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Description

Product Description

A gripping story of man pitted against nature’s most fearsome and efficient predator.
 
Outside a remote village in Russia’s Far East a man-eating tiger is on the prowl. The tiger isn’t just killing people, it’s murdering them, almost as if it has a vendetta. A team of trackers is dispatched to hunt down the tiger before it strikes again. They know the creature is cunning, injured, and starving, making it even more dangerous. As John Vaillant re-creates these extraordinary events, he gives us an unforgettable and masterful work of narrative nonfiction that combines a riveting portrait of a stark and mysterious region of the world and its people, with the natural history of nature’s most deadly predator.

Review

“Magnificent. . . . Suspenseful. . . . The Tiger offers readers a shiver-inducing portrait of a predator.”—San Francisco Chronicle

“Mesmerizing . . . a blistering good tale, stocked with fascinating characters, none more compelling than the tiger itself . . . the adventure book of the year.”—Cleveland Plain Dealer

“A masterpiece. . . . What elevates The Tiger from adventure yarn to nonfiction classic is Vaillant’s mastery of language.” —Outside
 
“A riveting story.” —The Washington Post

“Brilliant . . . A tale of astonishing power and vigor . . . Read this fine, true book in the warmth, beside the flicker of the firelight. Read it and be afraid. Be very afraid.”— Simon Winchester, The Globe and Mail (Toronto)
 
“[A] 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.”—Washington Post
 
“[An] epic story. . . . A travelogue about tiger poaching in Russia’s far east opens up a new genre . . . [the] conservation thriller."—Nature 
 
“If ever a nonfiction author has used the techniques of fiction any better to recount a real-life narrative, it is difficult to imagine who that author would be. . . . Think of Vaillant as a younger version of John McPhee, but on steroids.” —The Seattle Times
 
“Riveting, often chilling. . . . A remarkable, thoroughly researched, informative chronicle that will appeal to readers interested in the conservation of wildlife.”—Providence Journal
 
“Nonfiction as riveting as any detective story. . . . Vaillant sets the stage for an epic encounter that unfolds dramatically and inexorably, climaxing in a stunning encounter.”—Christian Science Monitor
 
“An extraordinary book, bringing vividly to life this rare and terrifying creature and the men who are setting their lives at stake every day in a barely civilized part of the world. This is a real-life adventure story that is rarely encountered.”—The Washington Times
 
“A remarkable and thoughtful account of a distant place where man and animal meet with fatal consequences.”—Richmond Times Dispatch
 
“Told with passion and deep knowledge of the history cultures, folk tales, flora and fuana of this part of the world . . . The Tiger has the pace and precision of a spy thriller.”—Waterbury Republican-American

About the Author

John Vaillant’s first book was the national bestseller The Golden Spruce, which won the Governor General''s Literary Award for nonfiction, as well as several other awards. He has written for The New Yorker, The Atlantic, Outside, National Geographic and The Walrus, among other publications. He lives in Vancouver, British Columbia, with his wife and children.

www.johnvaillant.com
Facebook: www.facebook.com/JohnVaillant
Twitter: JohnVAILLANT

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

Prologue

HANGING IN THE TREES , AS IF CAUGHT THERE, IS A SICKLE OF A MOON.

Its wan light scatters shadows on the snow below, only obscuring further the forest that this man negotiates now as much by feel as by sight. He is on foot and on his own save for a single dog, which runs ahead, eager to be heading home at last. All around, the black trunks of oak, pine, and poplar soar into the dark above the scrub and deadfall, and their branches form a tattered canopy overhead. Slender birches, whiter than the snow, seem to emit a light of their own, but it is like the coat of an animal in winter: cold to the touch and for itself alone. All is quiet in this dormant, frozen world. It is so cold that spit will freeze before it lands; so cold that a tree, brittle as straw and unable to contain its expanding sap, may spontaneously explode. As they progress, man and dog alike leave behind a wake of heat, and the contrails of their breath hang in pale clouds above their tracks. Their scent stays close in the windless dark, but their footfalls carry and so, with every step, they announce themselves to the night.

Despite the bitter cold, the man wears rubber boots better suited to the rain; his clothes, too, are surprisingly light, considering that he has been out all day, searching. His gun has grown heavy on his shoulder, as have his rucksack and cartridge belt. But he knows this route like the back of his hand, and he is almost within sight of his cabin. Now, at last, he can allow himself the possibility of relief. Perhaps he imagines the lantern he will light and the fire he will build; perhaps he imagines the burdens he will soon lay down. The water in the kettle is certainly frozen, but the stove is thinly walled and soon it will glow fiercely against the cold and dark, just as his own body is doing now. Soon enough, there will be hot tea and a cigarette, followed by rice, meat, and more cigarettes. Maybe a shot or two of vodka, if there is any left. He savors this ritual and knows it by rote. Then, as the familiar angles take shape across the clearing, the dog collides with a scent as with a wall and stops short, growling. They are hunting partners and the man understands: someone is there by the cabin. The hackles on the dog’s back and on his own neck rise together.

Together, they hear a rumble in the dark that seems to come from everywhere at once.

