cover image The Reindeer People: Living with Animals and Spirits in Siberia

The Reindeer People: Living with Animals and Spirits in Siberia

Piers Vitebsky, . . Houghton Mifflin, $28 (464pp) ISBN 978-0-618-21188-3

In northeast Siberia, temperatures can drop to 96 degrees below zero. Boiling water flung from a teacup will freeze before reaching the ground. In these unimaginable conditions, the Eveny nomads have lived and thrived for thousands of years. Vitebsky, who teaches anthropology and Russian studies at Cambridge University, has spent much of the last 20 years among these people and their herds of reindeer. No dry anthropological study, his story teems with strong personalities, perilous adventures and time-honored folkways. Wearing thick reindeer coats and boots, Vitebsky accompanies the tribesmen across Siberia seeking small animals to trap and sell. He meets hunters who live alone for a year at a time, Russian bureaucrats whose only concern is making quotas set by their comrades in Moscow, and the extended families whose ties bind them through month-long blizzards and the simple stuff of daily life. At the story's center are the reindeer, providing meat, clothing and income. While the Eveny's ancestors followed the reindeer, migrating from Upper Mongolia to northern Siberia, present-day Eveny now tame, cultivate and survive with them in almost perfect balance. With grace, courage and sensitivity, Vitebsky reveals an extraordinary world, spinning a tale to warm any winter's night. Photos. Agent, Kathleen Anderson. (Dec. 8)