The Tiger: A True Story of Vengeance and Survival (Vintage Departures) Info

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Reviews for The Tiger: A True Story of Vengeance and Survival (Vintage Departures):

4

Oct 13, 2010

Fearful symmetry indeed. In 1997, during time when the Soviet system had collapsed but nothing much had arisen to take its place, Vladimir Markov, desperate to provide for his family, made a very large mistake. In easternmost boreal Russia, he came across the remains of a huge wild boar and made off with it. Big mistake. The big pig was the prize of a local striped feline, and it took exception, a lot of exception. The region is a tough one and stealing anyone’s hard won resources is a big Fearful symmetry indeed. In 1997, during time when the Soviet system had collapsed but nothing much had arisen to take its place, Vladimir Markov, desperate to provide for his family, made a very large mistake. In easternmost boreal Russia, he came across the remains of a huge wild boar and made off with it. Big mistake. The big pig was the prize of a local striped feline, and it took exception, a lot of exception. The region is a tough one and stealing anyone’s hard won resources is a big existential no-no. The creature eventually tracked the two-legged thief back to his home and waited.

There are scenes in the beginning of this book that will give you chills. A tiger has killed a man and a group of investigators are on the scene. Vaillant describes the remnants of the victim as the group very carefully follows the trail of carnage, seeing what has been left uneaten. The tiger is probably watching. I was hooked very early on. Although the book does not sustain that high level of tingle, it is a fascinating look at the largest feline on earth, the Siberian tiger, or more specifically, the Amur tiger. I particularly liked the author’s description: “this is what you get when you pair the agility and appetites of a cat with the mass of an industrial refrigerator.” Siberians, larger than the more familiar Bengal tigers, max out at about 800 pounds.


The author

The man-eater in question did not stop at one. Investigators could see that there was purpose to this cat. Tigers do not normally prey on people. But this one went out of his way to hunt down his first victim. It is no wonder that locals consider some tigers to be more than merely human. Some are thought to be imbued with a supernatural aspect, making these already pretty scary critters even more terrifying. Vaillant tells of the investigation and its conclusions. Along the way he offers a picture of this remotest part of Russia, and many of the very colorful characters who have called it home, past and present. The area appears to have more in common with the American wild west than with a vid-phone-chatting 21st century.

Vaillant looks people’s innate reaction to tigers, reporting on a study which concludes that our awareness of predator-prey relationships is an in-born gift from our ancestors. There is a fascinating section on why predators are naturally selected for intelligence. A dumb tiger will starve to death if it does not first become a cat-sicle in the 40-below temperatures of winter in the Amur region.



But it is the relationship between people and the huge cat that is perfectly adapted to its taiga environment that is central to the story here. Players include local residents, poachers, a non-profit group paid to keep track of and protect remaining tigers, government officials, and the new and vibrant Chinese free market. Personal histories of many of the players offer a rainbow of local color. Each group has its own agenda regarding tigers and the central government is very far away, so rule, regulations and decisions are effectively local. The demise of the Soviet Union changed everything. Perestroika may have given birth to a new freedom to speak one’s mind, but the collapse of the state also gave its people the right to starve, making it that much more of a challenge keeping folks from hunting this regal predator for the many body parts for which there are lucrative markets. Profound environmental degradation has also driven the tiger into closer proximity to people, increasing the probability of conflict.

I had some small quibbles with the book. There are a passel of Russian words that are used to describe aspects of tigers and the local populace. It would have been helpful to have had a glossary at the back. The book could have used an index as well. That said, Vaillant’s tiger tale is nuanced. He reports on the pressures that are experienced by all the players here, reserving judgment, offering analysis and understanding instead. This is a fascinating look at a little-known creature in a nearly invisible part of the earth. Hopefully something can be done before the taiga tiger flames out entirely.

=============================EXTRA STUFF

Links to the author’s personal and Twitter pages. Well, actually Vaillant’s personal page is to his site for the book. There is a wealth of material here.

A CBC Radio interview with the author

A short Q&A with the author from
Publishers Weekly

November 2, 2017 - National Geographic - Endangered Siberian Tiger Returns From Exile - by Sarah Gibbens

October 25, 2018 - NY Times - Divide and Preserve: Reclassifying Tigers to Help Save Them From Extinction - By Rachel Nuwer
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4

Feb 28, 2012

A tiger goes man-eater and terrorizes a remote Siberian village. Can Yuri Trush and his men end the tiger's bloody reign of terror or join its long list of victims?

It sounds like the teaser for a trashy thriller but this story really happened. The Tiger is the story of a rogue tiger and it's man-eating ways.

My description of The Tiger makes it sound like the book is one long tiger hunt but it's so much more than that. The tiger hunt piece is almost an adventure yarn but for me, the best parts A tiger goes man-eater and terrorizes a remote Siberian village. Can Yuri Trush and his men end the tiger's bloody reign of terror or join its long list of victims?

It sounds like the teaser for a trashy thriller but this story really happened. The Tiger is the story of a rogue tiger and it's man-eating ways.

My description of The Tiger makes it sound like the book is one long tiger hunt but it's so much more than that. The tiger hunt piece is almost an adventure yarn but for me, the best parts of the book were the tangents about tiger hunting and life in Siberia in general. Trush only made 400 bucks a month and it was considered good wages?

I've concluded that life in Siberia resembles a polar post-apocalypse, like if Mad Max ever traveled to Alaska. The denizens of the Siberian taiga have the among the hardest of lives. Imagine using a spear for a backup weapon when hunting in this day and age? Throw a man-eating tiger into the mix and it seems like hell on earth to me.

The final fight with the tiger is pretty tense, especially considering it probably took less than a few minutes. I liked the epilogue, most notably the fact that many of the people in Trush's region think he has the taint of the tiger on him now and won't sleep under the same roof.

The tiger in this book was much less mellow than this tiger I saw at the Saint Louis Zoo, pain-maddened by an encounter with a human poacher.
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Vaillant's writing style made me forget I was reading non-fiction most of the time. It's very engaging. The only observation I want to make about it is that he jumps around quite a bit. I like that he devoted a lot of time to some of the tiger's victims but it may have been too much. Other than that, I have no complaints.