PART ONE


MARKOV


1

There are many people who don''t believe this actually happened. They think it''s some phantasm of my imagination. But it was real. There are the facts.
Yuri Anatolievich Trush


Shortly after dark on the afternoon of December 5, 1997, an urgent message was relayed to a man named Yuri Trush at his home in Luchegorsk, a mid-sized mining town in Primorye Territory in Russia''s Far East, not far from the Chinese border. Primorye (Pri- mor-ya) is, among other things, the last stronghold of the Siberian tiger, and the official on the line had some disturbing news: a man had been attacked near Sobolonye, a small logging community located in the deep forest, sixty miles northeast of Luchegorsk. Yuri Trush was the squad leader of an Inspection Tiger unit, one of six in the territory whose purpose was to investigate forest crimes, specifically those involving tigers. Because poachers were often involved, these included tiger attacks. As a result, this situation-whatever it might entail-was now Trush''s problem and, right away, he began preparing for the trip to Sobolonye.

_____


Early the following morning-Saturday-Yuri Trush, along with his squadmates Alexander Gorborukov and Sasha Lazurenko, piled into a surplus army truck and rumbled north. Dressed in insulated fatigues and camouflage, and armed with knives, pistols, and semiautomatic rifles, the Tigers, as these inspectors are sometimes called, looked less like game wardens than like some kind of wilderness SWAT team. Their twenty-year-old truck was nicknamed a Kung, and it was the Russian army''s four-ton equivalent to the Unimog and the Humvee. Gasoline-powered, with a winch, four-wheel-drive, and wide waist-high tires, it is a popular vehicle in Primorye''s hinterlands. Along with a gun rack and brackets for extra fuel cans, this one had been modified to accommodate makeshift bunks, and was stocked with enough food to last four men a week. It was also equipped with a woodstove so that, even in the face of total mechanical failure, the crew could survive no matter where in the wilderness they happened to be.

After passing through the police checkpoint on the edge of town, the Tigers continued on up to a dirt road turnoff that led eastward along the Bikin River (be- keen), a large and meandering waterway that flows through some of the most isolated country in northern Primorye. The temperature was well below freezing and the snow was deep, and this slowed the heavy truck''s progress. It also allowed these men, all of whom were experienced hunters and former soldiers, many hours to ponder and discuss what might be awaiting them. It is safe to say that nothing in their experience could have prepared them for what they found there.

Primorye, which is also known as the Maritime Territory, is about the size of Washington state. Tucked into the southeast corner of Russia by the Sea of Japan, it is a thickly forested and mountainous region that combines the backwoods claustrophobia of Appalachia with the frontier roughness of the Yukon. Industry here is of the crudest kind: logging, mining, fishing, and hunting, all of which are complicated by poor wages, corrupt officials, thriving black markets-and some of the world''s largest cats.


_____



One of the many negative effects of perestroika and the reopening of the border between Russia and China has been a surge in tiger poaching. As the economy disintegrated and unemployment spread throughout the 1990s, professional poachers, businessmen, and ordinary citizens alike began taking advantage of the forest''s wealth in all its forms. The tigers, because they are so rare and so valuable, have been particularly hard hit: their organs, blood, and bone are much sought after for use in traditional Chinese medicine. Some believe the tiger''s whiskers will make them bulletproof and that its powdered bones will soothe their aches and pains. Others believe its penis will make them virile, and there are many-from Tokyo to Moscow-who will pay thousands of dollars for a tiger''s skin.

Between 1992 and 1994, approximately one hundred tigers-roughly one quarter of the country''s wild population-were killed. Most of them ended up in China. With financial assistance (and pressure) from international conservation agencies, the territorial government created Inspection Tiger in the hope of restoring some semblance of law and order to the forests of Primorye. Armed with guns, cameras, and broad police powers, these teams were charged with intercepting poachers and resolving a steadily increasing number of conflicts between tigers and human beings.

In many ways, Inspection Tiger''s mandate resembles that of detectives on a narcotics detail, and so does the risk: the money is big, and the players are often desperate and dangerous individuals. Tigers are similar to drugs in that they are sold by the gram and the kilo, and their value increases according to the refinement of both product and seller. But there are some key differences: tigers can weigh six hundred pounds; they have been hunting large prey, including humans, for two million years; and they have a memory. For these reasons, tigers can be as dangerous to the people trying to protect them as they are to those who would profit from them.

The territory covered by Yuri Trush''s Inspection Tiger unit in the mid-1990s was centered around the Bikin (be-keen) River. You can drive a truck on the Bikin in winter, but in summer it has a languid bayou feel. For many of the valley''s jobless inhabitants, the laws imposed by the river and the forest are more relevant than those of the local government. While most residents here poach game simply to survive, there are those among them who are in it for the money.


_____



In 1997, Inspection Tiger had been in existence for only three years; given the state of the Russian economy in the 1990s, its members were lucky to have jobs, particularly because they were paid in dollars by foreign conservation groups. Four hundred dollars a month was an enviable wage at that time, but a lot was expected in return. Whether they were doing routine checks of hunters'' documents in the forest, searching suspect cars en route to the Chinese border, or setting up sting operations, most of the people Inspection Tiger dealt with were armed. As often as not, these encounters took place in remote areas where backup was simply not available, and they never knew what they were going to find.

