River of No Reprieve
Jeffrey Tayler
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Buy *River of No Reprieve: Descending Siberia's Waterway of Exile, Death, and Destiny* by Jeffrey Tayler online

River of No Reprieve: Descending Siberia's Waterway of Exile, Death, and Destiny
Jeffrey Tayler
256 pages
September 2007
rated 4 1/2 of 5 possible stars

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Think of Siberia and you will likely shiver involuntarily, picturing in your mind a vast icy frigid wasteland. Perhaps gulags straight from the pages of Solzhenitsyn or Dostoyevsky will haunt your thoughts, like a candy-induced Halloween nightmare, or scenarios of Dante’s inner circle of Hell from the Inferno, with Lucifer half-frozen in a lake of ice. You’d probably be unlikely to imagine Siberia as a vacation destination, but it’s actually a land of virtually unspoiled natural beauty (not counting some of the shanty towns there) that offers the intrepid traveler high adventure, of the sort author Jeff Tayler writes about in his latest book, River of No Reprieve: Descending Siberia’s Waterway of Exile, Death and Destiny.

It’s not the cheeriest title in the world, but it is eye-catching and dramatic, much like Siberia’s Lena River (the tenth longest on the planet) of the title. Born in America but married to a Russian woman and living in Moscow, Tayler has traveled to several countries in the world and has written about them in books such as Facing the Congo, Glory in a Camel’s Eye and Angry Wind. He wrote about a past trip to Siberia in Siberian Dawn, and he has boated on the Lena before. This time around, he’s determined to make it to the Arctic Circle, going through the Republic of Sakha, which “has the severest climate of any permanently inhabited region on earth.”

The author is accompanied by an experienced guide, the stern, stoic veteran of Russia’s war in Afghanistan, Vadim Alekseyev. On their voyage up the Lena, they encounter the people of the many villages and towns along the river’s course, including the descendants of prisoners exiled to the gulags, voracious mosquitoes, horseflies, midges, drunken skinheads, and much natural beauty. It may be surprising that one would choose to live in a place where the climate can be so extreme and harsh; but, as Tayler explains, besides images of “shattered lives and exile,” for the Russians Siberia also means a

“...revivifying wilderness, peace and escape from the trials that humans inflict on one another. After serving their sentences, many of those banished here here from European Russia in tsarist and Soviet times chose never to return to the materik (the material world, civilization).”
River of No Reprieve surprised me with its portrayal of the people of Siberia and the love they have for where they live. I came to the book knowing very little about Siberia other than the grim things I’d read about it in various novels like Crime and Punishment, and accounts of people who were exiled to the infamous gulags there, like Solzhenitsyn. The title of Tayler’s book only served to reinforce my ideas of Siberia, but the contents - ah, that was a different story. I learned that, despite the often harsh climate of Siberia and its troubled past, the people there as a whole have a great love for the region, and many would rather live there than anywhere else on earth. Though they no longer get as much assistance as they have in the past from Russia’s government, they get by, with their gardens of tomatoes, cucumbers, and potatoes to supplement the government’s monetary assistance. There are also tales of people who have succumbed to the ever-present temptation to drink excessively and become alcoholics. There’s the feeling of many Russians that, though Stalin was responsible for the murders of millions of his own countrymen and women, he was a great leader and Russia needs someone like that now, as well, to turn the country around and bring them back to renown as a superpower once again.

More than a travel story, River of No Reprieve can be enjoyed by those who like to read about history, as it presents a fair amount of information about Siberian and Russian history. It is also an adventure-filled account that should appeal to anyone interested in stories of survival versus nature. The tales of the people Jeffrey Tayler meets along the Lena River, and his growing relationship with Vadim, provide yet another reason to read and enjoy River of No Reprieve. It’s a fascinating look at Siberia sure to expand your preconceived notions about Siberia and provide you with hours of reading pleasure.

Originally published on Curled Up With A Good Book at www.curledup.com. © Douglas R. Cobb, 2007

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