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I am a New York-based writer, travel lover, and author of The Drive North and Destination Paranormal. I have several other books in the works, including fiction.

Travels in Siberia

Ian Frazier writes in Travels in Siberia, which was published in 2010, that Midwesterners have an unexplained fascination with Siberia. I am one of those people. While growing up in Minnesota, for whatever reason I took a Russian history course offered in high school. That inspired me to sign up for several more Russian history classes at the University of Minnesota. Now, after several years of dreaming, I still harbor a desire to cross a third of the globe – from St. Petersburg, Russia to Vladivostok – on the Trans Siberian Railway. And I travels in siberia by ian fraziercan’t for the life of me tell you why.

Other than a transit line like the Tube in London, the Metro in Paris, or the subway in New York City, I never before have been on a train. At least not with the intent to travel somewhere. Especially not on a trip like St. Petersburg to Vladivostok. And I have no Russian heritage to speak of, so the biggest question on going on such an adventure is: why? Again, for the life of me, I can’t tell you why, especially since I can’t tell you about a single thing that interests me in Vladivostok. I guess the name just sounds cool to me. Seriously. Take a second and say it out loud: Vlad-e-vah-stak.

Love it. It’s like Constantinople. It somehow rolls off the tongue.

Anyway. Travels in Siberia. Ian Frazier. He didn’t ride the Trans Siberian like I want to do. He one upped me. He drove the length of the country. With the help of guides, he drove from St. Petersburg to Vladivostok. That’s the bulk of his story. The other four parts (yeah, it’s long at nearly 500 pages) are made up of either historical background of the vast region or memoirs on his other trips to the area. Most of it is incredibly fascinating. For instance, in the fourth part, the section where he writes about his trip to the Yakutsk region – which is after his long drive – Frazier visits the coldest area on earth outside of Antarctica, as well as an old gulag, or prison camp.

I trudged through the first part of Travels in Siberia. It was slow. Tedious. Especially the history. A lot of it I already knew – and by that I don’t intend to brag, it’s just what it is since I’ve taken Russian history classes – and the rest of the background seemed quite random and babbling and thus relatively uninteresting. But Frazier’s own adventures. His stories. Now those were interesting, particularly once I got to part three, the section on the long drive. I buzzed through that and the last half of the book. If I had to estimate, I’d say it took me three days to read those parts and three weeks to read the first half.

I normally don’t like travel writing about destinations I would consider dangerous or someplace there really is no actual purpose to travel – like a war zone. A lot of people would think Siberia is just as threatening. But Frazier shows us otherwise. And I was completely fascinated by it – every page, every word – in the last half of the story. It was an amazing tale of daring and adventure, while never actually quite life-threatening. Well, that is unless you consider swarms of mosquitoes, -40 temps, and issues with food poisoning to be life-threatening.

Yeah. Okay. They can all be life-threatening in their own way. But, since the book was published, I knew they weren’t for Frazier. Instead he uses the experiences to tell a story with a lot of depth and personal character and experience. In doing so, Frazier also shows us the great personality of the Russian people, especially their kindness.

Don’t think it’s all rosy tales full of vodka and goulash, though. Not at all. Frazier tells of the country’s dark past and it’s difficult present under who some see as a new tsar – Vladimir Putin. Sure. He talks about how life is getting better, but at what cost? Frazier points out that there’s a lot of environmental rape going on that may only offer temporary economical gains, but cause a lot of long term problems for the country and its people.

Regardless, my interest in Russia, particularly traveling the Trans Siberian Railway, remains. Heck, it may even be stronger than ever. The whole idea absolutely fascinates me. With that said, I guess it’s time to give it some more thought on Frazier’s advice: “Sometimes travel is merely an opportunity taken when you can.” Maybe it’s time to take it.

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  1. Travel Books to Read if You’re Not Traveling | Jason's Travels - June 3, 2014

    […] Mention: Travels in Siberia by Ian Frazier was probably one of the slowest reads I’ve ever had. It took be a good couple of months to […]

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