Following perestroika, virtually everything in Russia went on sale, and vast quantities of military ordnance disappeared from local armories. In the course of their raids on the many anonymous hunting cabins that dot the forest here, Trush and his men confiscated plastic explosives, TNT, and 12mm (.50 caliber) machine guns, robbed from armored vehicles. Trush could not imagine what one would do with guns that size in the forest, but the explosives were easier to explain: they were used in creeks to kill fish en masse, or to blow bears out of their dens. The Asian market is less interested in the intact skins or carcasses of bears than it is in their paws and gall bladders; the paws go into soup, and the gall bladders are used for medicinal purposes. In Primorye, in the mid-1990s, life, for man and animal alike, was cheap, and corruption was widespread at every level of government. During these years, Trush made busts involving high- ranking police officers and members of parliament, and these were dangerous enemies for a person to have. Trush, however, was well suited to this work because he is a formidable adversary, too.

Trush stands about six-foot-two with long arms and legs and a broad chest. His eyes are colored, coincidentally, like the semiprecious stone tiger''s eye, with black rings around the irises. They peer out from a frank and homely face framed by great, drooping brows. Though frail and sickly as a boy, Trush had grown into a talented athlete with a commanding presence, a deep resonant voice, and an ability to remain composed under highly stressful circumstances. He is also immensely strong. As a young soldier in Kazakhstan, in the 1970s, Trush won a dozen regional kayaking championships for which he earned the Soviet rank Master of Sports, a distinction that meant he was eligible to compete at the national level. It was a serious undertaking: he wasn''t just racing against Bulgarians and East Germans. "I was," he said, "defending the honor of the Military Forces of the USSR." In his mid-forties, when he joined Inspection Tiger, Trush won a territory-wide weightlifting competition three years running. This was not the kind of weightlifting one is likely to see in the Olympics; what Trush was doing looks more like a contest devised by bored artillerymen during the Napoleonic Wars. It consists of hefting a kettlebell-essentially a large cannonball with a handle- from the ground over your head as many times as you can, first with one hand, and then the other. Kettlebells are a Russian invention; they have been around for centuries and their use clearly favors the short and the stocky. So it is surprising to see someone as attenuated as Trush, who has the Law of the Lever weighted so heavily against him, heave these seventy-pound spheres around with such apparent ease.

Trush learned to shoot, first, from his father and, later, in the army. He also studied karate, aikido, and knife handling; in these, his rangy build works to his advantage because his long reach makes it nearly impossible to get at him. He is so talented at hand-to-hand fighting that he was hired to teach these skills to the military police. Trush''s physicality is intense and often barely suppressed. He is a grabber, a hugger, and a roughhouser, but the hands initiating- and controlling-these games are thinly disguised weapons. His fists are knuckled mallets, and he can break bricks with them. As he runs through the motions of an immobilizing hold, or lines up an imaginary strike, one has the sense that his body hungers for opportunities to do these things in earnest. Referring to a former colleague who went bad and whom he tried for years to catch red-handed, Trush said, "He knows very well that I am capable of beheading him with my bare hands." This tension-between the kind and playful neighbor, friend and husband, and the Alpha male wilderness cop ready to throw down at a moment''s notice-energizes almost every interaction. It is under the latter circumstances that Trush seems most alive.


_____


The deeper Trush and his men drove into the forest, the rougher the road became. Once past Verkhny Pereval, their route took them through the snowbound village of Yasenovie, a sister logging community of the same size and vintage as Sobolonye. Here, they picked up a young deputy sheriff named Bush, but his presence on this mission was more formal than practical. Bush was a cop, and tiger attacks were beyond his purview; however, if there was a body, he was required to witness it. With Bush onboard, they trundled on upriver.

It was already afternoon by the time they reached Sobolonye, an impoverished village of unpainted log houses, that at first glance seemed barely inhabited. Gorborukov was behind the wheel, and here he steered the truck off the main road, such as it was, and plunged into the forest on a track wide enough for only a single vehicle. Several inches of new snow had fallen earlier in the week and, as they drove, Trush scanned the roadside for fresh tracks. They were about fifty miles from the nearest paved road and a couple of hard-won miles east of Sobolonye when they crossed a wide and improbably located gravel highway. This road had been conceived during Soviet times as an alternative to Primorye''s only existing north-south throughway, which follows the Ussuri River north to Khabarovsk (the same route used by the Trans-Siberian Railway). Despite handling every kind of traffic, including transcontinental freight trucks, the Ussuri road is poorly maintained and only as wide as a residential street; it was also considered vulnerable to Chinese attack. This new highway, though safer, wider, and ruler-straight, was never finished and so it is essentially a highway to nowhere-in the middle of nowhere. The only people who benefit from it now are loggers, poachers, and smugglers- pretty much the only people around who can afford a vehicle. But sometimes tigers use this highway, too.

There is an unintended courtesy in the winter forest that occurs around pathways of any kind. It takes a lot of energy to break a trail through the snow, especially when it''s crusty or deep, so whoever goes first, whether animal, human, or machine, is performing a valuable service for those following behind. Because energy-i.e., food-is at a premium in the winter, labor-saving gifts of this kind are rarely refused. As long as the footpath, logging road, frozen river-or highway-is going more or less in the desired direction, other forest creatures will use it, too, regardless of who made it. In this way, paths have a funneling, riverlike effect on the tributary creatures around them, and they can make for some strange encounters.

