habit of ‘stuffing’ babes, to avoid frequent feeding of them”
– the habit needs to “vanish like dew
before the noonday sun” …
Children who eat candy are also at risk of developing “dwarfed statures”… but kids will also be
troubled with worms at the same time (due to the candy).
If your child is teething, “the greater mischief is done to the whole nervous system by the
unnatural but ancient custom of pressing and rubbing gums – it is possible to
trace the cause of insanity to this pernicious custom”
Teething and not
wearing shoes in puddles are believed to be a combo that directly cause
lung fever (another name for pneumonia) in infants. If your child does get
pneumonia, the best treatment is “patient
watchfulness, pure air and absolute quiet”.
Apparently, babies have always been tough to get to sleep. “Many children screamed with fright at the
noise created to get them to sleep”… What were the family doing to make the
kids scream when they’re trying to get them to go to sleep? The mind boggles…
Once you do have your child sleeping, don’t let your baby sleep too long in soiled clothes: it can cause “soft bones, enlarged joints, inverted feet, flattened back-heads, sickening sores, dropsy, blindness or numerous ills”…
If you are a family of “moderate means” and you are not able to keep more than one fire going in your house during the cold season, taking a baby from a hot room to a colder one can cause frequent and severe colds… So, try to live with all your rooms on the same floor in your tenement to avoid (or mitigate) this problem and help the heat (from your one fire) spread throughout the house more evenly…
If your baby does has a lot of snot in his/her nose, try to unstop it with goose oil on a feather. But – be gentle. If you’re not careful, you can break the baby’s nose and that causes cancer. (What?)
Reading for kids is also dangerous: “Can you not cut short the certain destruction that awaits your sons and daughters, through the influence of impressions gained by the constant perusal of fictitious, and in many cases, corrupt library books?”
a breast-feeding mother:
If the mother’s nipple [for breastfeeding] is not prominent
for the baby to suck, “a friendly adult
or child could soon draw out the nipple by sucking so that the babe can get
(Just try not to do this when one’s mouth is full of snuff
as it can cause other health problems (including “instant death”) for el bebe who breastfeeds immediately after this.)
If a new mom is waiting for her milk to “drop”, watch out: “diarrhea, convulsion, or even insanity may
be brought on through the means of any excitement whatever” unless you’re
careful… Diarrhea is also caused by “emptiness” in a baby (or a baby being
Don’t drink a glass of iced water when your baby is breastfeeding or this could happen: “the babe was seized with rigid convulsions and dropped from the breast” while the mother became “almost helpless with fright”… But some quick-thinking from Mrs. Crumpler with a tub of hot water and some mustard managed to save the day… Phew.
try to avoid cholera if you can:
There was a whole chapter on the issue of child/infant starvation
– it must have been a huge problem for the many poor families… Plus, failure-to-thrive
(or malnourishment) was also seen as an early symptom of cholera in children
(and cholera was one of the largest causes of infant mortality in those days)…
Cholera could also be caused by the mothers adding in a mixed or meat and veg diet too early after the birth of a child. (Poor mothers! They get blamed for everything!)
Cholera also increases the risk of having a “hair worm” which had been noticed to “infest the throat of some patients”. (Woah. What is that “hair worm” thing?)
And what is the cause of infantile cholera? No one really knows
at that time, but Mrs. Crumpler swears that it’s not contagious but does offer
this nugget: if you’re in a crowded space in the middle of a cholera epidemic,
it’s best to leave if you can. Poverty, “wretchedness” and crime spread
who’s responsible for all this?…
Places a heavy blame on mothers to “make a little sacrifice for the sake of equipping the mind” and look after their children better… Also, the child studying too hard can endanger your child’s health.
Mothers should learn more about health and prevention of illness, and get this: Crumpler, unsurprisingly, is pro-women’s vote. (But this wouldn’t happen until 1965!)
(But she does earnestly wish that mothers would try harder
to not give their children to the alms houses… “Our women work hard, seemingly…” ooh. Them’s fighting words.)
Crumpler also strikes a critical note when she reports that
women “appear to shrink from any
responsibilities demanding patience and sacrifice”… Yikes.
She also blames the declining mortality in the “colored population of Boston” on “neglect to guard against the changes of the
for women’s health in general:
Exercising during your period will cause you to go barren,
have ovarian inflammation, dropsy or consumption. (Periods also called “bringing on the turns”).
