Thanks for checking out the Powell's Blog this week. Today's my last day as the guest blogger, and I thought I'd finish up (surprise, surprise) with an episode from The Tiger. Some of the weirdest encounters we had in the Russian Far East had nothing to do with tigers or poachers or dubious dumplings. My translator and I spent a lot of time in transit between interviews, and some bizarre conversations were had: one fellow asked why we'd come all this way — didn't we have tigers in Canada? Another explained that global warming was caused by rockets blowing holes in the ozone layer; a third claimed that the former Soviet Union had covered 75% of the world's land area.
Because so much of life in the Far East is governed by a kind of whimsical rigidity — a combination of leftover Soviet bureaucracy and free market chaos — sometimes even simple interactions left us feeling as if we'd wandered into an insane asylum. To this day, the Russian Far East is a place where neither political correctness nor eco-speak have penetrated, and patriotism is vigorous and impassioned. On an early-21st-century Sunday in downtown Vladivostok, more than sixty years after the Red Army took Berlin, two grandsons of that heroic generation — pink-cheeked family men out for lunch with their wives and young children — invoked the legacy of World War II with a ferocity few Westerners could muster. After reasserting Russia's indispensable role in the defeat of the Nazis, and brushing aside the contributions of the Allies, one of these young men went on to say:
"If you stand with us, we will protect you with all our Russian soul. But if you are against us (a finger was jabbing now), we will fight you with all our Russian soul. We will fight you to the end!"
The speaker looked at his mate, and their eyes locked in solidarity; then they laughed, embraced, and knocked their heads together so hard you could hear the crack of bone on bone.
Thanks for reading.
For more info, visit: thetigerbook.com
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John Vaillant is also the author of The Golden Spruce. He has written for The New Yorker, The Atlantic, Outside, National Geographic, and Men’s Journal, among others. He lives in Vancouver, British Columbia, with his wife and children.
Books mentioned in this post
John Vaillant is the author of The Tiger: A True Story of Vengeance and Survival