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6 Siberia Travelogues for the Armchair Adventurer

Lara Croft’s search for the lost city of Kitezh takes her to the forests and mountain ranges of Siberia, a vast and often misunderstood region that stretches from Russia’s Ural Mountains to the country’s north Pacific coastline. Commonly viewed as a region of Arctic wastelands and Soviet-era prison camps, Siberia is a land full of stunning natural landscapes and home to numerous indigenous peoples.

Many of us may never get the chance to follow in Croft’s footsteps due to financial or physical limitations, so here’s a list of books that will allow you to explore the region’s cities and wild outdoors through the eyes of other adventurers.

Concept art from Rise of the Tomb Raider. Image Credit: Crystal Dynamics.

1 – Travels in Siberia by Ian Fraser

Fraser’s book is more than a travelogue: it offers an insight into Siberia’s past and post-Soviet present and combines historical facts and figures with the author’s own first-hand experiences of the region, which he acquired over the course of several years (and visits). While not a mountaineer or extreme sports enthusiast, Fraser’s travelogue still does a remarkable job of introducing the reader to the realities (and frustrations) of exploring eastern Russia.

Some have criticized the book for being a little too heavy on the history and not being a true travelogue but it’s important to remember that a place’s past can (and often does) shape its present and Fraser’s passion for the subject shines through in every chapter. A great read for anyone who’s interested in learning more about Siberia’s recent history.

2 – In Siberia by Colin Thubron

Colin Thubron’s book takes the reader on an incredible journey through this region of “bleak beauty” whose “white spaces induce fantasies and apprehension” in an attempt to demystify this largely misunderstood part of the world.

Travelling by car, bus, truck, train and boat, Thubron explores Siberia’s cities and some of its deserted villages, delving into the region’s troubled past, learning more about the various indigenous peoples who make Siberia their home, and meeting some interesting characters, including a peasant who claimed to be a descendent of Rasputin.

3 – The Consolations of the Forest: Alone in a Cabin on the Siberian Taiga by Sylvain Tesson, translated by Linda Coverdale

Back in 2010, French writer Sylvain Tesson decided to get away from the hustle and bustle of urban life and spent six months living alone in a cabin on the shore of Lake Baikal, where he spent his days fishing, reading, kayaking, going for walks in the woods with his two dogs, and meeting the occasional local inhabitant along the way.

His travelogue is essentially a journal of his thoughts and an account of daily life in his spartan refuge, reminding us of the virtues of solitude and conjuring up vivid mental images of the beautiful, but sometimes deadly, expanses of the Siberian taiga.

4 – On the Run in Siberia by Rane Willerslev, translated by Coilín ÓhAiseadha

On the Run in Siberia is Danish anthropologist Rane Willerslev’s account of his time amongst the Yukaghir hunters of Yakutia, where his involvement in setting up a fair-trade fur cooperative with the indigenous hunters aroused the suspicions of the local mafia and police and saw him flee into the taiga for his life.

Part memoir, part anthropological study, Willerslev’s book is a tale of political corruption and survival in one of the world’s most hostile environments and gives the reader an excellent insight into the livelihood, shamanistic traditions, and culture of one of Siberia’s indigenous tribes.

5 – Tent Life in Siberia: An Incredible Account of Siberian Adventure, Travel, and Survival by George Kennan

For a *real* adventure into the Siberian wilderness, George Kennan’s memoir is essential reading. In 1864, this American explorer was hired to survey a route for a proposed telegraph line that would connect Alaska with “European” Russia, a mission which led him to spend two years trekking through the wilds of Russia’s Far East and north-eastern Siberia.

Tent Life is a memoir of Kennan’s arduous journey in an age before GPS trackers and satellite phones, where journeys could often only be made on horseback or dog-sled and explorers had to rely on their wits and their companions’ knowledge of the land to survive. His observations of the local peoples’ customs, languages, and reactions to then-modern technology make this a perfect book for those who want to escape the modern world and broaden their cultural horizons. Highly recommended.  

6 – The Other Side of Russia: A Slice of Life in Siberia and the Russian Far East by Sharon Hudgins

Last but not least, Sharon Hudgin’s travelogue proves that there’s more to adventure than scaling mountains or building makeshift shelters. Eeryday life in a foreign land and language can be just as challenging.

Hudgin’s book is packed full of amusing anecdotes of her and her husband’s year-long stint in post-Soviet Siberia and offers a wonderful insight into the realities of modern city life in Irkutsk and Vladivostok and enough information on the local food and culture to draw the reader into her world. An excellent read for aspiring expats and visiting scholars.  

Shamanka (Shaman Rock) on Olkhon island, Lake Baikal.
Image credit: Wikimedia Commons.

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