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5

Jan 21, 2011

Let's start with the moral of the story first: Do not fuck with an Amur tiger. Because if you do, she'll probably hunt you down, break into your cabin, drag your mattress across a frozen river, and lie down on it while she waits for you to come home so she can eat you. Literally eat you.

John Vaillant's narrative about Amur tigers and the people who live with them in the remote village of Sobolonye, Russia is compelling enough that you'll start looking suspiciously at your cat by the time you're Let's start with the moral of the story first: Do not fuck with an Amur tiger. Because if you do, she'll probably hunt you down, break into your cabin, drag your mattress across a frozen river, and lie down on it while she waits for you to come home so she can eat you. Literally eat you.

John Vaillant's narrative about Amur tigers and the people who live with them in the remote village of Sobolonye, Russia is compelling enough that you'll start looking suspiciously at your cat by the time you're a quarter of the way through. But although the narrative is brilliant, and possibly the star of the book, the book is far more than just narrative, as Vaillant paints a fully-realized portrait not only of the tiger, but of post-communist Russia and the people who live there.

Vaillant also happens to be a crack stylist:

"When the tiger met Markov, he would have been in full arctic mode: thickly furred in a way that his southern counterparts would never be, he was insulated by a dense, wooly undercoat laid over with long, luxuriant guard hairs. From certain angles, he appeared as bushy as a lynx. His tail was a furry python as thick as a man's arm. This was the winter tiger: not the svelte, languorous creatures of long grass and jungle pools, but the heavy-limbed sovereign of mountains, snow, and moonlight, resplendent and huge in his cool blue solitude."

I loved this book so much it's almost absurd. ...more
4

Oct 16, 2012

Like the beast this book is about, The Tiger is patient. It stalks ahead with care and diligence as it learns about its prey, and each step forward the tension builds until the target is reached and then it pounces with devastating fury.

The Tiger: A True Story of Vengeance and Survival by John Vaillant sounds like over-the-top macho stuff that should be avoided. Thankfully it is not. Instead it's a study of sociology, zoology, botany, history, geography, and the socio-economic climate of the far Like the beast this book is about, The Tiger is patient. It stalks ahead with care and diligence as it learns about its prey, and each step forward the tension builds until the target is reached and then it pounces with devastating fury.

The Tiger: A True Story of Vengeance and Survival by John Vaillant sounds like over-the-top macho stuff that should be avoided. Thankfully it is not. Instead it's a study of sociology, zoology, botany, history, geography, and the socio-economic climate of the far east Russian wilderness. It is the story of desperate poachers and the authorities trying to convict and protect them. And for excitement's sake, it is most importantly about a group of men tracking a man-eating tiger.

Vaillant writes great descriptions of the Amur Tiger protective agents with succinct and poignant details. He was also able to build the locally legendary characters of the area's poachers, even the ones who became the tiger's prey. With forensic evidence, post-mortums of the many hunts and subsequently successful kills by the tiger of man or animal were fully enacted in engrossing action that'll put the chills up your spine. A reminder/warning though: this is not a thrill-a-minute action novel. This is a balanced non-fiction. Be prepared to spend some time, for instance, learning about Russia's Perestroika movement in the 80s or relating the detrimental buffalo slayings of the old American West to the big game hunting that nearly wiped out the tigers of Russia's Taiga. So just beware, you might learn something.

Rating note: I was tempted to give it a 5 star rating, but the extra star would've been purely subjective. I don't think this is a 5 star book. It was just a really good book for me and my tastes. ...more
4

Jan 22, 2015

Were This Standard Nonfiction, Such Would be My Addiction
SIBERIAN MAN-EATER and ITS SYMBOLISM for RUSSIA



The wonders you can find in the giant, bountiful gardens of literature never cease to amaze. One need only look widely enough and take a chance and she might be put in the Siberian taiga (the sometimes swampy coniferous forest of high northern latitudes) in far eastern Russia as the locals encounter a looming Amur tiger a/k/a Siberian tiger, an otherworldly animal in all its magnificence, a ne Were This Standard Nonfiction, Such Would be My Addiction
SIBERIAN MAN-EATER and ITS SYMBOLISM for RUSSIA



The wonders you can find in the giant, bountiful gardens of literature never cease to amaze. One need only look widely enough and take a chance and she might be put in the Siberian taiga (the sometimes swampy coniferous forest of high northern latitudes) in far eastern Russia as the locals encounter a looming Amur tiger a/k/a Siberian tiger, an otherworldly animal in all its magnificence, a ne plus ultra combination of beauty and size and ferocity, growing up to ten feet in length from head to hind and nearly seven-hundred pounds. This Siberian seems intent on exacting revenge for being shot, having already eaten two men in separate incidents over several days.



In the course of this account, Mr. Vaillant colors the local characters and the poverty in the Primorski province of the Russian Far East, and makes one contemplate who is more danger to man (Panthera tigris altaica or Hominis corrupti regimen).




Absolutely brilliant nonfiction. ...more
5

Sep 14, 2010

It's one of those books that you get so absorbed in and you learn all of these interesting facts that you want to share with people... for instance (I just have to share!) tigers are known for their virility and their strength - and the Sanskrit word for tiger *vyagghra* was Anglicized into "viagra" for the well-known impotency medication. Interesting, right? Well, there's more to learn inside this book!

The author tries to accomplish a lot in this book, and by and large, he succeeds. At the core It's one of those books that you get so absorbed in and you learn all of these interesting facts that you want to share with people... for instance (I just have to share!) tigers are known for their virility and their strength - and the Sanskrit word for tiger *vyagghra* was Anglicized into "viagra" for the well-known impotency medication. Interesting, right? Well, there's more to learn inside this book!

