My favorite nonfiction read last year was The Wolverine Way by Doug Chadwick. I’m sure you remember me raving about it. Part adventure and part natural history lesson, it talks about a compelling animal teetering on the brink of extinction and all the forces coming to bear for and against it . . . and the writing is superb. So for many of the same reasons, I’m pretty sure I’ve found my favorite nonfiction book of 2011 (though it came out in 2010): The Tiger — A True Story of Vengeance and Survival
I could go on at length over how much I loved this book. More than just a fantastic look at not only tigers and one particular animal, it is also a compelling narrative on Russia and the people trying to make lives in one of its most remote areas. In a number of the other reviews I skimmed through when I was posting about it on Goodreads I saw some dismay from other readers concerning all the “other stuff” unrelated to the actual tiger and the attacks it made on humans that some felt was unnecessary. On the contrary; I feel the backstory and cultural/ecological goings-on in Russia provide critical context as to how these events went down. These little details only made the book more fascinating on so many levels. Vaillant handles the material perfectly, and the read is as suspenseful as any crime yarn I’ve read. Here is a little author video on the book:
A recent interview with Vaillant can be read HERE, and I urge you to do so. Here is his answer to a question about the “course of events” that inspires the book’s narrative:
One of the most compelling—and chilling—elements of this story is the single-minded way in which the tiger set about liquidating Vladimir Markov, the unemployed logger-turned-poacher who shot and wounded this tiger at point-blank range. Because he was shot at close range, the tiger was able to identify Markov and track him, which he did. When he got to Markov’s isolated cabin, he investigated and destroyed Markov’s belongings in an eerily systematic way, the aftermath of which was recorded on video by investigators. Markov managed to escape, but the tiger waited, and waited – like a hit man—until Markov was compelled to return (it was his cabin after all). Although Markov was armed and ready, he was not as ready as the tiger who confronted him face to face, and killed him by his front door. So it begins…
We learn in the interview that the event that generated Vaillant’s interest in the story was when he saw the documentary called Conflict Tiger, by British filmmaker Sasha Snow, at the Banff Mountain Film Festival in 2005. As a result, after reading the book I ordered a copy of the DVD. I can’t wait to check it out.
Books like this are my favorite. Maybe because they are full of adventure; adventure that is real. A squad of frightened men in minus-forty degree weather on the trail of a maneating predator is about as close to a Howard or Burroughs story as one can get these days, and that is the stuff that fired my imagination as a youth. I still love that stuff. I love the wild, and admire the people who make their lives in it. I live in an area where many of these same conflicts are being played out, only the dominant predators in our local stories are wolves, mountain lions, grizzlies and black bears. Julia and I were out hiking yesterday, in an area where, though not likely, we could have crossed paths with an angry bear or lion. It’s exciting. It’s the world I want to live in. I’m thrilled people like John Vaillant and Sasha Snow are writing books and making movies about these issues. Makes my own efforts at uninspired been-there-done-that fiction seem all the more meaningless, when I find this stuff so inspiring. It has certainly made me pause for some serious self evaluation, believe me.