Lost in the Taiga

Vassili Peskov, Author, V. Peskov, Author, Vasily Peskov, Author Doubleday Books $26.95 (254p) ISBN 978-0-385-47209-8
Communicants of the Old Believers persuasion--a Russian Orthodox sect dating from the mid-l7th century--the Lykov family lived so removed from the world in the Siberian taiga that only in 1978, when a party of geologists happened upon them, was their self-imposed isolation, going back to the early days of Stalinism, shattered. By the time Peskov, a Moscow journalist, made their acquaintance in 1982 on the first of what would become annual visits, only 37-year-old Agafia and her 81-year-old father Karp were still alive. Karp's sons, 54-year-old Savin and 38-year-old Dmitry, and his 44-year-old daughter Natalia all died in 1981, his wife in 1961. The story of how the Lykovs had provided for themselves, then accommodated to the incursions of the modern age is an amazing, poignant drama that Peskov reconstructs with delicacy and respect. The gift-bearing world that knocked on their door was welcome company, even as Karp and Agafia resisted efforts to return them to materialistic society. They gratefully accepted presents that eased their taxing self-sufficiency, like goats, chickens and proper footwear, but rejected such products as canned food: ``We are not allowed that.'' The Lykovs expressed their thanks by reciprocating with gifts of pine nuts and potatoes. When Agafia journeys to newfound relatives for a month's visit, readers are perplexed with mixed emotions, at once hoping and fearing that she'll be enticed by the conveniences she's introduced to, like train travel, shops, electricity. And we are even more torn when she determines to stay on alone in her taiga fastness after her 87-year-old father dies. Photos not seen by PW . Film rights to Jean-Jacques Annaud. (July)
Reviewed on: 05/30/1994
Release date: 06/01/1994
The Best Books, Emailed Every Week
Tip Sheet!