The author tries to accomplish a lot in this book, and by and large, he succeeds. At the core of the story is the investigation of a unique mauling in the remote forests in coastal Siberia in the mid-1990s. The team that is dispatched to look into the killing is very similar to a forensics team at a crime scene; they read the snow, see how the attack took place, follow the tiger's entrance and exit paths, and begin to formulate ideas based on what they find. The book focuses on this team (Inspection Tiger) and their members, as well as some of the nearby villagers. In doing so, the author's research delves into Soviet and new Russian politics, ideas towards the environment, science, and conservation, the biology and psychology of both the tigers and the humans, the wealth of myths and stories about tigers and other "monsters" throughout human history, the study of predator-prey biospheres, and the economics and black market demand for rare animals by superpowers like China. So, while the isolated incident of this one tiger on this one village is where the story starts, it is much bigger in context and ramifications.

Fascinating read - tied with Henriette Lacks as the best non-fiction of the year for me.

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4

Aug 14, 2010

The Tiger by John Vaillant is more than a description of a hunt for a man-eating Amur tiger in a mountainous sliver of southeastern Russia that borders China, Korea, and Japan. In this book, Vaillant gives us the socio-political and environmental context of the tiger hunt, and introduces us to the lives of the men who did not survive the tiger and of those who finally chase the tiger down. The place where the tiger lived is memorably described as a mixture of “the backwoods claustrophobia of The Tiger by John Vaillant is more than a description of a hunt for a man-eating Amur tiger in a mountainous sliver of southeastern Russia that borders China, Korea, and Japan. In this book, Vaillant gives us the socio-political and environmental context of the tiger hunt, and introduces us to the lives of the men who did not survive the tiger and of those who finally chase the tiger down. The place where the tiger lived is memorably described as a mixture of “the backwoods claustrophobia of Appalachia with the frontier roughness of the Yukon.” The taiga or “forest sea” has a peculiar ecosystem where subartic and subtropic collide and collude to sustain the widest range of flora and fauna on earth.

While Vaillant must vilify the poaching, he gives us the context in which to understand it: During the two decades prior to Markov’s birth, the Soviet Union lost approximately 55 million citizens—more than one fifth of its population—to manufactured famines, political repression, genocide, and war. Millions more were imprisoned, exiled, or forced to relocate, en masse, across vast distances. With the possible exception of China under Mao Zedong, it is hard to imagine how the fabric of a country could have been more thoroughly shredded from within and without. pp.57-58 The situation has grown more dire as the years have progressed: Prior to the reopening of the Chinese border following Gorbachev’s rapprochement with Beijing in 1989, commercial tiger poaching was virtually unknown in Russia. Since, then, the export of Primorye’s natural resources—in all their forms and shades of legality—has exploded while local Russians have found themselves completely overmatched by the Chinese: their hustle, their business acumen, and their insatiable appetite for everything from ginseng and sea cucumbers to Amur tigers and Slavic prostitutes…In Asia today , wildlife trafficking is a multibillion-dollar industry, and roughly three quarters of all trafficked wildlife ends up in China, which has become a black hole for many endangered species. pp.222-223
Many of the people living in the Primorye region nonetheless have a history of respect for tigers, the "czar" of animals and would live with them in harmony and respect. A telling story is related from an earlier time: Caldwell, a Methodist, soon realized that tigers were… present and eating his parishioners. And yet, much to his dismay, his parishioners seemed to venerate these beasts almost as if they were sacred cows. Armed with a carbine and the 117th Psalm, Caldwell began shooting every tiger he saw, only to find that the large striped cats he and his coolies brought out of the hills were greeted with skepticism. Elders in his village claimed they lacked certain tigerish attributes, but the subtext seemed to be that if this foreign devil had been able to kill them then they couldn’t possibly be real tigers. p. 92 More than the story of a tiger hunt, this is the story of a part of the world in the midst of upheaval. It is a record of a time and place that we would not ordinarily access, and that is probably changing irreversibly. ...more
1

Mar 25, 2011

Having heard of this book on NPR, I wanted to like it, the story of a man-eating tiger that hunts the hunters hunting it. The actual story could be told in 1/2 a cd; the other 9 1/2 CDs are filled with other stories. It is an ADD romp through the authors brain. If you want a geography work that goes down many, many tangential connections to the main story, this book will interest you. It is filled with many fascinating stories loosely connected to the main yarn. I got the book the b/c I was Having heard of this book on NPR, I wanted to like it, the story of a man-eating tiger that hunts the hunters hunting it. The actual story could be told in 1/2 a cd; the other 9 1/2 CDs are filled with other stories. It is an ADD romp through the authors brain. If you want a geography work that goes down many, many tangential connections to the main story, this book will interest you. It is filled with many fascinating stories loosely connected to the main yarn. I got the book the b/c I was interested in the main yarn, which as I stated previously, is actually pretty short and could be told in 20 pages probably. The author anthropomorphizes the tiger to an incredible degree. At various points he addresses given the tiger human qualities, which usually come off as pretty weak. He also spends a great time building up the tiger and how terrible they are--becomes a little hyperbolic. Again, I wanted to like this book; I even teach a geography course, but I found myself talking to the CD player asking the author to just tell the story already. ...more
4

Jun 19, 2018

Very cool book about a tiger on a vendetta ... seriously. True story told from the perspective of the poachers, the trackers, their families and, of course, the tiger. If you like learning about tigers in the wild, you'll probably enjoy this book.

4 Stars = Outstanding. It definitely held my interest.
5

Jan 28, 2015

In 1997, a tiger killed and ate a man in the far reaches of Russia's Siberia region. It did so in a methodical manner, unlike anything the people there had seen before. Soon, the tiger struck again, terrorizing a small village and then attacking another man and eating him. This was possibly not the tiger's first go around with eating humans. Determined to be a threat, the government's Inspection Tiger task force was given the responsibility to investigate and stop this tiger once and for all.

In 1997, a tiger killed and ate a man in the far reaches of Russia's Siberia region. It did so in a methodical manner, unlike anything the people there had seen before. Soon, the tiger struck again, terrorizing a small village and then attacking another man and eating him. This was possibly not the tiger's first go around with eating humans. Determined to be a threat, the government's Inspection Tiger task force was given the responsibility to investigate and stop this tiger once and for all.

