Booklist: On the Run in Siberia

By Colleen Mondor

willerslev_siberia coverDanish anthropologist Willerslev, author of the ethnographic study Soul Hunters (2007), has written a vivid personal account of his harrowing experiences with the Yukaghir fur hunters in Siberia. He sought to assist the hunters in bypassing the endemic corruption of post-Soviet society and selling their furs via a fair-trade fur cooperative. His idealism was sorely challenged by a host of social and cultural differences that, combined with the severe climate and nonexistent transportation infrastructure, left him demoralized. Things then took a deadly turn when greedy regional officials issued an arrest warrant in his name. In thrilling prose, Willerslev recounts his dogsled escape with a friend into the desolate taiga, and their subsequent near starvation takes the book in a whole new direction. As gripping as these chapters are, they still pale in comparison to the author’s clear-eyed view of the Siberian economy. The Yukaghirs are a subjugated people, and without galvanizing social change, Willerslev concludes, they cannot achieve personal success. “Whether an autocratic czar, a Communist dictator, or a democratically elected president, they will always fear him.” Whether Willerslev’s chronicle is selected for its political insights or as a stunning survival story, it will leave readers breathless.


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