The Tiger by John Valliant
Published by Vintage, an imprint of Random House
From the publisher:
It’s December 1997, and a man-eating tiger is on the prowl outside a remote village in Russia’s Far East. The tiger isn’t just killing people, it’s annihilating them, and a team of men and their dogs must hunt it on foot through the forest in the brutal cold. As the trackers sift through the gruesome remains of the victims, they discover that these attacks aren’t random: the tiger is apparently engaged in a vendetta. Injured, starving, and extremely dangerous, the tiger must be found before it strikes again.
As he re-creates these extraordinary events, John Vaillant gives us an unforgettable portrait of this spectacularly beautiful and mysterious region. We meet the native tribes who for centuries have worshipped and lived alongside tigers, even sharing their kills with them. We witness the arrival of Russian settlers in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, soldiers and hunters who greatly diminished the tiger populations. And we come to know their descendants, who, crushed by poverty, have turned to poaching and further upset the natural balance of the region.
Wow, does Valliant ever weave a fascinating story. He includes the history of Russia and the region, ecology, human evolution, animal psychology … basically every branch of science – whether hard or social – that can in any way inform our knowledge of exactly what happened. In some ways, this story could have been told in a long essay and it would have felt complete. However, the additional background and character sketches that Vaillant adds in make this into a greater story, about the way life is changing in Russia’s Far East, the ways that people are attempting to scrape by and are occasionally sacrificing long term safety and happiness for the ability to put food on the table in the short term.
Whether you are reading it for the social history or the natural history, John Vaillant’s The Tiger is an absorbing read. Recommended.
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