Monthly cramps are caused (and worsened by) having cold and/or wet feet (or even when sweeping the floor). Interestingly, another household task (sewing at a treadle sewing machine) also causes vaginal ulcers (mainly from getting frustrated with the machine itself). (This, although very serious stuff, cracked me up at the time since I remember frustrations when I was learning to use my mum’s treadle sewing machine. Not sure about the vaginal ulcers but definitely caused me some strife!)
“Poverty, with chastity, is an enviable condition.”
Menopause is worsened by drinking ice-water (which, in fact, could cause paralysis) and helped by “securing cheerful exercise for the mind, with an abundance of outdoor scenery”… Drinking more water just prolongs the hot flashes.
(But how best to control the size of your family (i.e. birth
control)?: Mrs. Crumpler recommends that “if
these little ones are given in quick succession, it is just as well to have and
get through with it. Many are the women who have borne a dozen or more children
into the world, and afterwards filled positions of trust and nobility…”
Colds are typically caused by northeast and easterly winds…
Beware of sudden changes in air, food or medicines
(especially those that contract or
depress muscles): “may cause suffocation
and death at any moment.”
Tumors of all kinds are caused by fish, eggs, oysters, pork,
gaseous vegetables, and anything that
depresses or excites the mind. Also, gas and “loaded bowels”. Anointing the entire body with goose oil should
Brain fever was caused by “some irregularity, over-work or undue excitement” and effective treatment includes shaving your head sitting in a cool dark room and keeping wet cool material wrapped around your neck.
This was, unusually for a reread, another great all-encompassing reading experience which managed to allow me to travel to the far eastern reaches of Siberia to follow the events that happened in a small struggling village deep in the forest. It’s what happens when humans and predators (of the animal sort) have to overlap due to reduced natural environment and resources, and it’s what can go extraordinarily wrong when this situation occurs.
Vaillant is a well-respected journalist with work printed in prestigious outlets such as The New Yorker and The Atlantic, and his writing demonstrates his skill in how he handles the text. He was born in the U.S., but has lived in Vancouver for some time now, and most of his books cover current topics with a focus towards the natural environment.
As mentioned, I’d read “The Tiger” before (preblog), and, being a little fed up with the never-ending sun and heat of the West Texas summer, I was searching for a read that would take me to a cooler location, even if it was only in my head. Combine excellent writing and wordsmithing with an amazing true story, and you’ve got me.
The narration is mostly placed in eastern Siberia, in the area known mostly for logging. It’s sparsely inhabited (with ref to humans) and is a very harsh environment with temperatures regularly falling deep below freezing for weeks and months at a time. Only the hardy survive.
Logging has been significantly reducing the forest (called the taiga) and there is widespread poverty amongst those who live there. Limited resources make people and animals desperate and the shrinking wild land makes it much more likely that human activity will necessarily overlap with natural boundaries already well established.
It’s because of this growing overlap that Vaillant can write this riveting story. Amur tigers used to be quite a frequent sight in this region, but their numbers had been falling over the years. Already a predator, one of the local tigers had attacked and killed one of the villagers. But why? After decades of living quite peacefully together, each in their own world, what happened for the tiger to attack the man? And why did the tiger not only kill the man, but rip him to shreds, much more than would be necessary just to make sure he died? Absolute shreds.
When another villager has a similar hair-raising encounter (but this time he survives), the local nature reservation agents become alarmed. When the tiger starts behaving as though he (or she) has a personal vendetta against particular villagers, the occasion starts to take on a new level of importance. The villagers live deep in the forest and they would have little chance of staying alive without venturing into the surrounding forest for food and fuel… And why was the tiger suddenly paying attention to them?
The book covers quite a short space of time, calendar-wise – perhaps one month or so – and through Vaillant’s careful and descriptive reporting style, you as the reader are taken along on the journey as local experts try to combine modern-day science with years-old traditional folklore to try to understand why the intricate balance has been thrown off between these two otherwise fairly symbiotic parties.
By the time that I turned that last page, I was full of admiration for everyone involved: the tiger himself (who was only doing what years of evolution has taught him to do – plus a little personal vendetta-ing combined), the villagers (again, desperate straits) and the nature agents who were brought in to solve the conundrum. It was an extremely fraught situation but with climate change continuing to worsen at this point, I would bet that these sort of natural world overlaps will become more and more common as resources shrink.
Quite an amazing story – even for a reread! Now, I’m adding Vaillant’s other work to my other TBR…