Sounds pretty promising, right? Nice little tale of terror, neatly wrapped up in a 500 word article for Outside or National Geographic, maybe with some pretty pictures and maps. Well, this book is more than that. It is panoramic in its scope, covering everything from ethnobiology to history to economics to political science to spiritualism to wildlife conservation. The author gives a vivid picture of a society unlike many others - a cold, forbidding, primal place, where man is not at the top of the food chain, and where man lives or dies on his relationship to his local environment.

Nothing feels padded here. John Vaillant has researched and done his leg work to bring not just a chilling tale of an animal gone wild, but also that tale in complete context of its existence. Everything is pieced together. Nothing is extraneous.

I'm both amused and saddened by the one star reviews this book has on Amazon. Nearly all of them are some variation that the book is not just about the hunt for the tiger. Most bemoan the inclusion of contextual data. Clearly, their brains hurt if forced to think in a non-linear fashion. A rather sad indictment of the US education system.

I was never bored with this book. The prose is beautiful to read, but not laden with excessive words or phrases. Everything is how it should be. Highly recommended.
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5

Sep 14, 2010

My mother tells a true story about her mother and a cat. My grandmother had accidently stepped on the cat. The cat took umbrage. The cat hidden, waited, and then attacked my grandmother's feet.

House cats know about revenge and vengeance.

House cats wish they were as big as tigers. (At least my cats do, or seem to, when there are three dogs, not just the one dog, in the house).

Second bit of true infromation. Tigers are missing what is the tiger version of the collarbone. This allows them to jump My mother tells a true story about her mother and a cat. My grandmother had accidently stepped on the cat. The cat took umbrage. The cat hidden, waited, and then attacked my grandmother's feet.

House cats know about revenge and vengeance.

House cats wish they were as big as tigers. (At least my cats do, or seem to, when there are three dogs, not just the one dog, in the house).

Second bit of true infromation. Tigers are missing what is the tiger version of the collarbone. This allows them to jump really far. An Indian tiger can gain the height of a Asian Elephant quite easily.

Tigers are the most awesome cats on the face of the earth.

I never, ever want to meet one in the wild unless I'm in a very sturdy car.

Vaillant's book is in part true life animal story, part love poem to the dangerous cat in the world. On one level, Vaillant presents the natural history of the tiger. On the next level, Vaillant discusses the history of tiger resuce and Russia's far East. On the last level, Vaillant tells the story of a tiger's search for vengeance.

Be warned. You might chew your lip to pieces reading this book.

The tiger of the title is an Amur Tiger (Siberian Tiger) who kills humans after a violent debate over food rights (or dogs). To Vaillant's credit, he makes the victims human, in other word, they are more than poaches who desire what they had coming to them. In the process, Vaillant also makes a very strong case and plea for why these animals should be protected. He also illustrates the problems facing the Far East of Russia and paints a vivid potrait of life there.

The book is a hunter's story, along the lines of the search for Lobo the Wolf in the American West. It is very similar in tone and respect. Additionally, the book is full of facts about tigers (who can jump from the water like dolphins, who kill bears on princple, and who sound surprising human), facts about Russia, and about animal biolgoy.

It is well worth a read.

I wish I could give it 6 stars. ...more
4

Oct 28, 2018

A man eating Tiger! A true story that takes place in far east Russia. The tiger gobbled up two men in two different attacks. A real pager turner. Lots of tiger lore, russian history and suspense of the hunt included.
3

Sep 09, 2010

I had mixed feelings on this one.

I absolutely loved learning about the Amur tiger. Such an incredible creature: beautiful, powerful, intelligent, and terrifying. Certainly an animal that demands respect. It was amazing to hear what life is like for the people who live there amongst them. I can’t even begin to imagine sharing a habitat with tigers! Wow. I also really enjoyed all the bits of history on Russia and its culture. Those parts were truly interesting and I learned so much while reading I had mixed feelings on this one.

I absolutely loved learning about the Amur tiger. Such an incredible creature: beautiful, powerful, intelligent, and terrifying. Certainly an animal that demands respect. It was amazing to hear what life is like for the people who live there amongst them. I can’t even begin to imagine sharing a habitat with tigers! Wow. I also really enjoyed all the bits of history on Russia and its culture. Those parts were truly interesting and I learned so much while reading this, which is awesome.

The issue I had with the book was, while I did enjoy all the historical extra info Vaillant included (outside of the main story), I became frustrated with the constant veering off every time he introduced a new character. I didn’t feel like there was always a need to tell their back stories. Some of the characters, yes, I can understand why it was included. But for the most part, I didn’t find it to enhance the story much. It just became distracting and kept killing the momentum. I also had the hardest time keeping all the characters straight. I don't know if this was due to all the names being Russian or what, but it was frustrating.

Overall, a good read. There were definitely 5 star moments but, unfortunately, they didn’t stick around. Not as wonderful as I hoping it would be, but I'm still glad I read it. ...more
5

Jan 03, 2019

Reads like true crime featuring the "Czar of the Forest."

This book is a trip into Primorye, a remote area in southeast Russia by the Sea of Japan.

A tiger tracks a man (/potential poacher) to his cabin, and waits for the man to come home. He is annihilated in one of the most violent deaths by tiger ever recorded.

"To end a person's life is one thing; to eradicate him from the face of the earth is another. The latter is far more difficult to do, and yet the tiger had done it, had transported this Reads like true crime featuring the "Czar of the Forest."

This book is a trip into Primorye, a remote area in southeast Russia by the Sea of Japan.

A tiger tracks a man (/potential poacher) to his cabin, and waits for the man to come home. He is annihilated in one of the most violent deaths by tiger ever recorded.

"To end a person's life is one thing; to eradicate him from the face of the earth is another. The latter is far more difficult to do, and yet the tiger had done it, had transported this young man beyond death to a kind of carnal oblivion."

Sprinkled in among the hunt for the man eating tiger, is a rich history of the land, the people who call it home, and the psyche of the tigers who live there.

Tigers, like sharks, are solitary hunters existing from one kill to the next—exercising abstract thinking in the process.

