Siberian Dawn: A Journey Across the New Russia

Jeffrey Tayler, Author Ruminator Books $27 (301p) ISBN 978-1-886913-26-4

The ideal readers for this book would be World Bank advisers drawing up credit agreements in their five-star Moscow hotel rooms as they dine on German beef. Yet anyone seeking an understanding of post-Soviet Russia that goes beyond the dull CNN cliched fade-out of a Lenin monument standing before a McDonald's will be mesmerized by this account of an American's overland journey from Magadan to Warsaw. Completing a trip that even few Russians would be willing to attempt, Tayler portrays a Russia to which foreigners have long been denied access, both geographically and spiritually. Tayler (a contributor to Atlantic Monthly and commentator for NPR's All Things Considered) begins his 8325-mile trip by hitching a ride out of deepest, darkest Siberia, above the Arctic Circle, where the remnants of the Gulag system lie strewn about the frozen steppe. His willingness to press onward and calmly accept local conditions distinguishes this experience from most Westerners' travels in Russia. The Kalmyk, Burati and other Siberian peoples, including the Russians, are a reminder that this is a country straddling Europe and Asia. The reader is confronted with a bleak landscape blighted by ecological disaster, alcoholism, poverty, bad roads (where roads exist at all) and a systemic breakdown so severe that many pine for a return to authoritarianism. Yet, through the entire book, Tayler's fascination with and love for the birch forest, the steppe and the enduring Russian spirit remain at the fore. Refreshingly, cracker-barrel discussion of who ""won the cold war"" and suggestions for reform are left out. (Feb.)