The last three miles of the journey were on a logging track so tortuous and convoluted that even a veteran Russian backcountry driver is moved to shout, in a torrent of fricatives and rolling Rs, "Paris- Dakar! Camel Trophy!" It contoured east through the rolling woods, crossing creeks on bridges made of log piles stacked at right angles to the road. Two miles short of a privately owned logging camp, Gorborukov took an unmarked turn and headed north. After a few minutes, he pulled up at a clearing, on the far side of which stood a cabin.

The cabin belonged to Vladimir Markov, a resident of Sobolonye, and a man best known for keeping bees. The crude structure stood by itself on the high side of a gentle south-facing slope, surrounded by a thick forest of birch, pine, and alder. It was a lonely spot but a lovely one and, under different circumstances, Trush might have seen its appeal. Now there was no time; it was three o''clock in the afternoon and the sun was already in the southwest, level with the treetops. Any warmth generated during this brief, bright day was quickly dissipating.

The first sign of trouble was the crows. Carrion crows will follow a tiger the same way seagulls follow a fishing boat: by sticking with a proven winner, they conserve energy and shift the odds of getting fed from If to When. When Trush and his men climbed down from the Kung, they heard the crows'' raucous kvetching concentrated just west of the entrance road. Trush noted the way their dark bodies swirled and flickered above the trees and, even if he hadn''t been warned ahead of time, this would have told him all he needed to know: something big was dead, or dying, and it was being guarded.

Parked in front of Markov''s cabin was a heavy truck belonging to Markov''s good friend and beekeeping partner, Danila Zaitsev, a reserved and industrious man in his early forties. Zaitsev was a skilled mechanic and his truck, another cast-off from the military, was one of the few vehicles still functioning in Sobolonye. With Zaitsev were Sasha Dvornik and Andrei Onofrecuk, both family men in their early thirties who often hunted and fished with Markov. It was evident from their haggard appearance that they had barely slept the night before.

Judging from the density of tracks, there had clearly been a lot of activity around the cabin. Several different species were represented and their trails overlaid each other so that, at first, it was hard to sort them out. Trush approached this tangled skein of information like a detective: somewhere in here was a beginning and an end, and somewhere, too, was a motive—perhaps several. Downhill from the cabin, closer to the entrance road, two tracks in particular caught his attention. One set traveled northward up the entrance road at a walking pace; the other traveled south from the cabin. They approached each other directly, as if the meeting had been intentional—like an appointment of some kind. The southbound tracks were noteworthy, not just because they  were made by a tiger, but because there were large gaps—ten feet or more—between each set of impressions. At the point where they met, the northbound tracks disappeared, as if the person who made them had simply ceased to exist. Here the large paw prints veered off to the west, crossing the entrance road at right angles. Their regular spacing indicated a walking pace; they led into the forest, directly toward the crows.

Trush had a video camera with him and its unblinking eye recorded the scene in excruciating detail. Only in retrospect does it strike one how steady Trush’s hand and voice are as he films the site, narrating as he goes: the rough cabin and the scrubby clearing in which it stands; the path of the attack and the point of impact, and then the long trail of horrific evidence. The camera doesn’t waver as it pans across the pink and trampled snow, taking in the hind foot of a dog, a single glove, and then a bloodstained jacket cuff before halting at a patch of bare ground about a hundred yards into the forest. At this point the audio picks up a sudden, retching gasp. It is as if he has entered Grendel’s den.

The temperature is thirty below zero and yet, here, the snow has been completely melted away. In the middle of this dark circle, presented like some kind of sacrificial offering, is a hand without an arm and a head without a face. Nearby is a long bone, a femur probably, that has been gnawed to a bloodless white. Beyond this, the trail continues deeper into the woods. Trush follows it, squinting through his camera while his squad and Markov’s friends trail closely behind. The only sounds are the icy creak of

Trush’s boots and the distant barking of his dog. Seven men have been stunned to silence. Not a sob; not a curse. Trush’s hunting dog, a little Laika, is further down the trail, growing increasingly shrill and agitated. Her nose is tingling with blood scent and tiger musk, and she alone feels free to express her deepest fear: the tiger is there, somewhere up ahead. Trush’s men have their rifles off their shoulders, and they cover him as he films. They arrive at another melted spot; this time, a large oval. Here, amid the twigs and leaf litter, is all that remains of Vladimir Ilyich Markov. It looks at first like a heap of laundry until one sees the boots, luminous stubs of broken bone protruding from the tops, the tattered shirt with an arm still fitted to one of the sleeves.

Trush had never seen a fellow human so thoroughly and gruesomely annihilated and, even as he filmed, his mind fled to the edges of the scene, taking refuge in peripheral details. He was struck by the poverty of this man—that he would be wearing thin rubber boots in such bitter weather. He reflected on the cartridge belt—loaded but for three shells—and wondered where the gun had gone. Meanwhile, Trush’s dog, Gitta, is racing back and forth, hackles raised and barking in alarm. The tiger is somewhere close by—invisible to the men, but to the dog it is palpably, almost unbearably, present. The men, too, can sense a potency around them—something larger than their own fear, and they glance about, unsure where to look. They are so overwhelmed by the wreckage before them that it is hard to distinguish imminent danger from the present horror.