Vaillant does an excellent job building up the surrounding circumstances to one rogue tiger's streak of what appears to be vengeance, breaking down every element in play from sociology to scientific facts.

"Ultimately, the problem comes down to umwelt; we are such prisoners of our subjective experience that it is only by force of will and imagination that we are able to take leave of it at all and consider the experience and essence of another creature—or even another person."

Overall, I learned a lot from this book and it reminded me of a Russian history class I took in undergrad—except more tiger oriented. The writing is very evocative and atmospheric, almost like you're tracking the tiger alongside the men.

"'She chewed up chainsaws,' he recalled, 'stole a gas can and chewed that up, covered herself in gas. Then she attacked a logger.' With life as difficult as it is in the forest, and with so many other things to focus on, the motive to do things like this is hard to ascribe to anything other than rage, desperation, or insanity—all of which lie well within the tiger's emotive spectrum."

"Stepping gingerly over the ice and plowing through the drifts, there was in its progress something relentless and mechanical: the clouds of steam chugging, engine like, from its nostrils, translucent whiskers laced with hoarfrost from its own hot breath."

***Don't worry—this book is not about killing tigers for fun or sport, it's about tracking down one tiger that went off the rails, so to speak. Valiant does due diligence in discussing the danger tigers face and the steps being taken to preserve and protect the species. He also leaves us with this:

"For tigers to exist, we have to want them to exist." ...more
5

Sep 16, 2011

At its simplest, this is a tale of a tiger and two men. A Siberian tiger, huge, terrifying, beautiful, awe-inspiring. The two men: Vladimir Markov, an unemployed logger turned poacher, and Yuri Trush, a game warden whose job it is to catch poachers. They live within the tiger's range, the taiga or circumpolar boreal forest of the Russian Far East, which has been hard hit by perostroika (the locals refer to it as "katastroika"), a sort of post-industrial society in which the human inhabitants eke At its simplest, this is a tale of a tiger and two men. A Siberian tiger, huge, terrifying, beautiful, awe-inspiring. The two men: Vladimir Markov, an unemployed logger turned poacher, and Yuri Trush, a game warden whose job it is to catch poachers. They live within the tiger's range, the taiga or circumpolar boreal forest of the Russian Far East, which has been hard hit by perostroika (the locals refer to it as "katastroika"), a sort of post-industrial society in which the human inhabitants eke out an existence on the edge of starvation. The Siberian tiger lives on the edge of starvation too, and while it is protected by law, they are a great temptation to poachers, who can get as much as $50,000 for one on the black market. Markov crosses the path of a male tiger, wounds him and takes his kill. The tiger stalks him, stakes out his hunting cabin in the woods, waits at his doorstep for him to return one night, and kills him. But instead of returning to the forest and other prey, the injured tiger sets out on a path of destruction, which to those who are tracking it, as unbelievable as it seems, appears to be a journey to settle accounts. More broadly though the book is about our relationship (and responsibility) to the wild things of this earth, about the ancient, prehistoric ties between the big cats and us and the closeness between predator and prey, about human nature, animal nature, and animal intelligence. It's a fascinating story. ...more
3

Nov 01, 2010

Sigh, yet another popular book of narrative nonfiction that takes what is essentially a topic for a good magazine essay and blows it up to book length with all kinds of digressive excursions into anything remotely relating the main story. Basically, in 1997, a tiger killed a hunter in the Russian Far East, leading to a tiger-hunt. This takes about fifty pages to detail (and I do mean detail), leaving another 250 to be filled with all kinds of material, such as the history of the region (which is Sigh, yet another popular book of narrative nonfiction that takes what is essentially a topic for a good magazine essay and blows it up to book length with all kinds of digressive excursions into anything remotely relating the main story. Basically, in 1997, a tiger killed a hunter in the Russian Far East, leading to a tiger-hunt. This takes about fifty pages to detail (and I do mean detail), leaving another 250 to be filled with all kinds of material, such as the history of the region (which is pretty interesting), the ecology of the region (less interesting), indigenous beliefs in the region (not so interesting), the effects of perestroika on the region (predictable), the anatomy and zoology of various kinds of tigers (dry), and a whole lot of stuff concerning the relations between humans and animals. There was nothing particularly badly written about any of this, it's just that I kept feeling like most of it was extraneous and there to stretch the page count, rather than support the main story. Even the parts directly relating to the tiger and the hunt for it spent an awful lot of time delving into the life stories of everyone involved, not to mention huge amounts of speculation concerning their inner thoughts (including that of the tiger). Which is not so say that the conclusions the author draws don't seem reasonable, but at the end of the day one has to wonder whether the story of a tiger that killed two people is really worth the amount of effort clearly spent here.
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5

Oct 03, 2017

Have you ever heard of the Russian region of Primorye? I never had, but I was mesmerized by what I learned in this incredible John Vaillant book, THE TIGER. Primorye is a place that is both tropical and cold, and it lies in the southeastern corner of Russia. In this area, even the bears give way to the largest tigers in the world. This is an amazing account of a man-eater, as well as the fascinating cultures and politics of a seemingly isolated part of the world. I loved this book.
5

May 25, 2011

Every once in a while I crave one of these true-adventure/true-story tales. This one grabs you by the throat in the first page and does not let up. Talk about a skill with language, an ability to evoke--this is an amazingly written book, fantastic! And its about tigers, and politics, and people, and the environment they share. The environment is just incredible--sub-Arctic meets sub-tropics! Hurricanes and blizzards.

Vaillant weaves together culture, politics, history, and more to tell us of the Every once in a while I crave one of these true-adventure/true-story tales. This one grabs you by the throat in the first page and does not let up. Talk about a skill with language, an ability to evoke--this is an amazingly written book, fantastic! And its about tigers, and politics, and people, and the environment they share. The environment is just incredible--sub-Arctic meets sub-tropics! Hurricanes and blizzards.

