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Tent Life in Siberia by George Kennan
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Tent Life in Siberia

by George Kennan

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Read the 1910 edition. A superb read about toughing it out in Siberia while trying to get the telegraph going. Witty as well as informative. ( )
  untraveller | Sep 15, 2014 |
When the first attempt to lay a telegraph cable under the Atlantic had failed, it was proposed to build an overland line to Europe via Alaska, Bering’s Straits and Siberia. There already was a line from the mouth of the Amur river to Europe, and so the Russo-American Telegraph Company needed the build the line along the coasts of the Pacific Ocean. To this end, an exploring party was sent to Siberia in 1865-1867, consisting of several individuals eager for an adventure, of whom the author was one. The second successful attempt to lay the cable under the Atlantic made this project obsolete, but Kennan’s book is no less interesting for it. It’s full of anthropological observations, humorous passages and details of life and travel in Eastern Siberia in the mid-19th century.

During the three years the author spent there, he traveled all over the Kamchatka Peninsula and along the coast of Asia from Okhotsk to Anadyr, mostly by dog sleds. Unlike the members of the Alaskan rescue expedition about which I had read earlier, Kennan and his comrades could ride in the sleds because they traveled from one village or temporary nomads’ camp to the next, and so they didn’t need to carry anywhere as much provision, but often they were compelled to run besides their sleds to keep any feeling in their legs. Quite a few times they actually had to camp in the open in the middle of a snowy plain. In the beginning of winter they put three upright sledges together to form a sort of wigwam, shoveled the snow from the ground in between the sledges and lighted a huge bonfire in front of it, which came out during the night anyway, and so they woke up at midnight with frozen legs, despite wearing furs and sleeping in furry sleeping bags. Later removing the snow from any area became impossible, and they erected a tent on the snow, using the sledges to block the wind. Once during a heavy snowstorm they were snowed in to such a degree that they began to suffocate during the night and had to cut the roof of their tent to get out; they had to spend the next ten hours huddled on their haunches in a circle to try to keep their faces from being plastered with clouds of snow driven across the plain. Another time they discovered that a narrow line of beach between the sea and the rocky coast was occupied by a wall of frozen snow, and so they had to use their axes to cut a road in the side of this wall. But there were compensations, such as incredible auroras and the no less incredible hospitality of the local people, considering the precariousness of their circumstances. However, although Kennan found life in winter hard there, in the summer he was bored when he had little to do other than hunt, socialize and wait for the supply ships from America to arrive, and so he couldn’t wait for the winter to arrive again and make traveling by sledges possible, so that he could renew his exploration. When the second attempt to lay the telegraph cable under the Atlantic proved successful, instead of boarding the ship to San Francisco, George Kennan chose to travel to Moscow via postal horses and then to America via Europe, to make a trip around the world, but he decided not to include an account of that in his book, since trips across Russia from the Pacific had been described before already.

I found this not a fast, but a memorable read. ( )
  Ella_Jill | Mar 29, 2013 |
An absorbing and articulate account of Kennan's two year journey through Siberia while researching a way to lay a trans-Atlantic overland telegraph cable. ( )
  jslefferts | Apr 3, 2011 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0879052546, Paperback)

George Kennan was an American explorer noted for his travels in the Kamchatka and Caucasus regions of Russia.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:34:40 -0400)

(see all 3 descriptions)

In the 1860s, the Russo-American Telegraph Company set out to telegraphically connect the United States and Europe using lines running through the Bering Straits and Siberia. The failed expedition marked one of the first explorations of the vast Siberian wilderness, and George Kennan's tale of a seemingly endless land filled with wildlife and nomadic tribes is as entertaining today as it was 140 years ago. With biting humor and poignant insight, Kennan details his years fighting to survive a doomed mission. He depicts the quiet loneliness of the desolate landscape, the eerie glow of the sun at midnight, and the refusal to give in to one of the harshest places man has ever tried to conquer. His book is a testament to our planet's beauty and danger, as well as to the tireless will of the human spirit.… (more)

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