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Wednesday, July 30, 2014 |  Madison, WI: 62.0° F  Fair
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BOOKS

A Book A Week: The Tiger: A True Story of Vengeance and Survival by John Vaillant


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John Vaillant's The Tiger: A True Story of Vengeance and Survival sounded like a good adventure: the story of the hunt for a man-eating tiger in modern-day Russia. In 1997, a giant Siberian tiger has a run-in with a poacher who steals the tiger's kill and shoots him in the leg. A short time later that tiger (now really annoyed) stalks the poacher, lies in wait for him at his cabin, and devours him.

Revenge! All the reviews made this story sound so gripping and suspenseful.

And really, it is a good adventure, except to get to it you have to wade through pages and pages of other...stuff. Random stuff. Like the history of Sino-Soviet border conflicts in the Bikin River valley. The depressive effect of perestroika on the economy of the Primorski Kai province, the ecosystem of the Russian taiga, the subsistence lifestyle of the residents of Sobolonye, in which one slang term for "tiger" is "Toyota" because that's what you can buy with the money you make from poaching one. Some of it's interesting, but most of it is way too detailed for my taste and just took up too many pages that weren't about the tiger.

Some reviewers have made comparisons to Moby Dick, with its asides about sailors' lives and traditions, and its meditations on good and evil, and you know that Vaillant was happy when they did that. When describing the ultimate death of the tiger, Vaillant invokes the great whale, saying that "the tiger had absorbed bullets the way Moby Dick absorbed harpoons." But I never liked those parts of Moby Dick that much either.

This is just another book that would have been better as a magazine article. The description of the hunt for the tiger (without all the accompanying filler) would have been a welcome addition to an issue of National Geographic.


Becky Holmes blogs about books at A Book A Week.

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