Vaillant weaves together culture, politics, history, and more to tell us of the tiger. He gives a sense of one side of "the Russian soul." While I can't judge the veracity if his portrayal, it rings true. Even though he does go on and on with his anti-Sovietism, beyond Stalin, his criticism and cynicism really seem aimed more at bureaucracy and corruption, and do not stop with the Soviets. For instance, from his discussion of the degradation and rape of this unique ecosystem, we learn that: "The most valuable timber in the Far East grows in Primorye . . . Much of what China makes from this Russian wood finds it's way into American big box stores. The reason chain store prices--e.g., $20 for a solid oak toilet seat--seem too good to be true is because they are." (p. 34)

Life is hard and the area is sparsely populated, in part by exiles, in part by folks who maybe just couldn't get themselves up for the arduous (and expensive) journey back west, in part by serious loners, and in part by those who love it. Vaillant summarizes some of the difficulties: "In the taiga, the combination of poverty, unemployment, and highly dangerous people and animals exacerbates a situation that is, at best, untenable." (p. 44)

Vaillant gives us a strong flavor of the relationships between the men (and they are mostly men) and animals in this harsh environment, often through quotes with those living there. In talking about a tiger that killed a hunter, one friend says: "If the tiger had felt that it was his fault--if he had killed a dog or done something else wrong--then he would have gone away." (p.175) "The tiger is strong, powerful, and fair." (p. 178) There is much anthropomorphism here, not only as quoted, but also by Vaillant. In fact, he makes a case for its inevitability, even necessity. Certainly if it helps a hunter or trapper avoid crossing a predator like a tiger, and keep himself more or less adequately fed--who's to argue?

Beautifully written, this book displays a true respect and love for the area and all who life there. ...more
5

Dec 01, 2011

The Tiger: A True Story of Vengeance and Survival has a great piece of advice if you ever find yourself in the wilds… don’t screw with a tiger. (I would have said something stronger but my wife has told me to “clean up” my vocabulary.) This book gets a strong 4.5 to 5 Stars from me. I was hooked on the story from the first page. The drama of a wounded tiger seeking and wreaking vengeance sounds “Hollywood” but Mr. Vaillant shows how this true story is even better than cinematic fiction. The The Tiger: A True Story of Vengeance and Survival has a great piece of advice if you ever find yourself in the wilds… don’t screw with a tiger. (I would have said something stronger but my wife has told me to “clean up” my vocabulary.) This book gets a strong 4.5 to 5 Stars from me. I was hooked on the story from the first page. The drama of a wounded tiger seeking and wreaking vengeance sounds “Hollywood” but Mr. Vaillant shows how this true story is even better than cinematic fiction. The major framework is built around the tiger, his victims and the pursuers out to kill the man-eater. What makes this book so interesting is the tangents that Vaillant goes off on (I can see how some would find this distracting from the story). I rate this book highly for the new concepts it introduced me to.

The backdrop of far eastern Siberia, deep in the grip of winter and suffering in the aftermath of the USSR collapse, is brought vividly to life. I studied Russian for 3 years in school, came up in the military with the Great Russian Bear threat hanging over our western way of life, trained to fight the USSR in the Fulda Gap and the North German plain, yet, always held a certain amount of respect for them. This book really brings the Russian capacity for endurance into focus. These people have a tough life in the forests and the taiga of Siberia. The characters in the book are all very interesting and often tragic or sad.

This book brings you into discussions of zoology, anthropology, sociology, taphonomy, and paleontology just to name a few areas. You are introduced to the concepts of Umwelt and Unbegung. These are fascinating ways to look at how we (and animals) may perceive our environment. Here is one discussion to give you an idea how the book explains predator and prey:

(view spoiler)[ Ivan Dunkai’s son Vasily, a lifelong hunter who has shared his territory with tigers all his life, has come to a similar conclusion. On a bitterly cold day in March 2007, he tried to put the tiger into a context an outsider could understand. “A hunter can only rely on himself,” he said. “If anything happens, there is no one to help him, and all of us who live this way have a very advanced intuition. We also carry the experience of our ancestors in our heads: that’s how a man functions in taiga. The tiger is a hunter, just the same as a man is a hunter. A hunter has to think about how to get his prey. It is different for boar and deer: if leaves or cones fall down from a tree, that’s what they eat; there is no need to think. Tigers think.”

Clark Barrett, a professor in the anthropology department at UCLA and an expert on predator-prey dynamics, describes the deer’s advantage as the anywhere but here principle: all a prey animal needs to do is be anywhere the predator isn’t—it doesn’t matter if it’s a foot away, or a hemisphere—and it will live another day. The predator, on the other hand, must be exactly where its prey is; and at exactly the same moment, or it will starve. Thus, for a predator, mastery of both time and space—in addition to a thorough understanding of terrain and prey behavior—are crucial. Pack hunting, of course, increases the odds enormously, but unlike the wolf or the lion, the tiger is a solo stealth hunter and, thus, has a far more challenging task. Possessing neither the endurance to run its prey down, nor the numbers to surround and harry it, the tiger’s method must instead resemble that of the lone assassin: it must insert itself almost intravenously into its prey’s umwelt—an umwelt, it must be noted, that has evolved over millions of years to be exquisitely sensitive to the presence of felid predators. Making matters still more difficult is the fact that tiger prey typically travel in herds. With their dozens of eyes, ears, and nostrils, and their decades of collective tiger-evading experience, a herd of deer or boar can be as vigilant and jumpy as a Secret Service detail. In order to subvert this, the tiger must embody a contradiction: this large, pungent, extraordinarily charismatic animal must achieve a state of virtual nonexistence while operating inside the sphere of its prey’s highly attuned senses. Witnesses, native and Russian alike, agree that there is something almost metaphysical about the tiger’s ability to will itself into nonbeing—to, in effect, cloak itself. In the Bikin valley, it is generally believed that if a tiger has decided to attack you, you will not be able to see it. With the exception of the polar bear, which also hunts by stealth, there is no other land mammal this big whose survival depends on its ability to disappear. (hide spoiler)]

You will veer off the main story often but always with a point. A visit to the Kalahari Desert and the Bushmen gives an idea how man coexists with nature’s predators. A discussion of other paleoanthropologists gives you a different view on whether man was a hunter/killer or a scavenger in the earliest days. A great vignette from WWII-era South Africa and two German fugitives from the war is another enlightening story. I found these tangents instructive and fun. You will also relive tiger attacks with several who have survived these awful encounters. Here is a verse from one of the survivors:

I’ve read a tiger’s not dangerous,
They say the tiger won’t attack
But one thing’s not clear to me.
Has he read this, too? Does he know?

