John Vaillant is a literary shaman. The mixture of fact, conjecture, and superstition he concocted for 2005’s The Golden Spruce was pure magic and earned him the Governor General’s Literary Award for Non-fiction. That same magic pervades the Vancouver author’s new book. Like the previous work, The Tiger involves a mystical encounter between man and the natural world. Set in southeastern Siberia, the story pits a group of men against an astoundingly vengeful, cunning carnivore.
The Tiger reads like a chilling detective novel constantly flirting with the supernatural. The action unfolds over a few days in December 1997 but could just as easily be a spooky folk tale told around a campfire.
The remains of experienced outdoorsman and hunter Vladimir Markov are found near his shack in the Siberian wilderness. It is evident he has been eaten by a tiger. But tigers tend to kill people only when provoked: what had Markov done to enrage the beast? And why is the tiger continuing to attack other humans in the area? Officers from a state wildlife organization investigate the mystery, trying to track down the animal and calm the fears of superstitious villagers. To do so, they use both modern science and ancient folklore.
The story of the hunt for the murderous tiger is frequently interrupted by page after page of background on Siberia, its declining animal population, and the unwritten laws of the forest. This flood of information is interesting, but detracts from the flow of an otherwise spellbinding narrative. As well, a very preachy epilogue seems redundant. We know by this point that the Siberian tiger population should be safeguarded and don’t need this message hammered into our heads any further.
Despite its flaws, The Tiger is a feast of impressive research, cinematic prose, and chilling mysticism that will enthrall both hunters and tree-huggers. The shaman has worked his magic once again.
#1 NATIONAL BESTSELLER
A Globe and Mail
“Remarkable. . . . A book that manages to be at once exciting, memorable — and perfectly, impeccably right. . . . Recounts with power and excitement the true story of a titanic confrontation. . . . [Vaillant] has told a tale of astonishing power and vigour.”
— Simon Winchester in The Globe and Mail
“Suspenseful and majestically narrated. . . . Vaillant has written a mighty elegy that leads readers into the lair of the tiger and into the heart of the Kremlin.”— Publishers Weekly
“A savage banquet. . . . Riveting.”
— Annie Proulx in The Guardian
“A hair-raising tale. . . . Vaillant’s portrayal of the tiger as a creature capable of revenge is both terrifying and fascinating. . . . It is ultimately Vaillant’s superbly crafted story of a tiger and two men that keeps us glued to the page, from the introduction right through to the thrilling denouement.” — The Gazette
“A compelling tragedy. . . . [Vaillant] introduces the reader to a rich cast of real-life characters and provides elegant insights into our relationship with nature.” — Calgary Herald
“Riveting story. . . Vaillant’s book teaches a lesson that humankind desperately needs to remember: When you murder a tiger, you not only kill a strong and beautiful beast, you extinguish a passionate soul.”— The Washington Post
“A truly extraordinary read: dark, thrilling and utterly compelling, which conveys the terrible might of nature like no other book I’ve come across.”— The Bookseller
is the sort of book I very much like and rarely find. . . . This is a book not only for adventure buffs, but for all of us interested in wildlife habitat preservation."
— Annie Proulx
"This elegant work of narrative non-fiction has it all - beauty, intrigue, a primeval locale, fully realized characters, and a conflict that speaks to the state of our world. Obsessively well-researched and artfully written, The Tiger
takes us on a journey to the raw edge of civilization, to a world of vengeful cats and venal men, a world that, in Vaillant's brilliant telling, is simultaneously haunting and enchanting."
— Hampton Sides, author of Ghost Soldiers
"Magnificent, surely the best chronicle ever published of the wild Amur tigers in Russia's Far East. . . . To call this book a page-turner is an understatement. It's riveting."
— Elizabeth Marshall Thomas, author of The Hidden Life of Dogs
"This book must be read by everybody who is interested in the conservation of wildlife. It takes you to the Russian wilderness to meet face-to-face with the Siberian tiger."
— Temple Grandin, author of Animals in Translation
and Animals Make Us Human
offers a richly textured, compelling story of Nature and Man at odds - and at risk - in Russia's Far East. Grounded in meticulous research and informed by extensive field work, the narrative graphically conveys the fragility of life in the unforgiving taiga, where a single misstep can turn hunter into quarry."
— John J. Stephan, author of The Russian Far East: A History
— George Schaller, Wildlife Conservation Society senior conservationist; NBA winner The Serengeti Lion