Save for the movements of the dog and the men, the forest has gone absolutely still; even the crows have withdrawn, waiting for this latest disturbance to pass. And so, it seems, has the tiger. Then, there is a sound: a brief, rushing exhale—the kind one would  use to extinguish a candle. But there is something different about the volume of air being moved, and the force behind it—something bigger and deeper: this is not a human sound. At the same moment, perhaps ten yards ahead, the tip of a low fir branch spontaneously sheds its load of snow. The flakes powder down to the forest floor; the men freeze in mid- breath and, once again, all is still.

Since well before the Kung’s engine noise first penetrated the forest, a conversation of sorts has been unfolding in this lonesome hollow. It is not in a language like Russian or Chinese, but it is a language nonetheless, and it is older than the forest. The crows speak it; the dog speaks it; the tiger speaks it, and so do the men—some more fluently than others. That single blast of breath contained a message lethal in its eloquence. But what does one do with such information so far from one’s home ground? Gitta tightens the psychic leash connecting her to her master. Markov’s friends, already shaken to the core, pull in closer, too. The tiger’s latest communication serves not only to undo these men still further, but to deepen the invisible chasm between them—poachers to a man—and the armed officials on whom their liberty and safety now depend. Markov’s friends are known to Trush because
he has busted them before—for possessing illegal firearms and hunting without a license. Of the three of them, only Zaitsev’s gun is legal, but it is too light to stop a tiger. As for the others, their weapons are now hidden in the forest, leaving them more helpless than Trush’s dog.

Trush is unarmed, too. There had been some back- and- forth at the entrance road about who was going to follow that grisly trail, and comments were made implying that Trush and his men didn’t have what it took. Fear is not a sin in the taiga, but cowardice is, and Trush returned the challenge with a crisp invitation: “ Poshli”—“Let’s go.” One of Markov’s friends—Sasha Dvornik, as Trush recalled—then suggested that Trush’s team could handle it themselves. Besides, he said, they had no weapons. Trush called his bluff by urging him to fetch his unregistered gun from hiding. “This is no time to be confiscating guns,” he said. “What’s important now is to protect ourselves.” Still, Dvornik hesitated, and this is when Trush offered him his rifle. It was a bold gesture on several levels: not only did it imply an expectation of trust and cooperation, but Trush’s semiautomatic was a far better weapon than Dvornik’s battered smoothbore. It also short- circuited the argument: now, there was no excuse, and no way that Dvornik—with six men watching—could honorably refuse. It was this same mix of shame, fear, and loyalty that compelled Zaitsev and Onofrecuk to go along, too. Besides, there was safety in numbers.

But it had been a long time since Dvornik was in the army, and Trush’s weapon felt strangely heavy in his hands; Trush, meanwhile, was feeling the absence of its reassuring weight, and that was strange, too. He still had his pistol, but it was holstered and, in any case, it would have been virtually useless against a tiger. His faith rested with his squad mates because he had put himself in an extremely vulnerable position: even though he was leading the way, he did so at an electronic remove—in this drama but not of it, exploring this dreadful surreality through the camera’s narrow, cyclopean lens. Because Zaitsev and Dvornik couldn’t be counted on, and Deputy Bush had only a pistol, the Tigers were Trush’s only reliable proxies. Those with guns had them at the ready, but the forest was dense and visibility was poor. Were the tiger to attack, they could end up shooting one another. So they held their fire, eyes darting back and forth to that single, bare branch, wondering where the next sign would come from.

Behind the camera, Trush remained strangely calm. “We clearly see the tiger’s tracks going away from the remains,” he continued in his understated official drone, while Gitta barked incessantly, stiff- legged and staring. “. . . the dog clearly indicates that the tiger went this way.”

Up ahead, the tiger’s tracks showed plainly in the snow, brought into sharp relief by the shadows now pooling within them. The animal was maneuvering northward to higher ground, the place every cat prefers to be. “It looks like the tiger’s not too far,” Trush intoned to future viewers, “around forty yards.” The snow wasn’t deep and, under those conditions, a tiger could cover forty yards in about four seconds. This may have been why Trush chose that moment to shut off his camera, reclaim his gun, and step back into real time. But once there, he was going to have to make a difficult decision.

In his professional capacity as senior inspector for Inspection Tiger, Trush acted as a medium between the Law of the Jungle and the Law of the State; one is instinctive and often spontaneous while the other is contrived and always cumbersome. The two are, by their very natures, incompatible. When he was in the field, Trush usually had no means of contacting his superiors, or anyone else for that matter; his walkie- talkies had limited range (when they worked at all) so he and his squad mates were profoundly on their own. Because of this, Trush’s job required a lot of judgment calls, and he was going to have to make one now: the tiger is a “Red Book” species—protected in Russia—so permission to kill had to come from Moscow. Trush did not yet have this permission, but it was Saturday, Moscow might as well have been the moon, and they had an opportunity to end this now.

Trush decided to track it. This had not been part of the plan; he had been sent to investigate an attack, not to hunt a tiger. Furthermore, his team was short a man, dusk was coming on, and Markov’s friends were a liability; they were still in shock and so, for that matter, was Trush. But at that moment, he was poised—equidistant between the tiger and the harrowing evidence of what it had done. The two would never be so close again. Signaling Lazurenko to follow, Trush set off up the trail, knowing that every step would take him deeper into the tiger’s comfort zone.