In the end, the Tiger meets his end but the chase is exciting right to the amazing final encounter. The impact of Chinese expansion and Russian corruption on the habitat is constant and may result in the extinction of this “czar of the forest”. Read this book to understand what a tragedy that will be. ...more
3

Mar 02, 2012

This is a hard book to rate. Some passages were brilliant and rated a 4; others bored me half to death and would merit only a 2. Overall a decent read, with good subject matter and adequate research. The author has a tendency to wander off topic; sometimes this enhances the story but there are those other times where you wish he would quit lecturing and get back on topic, already. It's a book with great potential but might have been improved by being briefer and more to the point.
5

May 25, 2011

THE TIGER: A TRUE STORY OF VENGEANCE AND SURVIVAL by John Vaillant is both a gripping adventure with larger than life characters, and a lesson in geography and ecology. The setting is Russia's Maritime Territory, Primorye – a thumb(or claw) of land bounded by the Sea of Japan on the east, and Manchuria and the tip of North Korea on the West. Distinctive features include Vladivostok at the southern most tip, the Amur River which flows the length from Mongolia in the north to the Tartar Strait in THE TIGER: A TRUE STORY OF VENGEANCE AND SURVIVAL by John Vaillant is both a gripping adventure with larger than life characters, and a lesson in geography and ecology. The setting is Russia's Maritime Territory, Primorye – a thumb(or claw) of land bounded by the Sea of Japan on the east, and Manchuria and the tip of North Korea on the West. Distinctive features include Vladivostok at the southern most tip, the Amur River which flows the length from Mongolia in the north to the Tartar Strait in the south (the Chinese call it Heilongjiang-The Black Dragon). Locally, the Ussuri, flowing from north to south and connecting the Amur to Lake Khanka and the Bikin River flowing at right angles to the Ussuri are defining features of the province. That the Trans-Siberian Railway only skims the western Manchurian Russian border en route to Vladivostok is a pointed reminder of the region's remoteness. The average population of the area is less than 1 person per square kilometer. The action centers around a former forestry village, Sobolonye (Sable Place). It is from such linguistic details that much of the flavor of the book resides.

The human inhabitants are a motley assemblage of soviet remnants, ethnic exiles and indigenous Nanai and Udegheghk. Yuri Anatolievich Trush is leader of the Tiger Inspection squad. His background includes soldiering in Kazakhstan in the 70's, competitive weight lifting, and teaching hand-to-hand fighting to the military police, His salary as part of the Tiger Inspection Unit is paid by foreign conservation groups. As a child, he hunted with his father in the forests east of the Urals. In the military, he also worked as a fishing inspector. Vladimir Markov, the victim, was part of the troop concentration in the 1969 Russian-Chinese border confrontations. Trained in reconnaissance skills, he was able to adapt to the remote taiga and chose it over the chaos in the wake of Perestroika (nicknamed “Katastroika” by some Russians) engulfing the rest of the country. Here he maintained a subsistence living in the forest, and possibly dabbled in lucrative poaching. Finally, the third major character is the Amur tiger. The word “amba” is used both for the tiger and a malevolent spirit said to sometimes take the earthly form of a tiger. A particular canon revolves around a specialized amba, the egule, a kind of man-eating weretiger. As well as a rich mythology, a pragmatic maxim of circumspection: If I don't bother her, she won't bother me,” facilitated human life among the Amur tigers.

The pivotal question in this story is whether the Amur tiger has the capacity for vengeance. A history of stories from naturalists and hunters as well as current inhabitants has been gathered supporting such a claim A convincing theoretical framework for such a notion is advanced with Jakob von Uexkuell's concept of the Umwelt. Finally, the events leading up to the death of Markov and their astonishing aftermath are reconstructed. It is a story of a tiger transformed by his vengeful encounter with Markov. This is the story arc of the book and the sense of psychological tension and drama are sufficient to hold the reader's interest from beginning to end.

I loved this book so much that I was moved to make a contribution to one of the conservation groups Vaillant mentions in his book. It is an extraordinary story of human survival and co-existence with nature, as well as the intelligence, natural history, and prospects for the Amur Tiger.

NOTE: 12/15/2015, article about Zolushka, successfully released into the wild. http://www.ifaw.org/united-states/new...
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5

Sep 28, 2010

"The Tiger" is the kind of nonfiction book that has many layers beyond what the title promises, all of which turn out to be interesting. The top layer of the story is about a Siberian tiger that, in the late 1990s, went berserk in the region of Primorye, a day's travel north of Vladivostok. It killed three people and terrified a town for days before the authorities put it down. The book introduces the tiger, its habitat, and its lifestyle. The next layer is showing what life is like for the "The Tiger" is the kind of nonfiction book that has many layers beyond what the title promises, all of which turn out to be interesting. The top layer of the story is about a Siberian tiger that, in the late 1990s, went berserk in the region of Primorye, a day's travel north of Vladivostok. It killed three people and terrified a town for days before the authorities put it down. The book introduces the tiger, its habitat, and its lifestyle. The next layer is showing what life is like for the inhabitants of that remote northern region in the years after "katastroika," when jobs were non-existent, so men turned to fishing in -40-degree weather, gathering pine nuts, or poaching tigers to sell their parts over the border in China. The backstories of the men who appear here go back several generations, showing the level of breakdown in Soviet society over the past hundred years. Several sections depict it's like to support yourself by subsistence hunting: something you'll see portrayed in books from Little House in the Big Woods to Clan of the Cave Bear, but rarely as evocatively as here. We see the Siberian hunters at work with their dogs and how they read "the white book" of the snow. On another layer, the author talks about how man evolved as a creature that's simply good at not getting eaten by other animals and how our instincts about dangerous carnivores like tigers are hair-trigger, even in very urbanized societies. A man in the forest in 1996 is quite closely related to the prehistoric cave painters of southern Europe, in this author's account. The book talks about tiger conservation as an idea that developed on the heels of early twentieth-century "gunbarrel zoology" and how it conflicts with the reality of life in places like Primorye. Though the book is called "The Tiger," it's really about people, how they deal with harsh situations, and how they interact with the wild.

