Full of fine sable


While waiting for one of my favorite restaurants to open on a recent Saturday in Evanston, I killed some time in Market Fresh Books, a used book store that sells by the pound.

Buried behind the travel shelf I found a battered copy of Farley Mowat’s The Siberians, which you can get for a penny + shipping on Amazon. I’d never heard of Mowat, but with “Siberia” and “travel writing” as key words, I figured it was a safe bet.

And a smart bet, too. As a Canadian, Mowat got prestige access to 1960s Siberia at a time when most U.S. writers were still locked out, left only to imagine a frozen, lifeless tundra teaming with gulags and wolves – a stereotype that still persists. But Mowat does a great job demystifying it, taking a comprehensive documentary snapshot of a world that’s largely disappeared over the past 60 years. Here are some of my favorite passages:

They called it Spirit Vilyui and I am not sure how it was made. They tell about one fellow who dropped a two-liter bottle of it on the frozen ground outside his house one cold winter night. The next morning there was a mudhole a meter in diameter and, when they tried to find how deep it was, they couldn’t get a probe long enough to reach the bottom.

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