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Dr Ali Binazir
5.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
A riveting multidisciplinary thriller that deepened my appreciation of nature''s majesty
Reviewed in the United States on January 5, 2018
Siberian tigers hunt bears. That’s how badass they are. Okay, but why should you read a book about a search for a man-eating Amur tiger, the world’s largest land predator, in the most remote parts of the earth? Because it’s one of the best damn books you’ll ever read,... See more
Siberian tigers hunt bears. That’s how badass they are. Okay, but why should you read a book about a search for a man-eating Amur tiger, the world’s largest land predator, in the most remote parts of the earth? Because it’s one of the best damn books you’ll ever read, that’s why. And in the process, you’ll learn about Russian history, Communism, Russian-Chinese relations, Siberian tundra and taiga, tiger lore, perestroika, tiger physiology, the Afghan war, poaching, black markets, being a nature warden, extinction, duty, vengeance and survival. Vaillant’s sorcery is in his ability to take you inside the head of the hunted villagers, the hunters, and the Amur tiger, as if you are there. The whole thing reads like a thriller, and yes, you will probably stay up way too late reading it. I came away with a deeper appreciation of the majesty of nature and our place in it as current top predator.
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qingzhang
2.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
Great if you have an interest in Russian history, politics, and ecology. But if you don''t...
Reviewed in the United States on October 27, 2020
Let me start by saying that I really, really wanted to like this book. It was highly recommended and has great reviews. But it was... not what I expected. Don''t get me wrong, this book is superbly well written. But I was expecting a reasonably straightforward... See more
Let me start by saying that I really, really wanted to like this book. It was highly recommended and has great reviews. But it was... not what I expected.

Don''t get me wrong, this book is superbly well written. But I was expecting a reasonably straightforward tale about revenge and survival in the Siberian taiga. And there are elements of that throughout the book. But the story of a man eating tiger and its pursuit by Russian game officials is sparsely scattered through pages upon pages where the author meditates on ecology, history, Russian politics, paleohistory, and even existential philosophy.

Now, I have pretty broad interests, and I''m happy to read about all the above subjects when I''m in the mood. But they are not what I was hoping for when I picked up this book.

In fact, you could toss out all the pages pertaining to the actual tiger attack and investigation and still have a pretty big book left over. In many respects, this book isn''t even really about a tiger attack at all-- it''s a lengthy meditation on history and philosophy, with a few spatterings of the actual story scattered here and there.

I can read a book on philosophy or history with little difficulty, but I found myself positively slogging through The Tiger. It took me quite a long time to finish it, and there were times when reading it felt like a chore.

Imagine if you picked up a book about one particular shipwreck, looking forward to reading the harrowing accounts from the survivors, but you have to read through hundreds of pages about ship construction, maritime lore, international politics, and indigenous philosophy first.

Very well written, and the author is clearly extremely intelligent, but it just wasn''t what I was looking for in this book. The two star rating reflects the mental exhaustion and boredom I feel after finally finishing it.
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No Name
2.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
The Tiger: A True Story Obscured
Reviewed in the United States on November 20, 2020
When I looked at The Tiger on the Amazon I surmised it would be similar to Corbett’s tiger hunting classic. I was wrong. The Tiger is a literary and psychological analysis of the tiger as predator, metaphor and psychological symbol. The true story of a tiger killing a... See more
When I looked at The Tiger on the Amazon I surmised it would be similar to Corbett’s tiger hunting classic. I was wrong. The Tiger is a literary and psychological analysis of the tiger as predator, metaphor and psychological symbol. The true story of a tiger killing a Russian poacher and the hunt to put this tiger down gets lost in the simultaneous analytic narrative. This is two stories in one.
If you are looking for a dynamic hunting story to read, you will have to fast forward through what will be extraneous, useless narrative to you in order to read the hunting story. On the other hand, if you like cultural, historical and literary analysis you will enjoy the author’s view of The Tiger and its place in the forests of the mind as well as the Taiga.
What did not make sense were the cryptic references to Korea. For example, Korea did not have “mandarins,” but landed yangban, who were the intellectual, social, economic, and political elite that dominated the Choseon Dynasty. The mandarins were Chinese.
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Chip Wilcox
5.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
Excellent Reading!
Reviewed in the United States on August 2, 2018
I’ve always been fascinated with stories of life in harsh environments and I love mysteries, spy novels, and historical fiction. When the BBC ran a brief piece on the series of events recounted in this book, it seemed like a good time to take a break from my reading routine... See more
I’ve always been fascinated with stories of life in harsh environments and I love mysteries, spy novels, and historical fiction. When the BBC ran a brief piece on the series of events recounted in this book, it seemed like a good time to take a break from my reading routine and I was not at all disappointed. The book is an amazing account of both the impact of political and economic change wrought by perestroika and its impact on both the human and animal populations of the far East of Russia, and especially the Amur tigers which are unique to that area. The book manages to weave very complex discussion of geopolitical and economic events into the retelling of the events leading up to the death of a hunter/trapper/poacher and the subsequent investigations and tracking down of a man-eating tiger. By the end of the book one can only feel immense sorrow for all of the characters in the story; not only the people left to fend for themselves in an unforgiving land, and the desperate situation the Amur tigers face as they lose their status as the majestic masters of the wild, as their numbers dwindle due to habitat destruction, poaching, and as their human neighbors slowly lose respect for the tigers’ position as a sacred part of the natural environment all these beings share. As it happens the humans and the tigers in this story share the same fate: They are all in decline and it’s a tragedy of monumental proportion. All in all the author has done an amazing job of telling this tale with respect and empathy for all the players, and this book is well worth a careful read.
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Debra K. Bonafede
5.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
Tigers Are Worth Saving
Reviewed in the United States on September 10, 2017
This book is an exciting true story that seems impossible to put down at times. The Tiger that is being hunted by and hunting man is a complex individual with motives that seem both rational and moral when analysed by the scientists and people who live among them. The Tiger... See more
This book is an exciting true story that seems impossible to put down at times. The Tiger that is being hunted by and hunting man is a complex individual with motives that seem both rational and moral when analysed by the scientists and people who live among them. The Tiger only hunts the individuals who hurt him or his family or pose an active threat to him. Tigers have existed for thousands of years next to men who respect them and accept their right to live and hunt to survive. The tigers have lived peacefully among the men who have refused to hunt or harm them.