So what went wrong with this particular tiger? Tigers don't usually attack people, but this tiger seemed to be stalking a specific man. The author pulls together a theory of what provoked this tiger and what happened over those tense days, but it's all the colorful, informative background that makes this really worthwhile. ...more
5

Dec 20, 2013

The Tiger ***** John Vaillant

I highly recommend this book. Not just for the story, although it’s compelling, but for the history. The story itself is about a Siberian (“Amur”) tiger which is very hungry, badly injured, and irritated. It starts killing members of a Russian community in the Primorye province. The men have the dangerous job of tracking the tiger and killing it.
But there's a lot more here: interesting information about tigers, the culture of the Russian Far East, issues regarding The Tiger ***** John Vaillant

I highly recommend this book. Not just for the story, although it’s compelling, but for the history. The story itself is about a Siberian (“Amur”) tiger which is very hungry, badly injured, and irritated. It starts killing members of a Russian community in the Primorye province. The men have the dangerous job of tracking the tiger and killing it.
But there's a lot more here: interesting information about tigers, the culture of the Russian Far East, issues regarding the Chinese-Russian border; and the dire consequences of perestroika on poorer Russians. The geographic location is also interesting: "the meeting place of four distinct bioregions–taiga, Mongolian steppes, boreal forests, and Korean tropics.” All these various elements are woven together in a way that keeps the reader engaged. The bare bones story itself could probably be summarized in 160 words on page three of a newspaper. That wouldn’t do justice to the story though. The historical context is as important as the narrative. That’s what takes the reader to this unique place, where life is harsh, and survival is not a given.

The events in the story are from the late 1990s. The characters live on the fringes of Russian society, a world away from Moscow. They are living hand to mouth just to stay alive. They might have a TV and other modern conveniences, but they still have to rely on hunting small game and gathering pine cones. Tigers and people have always coexisted successfully in this area, yet the balance is so fragile that either may be forced to hunt the other just to survive. There are some fascinating statistics on tigers, including their declining numbers, their amazing physical abilities, and the Chinese appetite for tiger products. They’ve been overhunted, and the delicate balance of people and tigers sharing the area has been upended.
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4

Dec 09, 2019

The review to read here is by Will Byrnes, https://www.goodreads.com/review/show...
Key quote: "Vaillant’s tiger tale is nuanced." Note that the man-killing tiger was injured, and could no longer hunt its usual prey -- as is common in historic man-eaters. And tigers need a LOT of meat to survive a Siberian winter. You do not want to be charged by a hungry, 500 pound tiger! It's quite a story, and I recommend it with a few reservations. 3.7 stars, rounded up.

A couple more adds, from my sparse The review to read here is by Will Byrnes, https://www.goodreads.com/review/show...
Key quote: "Vaillant’s tiger tale is nuanced." Note that the man-killing tiger was injured, and could no longer hunt its usual prey -- as is common in historic man-eaters. And tigers need a LOT of meat to survive a Siberian winter. You do not want to be charged by a hungry, 500 pound tiger! It's quite a story, and I recommend it with a few reservations. 3.7 stars, rounded up.

A couple more adds, from my sparse notes: Well-written and well-researched but TMI at times. Then again, chilling grace notes: an incident when a pride of lions in Africa slaughtered an entire troop of baboons. When the baboons realized they had no hope of escape, they covered their eyes and awaited their fate.

People and tigers don't coexist well. Especially in a place like Russia's "Wild East." But their population has modestly rebounded since Vaillant's book was written, due to intensive conservation efforts: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Siberia...

Here's the review that led me to read it, by Kelly Robson, https://kellyrobson.com/my-favorite-n...
"In the isolated Amur region of Siberia, poachers hunt tigers, and the tigers hunt them right back. This is the story of how tigers respond to human threat, taking revenge in ways that are simultaneously human and alien. We know cats are smart. This book show’s they’re also psychologically sophisticated. Cats know us well.

At points, while reading this book, I simply had to scream, “No way!” It’s brilliant." ...more
5

Mar 29, 2012

I really enjoyed this story. The author really appears to have done his research into the vast and remote area of the Far East called Siberia. I really feel like he was able to present the people, the culture and the natural habitat of that area in great detail and with a good paced writing style. It's all in the details. I prefer details over the gist of a story and this book is chock full of details. True, the story itself could have been told in probably about half the amount of time however, I really enjoyed this story. The author really appears to have done his research into the vast and remote area of the Far East called Siberia. I really feel like he was able to present the people, the culture and the natural habitat of that area in great detail and with a good paced writing style. It's all in the details. I prefer details over the gist of a story and this book is chock full of details. True, the story itself could have been told in probably about half the amount of time however, I enjoyed his asides because even though at the moment I wondered where he was going with them and why, it all made sense once he bridged back to the story. In fact, it made the story that much more informative once we were back on track. I feel like I learned a great deal but also was told an amazing story at the same time. At times, it was even had me on the edge of my seat.

I feel like he really presented the people and the Siberian cultures wonderfully. I really got a sense of these diverse people living in these remote regions. How they struggle and form a way of life so different from ours. How they cope, how they think, how they make sense of their environment and the superstitions they live with each day. Being of Russian descent, and having lived as a first generation American with strong cultural ties growing up, I felt the author presented these people very well. I could just picture these rugged Siberians/Russians living and interacting amongst one another with the stories and superstitions.

I feel I learned much about the tiger and have a new respect for this beautiful animal and a huge sadness that it is nearing extinction. This book should give pause to those who have concern about this amazing creature and I'm hopeful that with those who love and fight for this animal, things will turn out well. It's more than just a story about a tiger. It's a story about people, the environment and our involvement with one another. ...more

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