By the end of this book you will support efforts to save the Amir tiger from extinction. The welfare of the tiger is a significant indication of the health of the society which surrounds him.
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Hugh K.
4.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
A compelling read
Reviewed in the United States on August 25, 2016
The prose is thick with novelistic touches, which does its trick of drawing you in to this intense tale of a man-eating tiger that terrorizes the back woods of far eastern part of Russia. The book is at its best when it sticks closely to the main players and the plight of... See more
The prose is thick with novelistic touches, which does its trick of drawing you in to this intense tale of a man-eating tiger that terrorizes the back woods of far eastern part of Russia. The book is at its best when it sticks closely to the main players and the plight of its people who live well below the poverty levels. They do not live they merely survive. The author goes in depth about the area''s history in political back story, as well as the ecological, and socio-economical. These parts of the book can be tedious when all you want to do is dive back into the core story of survival and tiger hunting. The detailed information the author provides on these majestic Amur tigers is fascinating. They are the largest tiger species, some males grow to be as big as 900 lbs.

The story eventually kicks in to high gear when Moscow gives the greenlight to hunt down the man-eating tiger. In these parts of the book it recalls the frenzied mob of amateur fishermen going after the shark in Jaws. The climactic confrontation between the tiger and the protagonist of the book is nothing short of cinematic. It''s some exciting stuff.

Incidentally, Hollywood may be getting closer to translating this book to the screen. Brad Pitt had been attached to star with Darren Aronofsky directing many years ago. They now have a new director attached (Michaël R. Roskam - The Drop). I hope they do the book justice.
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spongeworthy
2.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
Great story in search of a better writer
Reviewed in the United States on May 1, 2021
Tigers are iconic. You don''t need to explain what a tiger is. It''s one of the most charismatic animals on earth, and one of the most famous. This book is written for someone who does not know what a tiger is. The writer piles on pages and pages of the hyperbolic, florid... See more
Tigers are iconic. You don''t need to explain what a tiger is. It''s one of the most charismatic animals on earth, and one of the most famous. This book is written for someone who does not know what a tiger is. The writer piles on pages and pages of the hyperbolic, florid language to tell us what we already know. He refers to the tiger''s canines as "sentient weapons." No, they''re just really big teeth. He refers to a battle between a tiger and a boar. "The fight on the Amba was to the death and, in spite of the odds, the young tiger prevailed, motivated, apparently, by spite alone." Really? How can you tell when a tiger is fighting out of spite. I literally laughed out loud at this: "To end a person''s life is one thing; to eradicate him from the face of the earth is another. The latter is far more difficult to do, and yet the tiger had done it, had transported the young man beyond death to a kind of carnal oblivion." No. The cat killed the man. The end.

I vacillated between annoyance and pity. Dude, you are trying WAY too hard. The overall effect is of someone who is trying to impress us. For instance, each chapter begins with an epigraph, which is one of my pet peeves. These do nothing to enlighten us. It''s a way of saying "Look how much I read!" He even includes the source books for the epigraphs in the bibliography, probably to pad it out. He mentions Odysseus and Ahab in passing once for no apparent other than impressing us with his reading habits.

It wasn''t until the end that I realized that he is deliberately deceiving us. The book takes place in the far east of Russia. He recounts conversations with the locals, so I assumed he speaks Russian. At the end there''s A Note on Translation, in which we find out he had a translator. There is NO mention of a translator in the book. He purposely makes it seem he is having these conversations, when in fact he was a bystander. Furthermore, the quotes we see in the book are from recordings he made, which were translated by two other translators. He then "retooled" the translations. It is normal to use a translator, of course, but to (I''ll say it) hide mention of this until the very end and not even have the courtesy to include the guy as a character is unethical.

I could go on, but I have no desire to write or think about this book ever again. Watch the movie, "Conflict Tiger," from which this book borrows heavily.
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James T Dakin
4.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
A nonfiction wildlife thriller in a remote Siberian setting
Reviewed in the United States on November 5, 2014
"The Tiger" by John Vaillant is many things, but foremost it is a nonfiction thriller in which the central characters are a very large Tiger and the disparate characters in far eastern Russia with whom the Tiger interacts. As events unfold and the suspense builds the reader... See more
"The Tiger" by John Vaillant is many things, but foremost it is a nonfiction thriller in which the central characters are a very large Tiger and the disparate characters in far eastern Russia with whom the Tiger interacts. As events unfold and the suspense builds the reader is increasingly unable to stop reading. How will this end? Who will survive?

Along the way we learn much about the remote and forested Primorsky Krai region which holds Vladivostok at its tip. In my high school history class in the early 1960''s I had learned about Vladivostok as Russia''s most important Pacific port and as the termination of the Trans-Siberian railway. This piece of Russia borders Manchurian China and North Korea and is close to Japan. The Tiger taught me much more about this region, and the people who came here for lots of different reasons under a relatively prosperous Soviet experience but then were abandoned to a more primitive survival under Perestroika.

We also learn a lot about the Amur Tiger subspecies which is concentrated partly in the mountains of the Primorsky Krai. The Amur Tiger population is barely holding its own as forces of conservation and poaching compete. Tiger products have high commercial value in China, which is right across a long and porous border. We learn as well about the long and sometimes spiritual relationship between man and tiger.

Few who pick this book up will be disappointed. It holds special appeal to nature lovers as well as those intrigued by geography and history. The Tiger thriller story line is blended seamlessly with the wildlife, history and geography background. A very large number of difficult-to-pronounce Russian names may seem challenging, but in fact less than a hand full of these names need to be remembered through the story.
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Top reviews from other countries

Moo
4.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
Not what I initially expected, remarkably informative and well padded
Reviewed in the United Kingdom on July 27, 2018
Good book Provides excellent backstory into hunting within the Primorye region in which the book is set, an edge of the known world post communist Pick n mix of Taiga jungle boreal. A "no joke! It really was this bad" setting easily sympathised with. Thing is theres about...See more
Good book Provides excellent backstory into hunting within the Primorye region in which the book is set, an edge of the known world post communist Pick n mix of Taiga jungle boreal. A "no joke! It really was this bad" setting easily sympathised with. Thing is theres about 1/3 the book actually regarding the Tiger question. 2/3 are back story, history, anthropology and human animal behaviour. My problem? Well, there isn''t one! I was just curious as to how the book sells itself as a tiger thriller, but in-between long periods of interesting Tiger info I often forgot or drifted away from the Tiger at hand. Everything in the book is interesting. In fact it''s surprising what you do read about in this book. One story leads into another fascinating one, then when you wind your head out of that one "anyways, back to our Tiger..." Padded out but in a palatable way.
4 people found this helpful
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PrideOfNottingham
5.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
Gripping and informative
Reviewed in the United Kingdom on February 22, 2019
Part Jim Corbett hunting tale and part ecology and history of a stark wilderness this is a great book. A description of the hunt for an injured man eating tiger is interspersed with chapters on the culture and history of Primorye. Primorye is at the far end of Russia and a...See more
Part Jim Corbett hunting tale and part ecology and history of a stark wilderness this is a great book. A description of the hunt for an injured man eating tiger is interspersed with chapters on the culture and history of Primorye. Primorye is at the far end of Russia and a stronghold of the largest living car species, the Siberian tiger. It''s also a poor , lawless area where illegal hunting is often the only alternative to starvation and a tiger carcass is worth a kings ransom on the Chinese medicine market. A fascinating and exciting tale of the uneasy coexistence of man and one of natures most fearsome predators.
4 people found this helpful
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Snoopy Goes to Hollywood
5.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
Siberian Death Dealer...
Reviewed in the United Kingdom on July 14, 2020
Have travelled across the whole of Russia in my life and I have to say was drawn to this book from the beginning. You know how good a book is when you love the tale so much that he lend the book out to others and obviously you don’t get it back and you end up buying the...See more
Have travelled across the whole of Russia in my life and I have to say was drawn to this book from the beginning. You know how good a book is when you love the tale so much that he lend the book out to others and obviously you don’t get it back and you end up buying the book again and reading it and lending it out again. This book is one of those books..simply superb...tons of atmosphere and factual information on Russia and the Siberian Tiger. A real life tale about a Siberian tiger with a grudge... will say no more. Just read it and put the lights down low !
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Amazon Customer
1.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
Very disappointing
Reviewed in the United Kingdom on April 14, 2021
The front cover says " a true story of vengeance and survival".The first 4 chapters were good,,all about how this Tiger became a man-eater. The next 14 chapters,over 200 pages,,mostly covered totally irrelevant to the story information about some of the characters,,their...See more
The front cover says " a true story of vengeance and survival".The first 4 chapters were good,,all about how this Tiger became a man-eater. The next 14 chapters,over 200 pages,,mostly covered totally irrelevant to the story information about some of the characters,,their history,,family history,,area,,area history,, history of acquaintances. Etc etc etc. Quite interesting,,if you wanted a history book. The last 4 chapters were also good,about the Tiger. If you''re expecting a great thrilling story that you can''t put down,,don''t waste your money. I was very disappointed. As I say,,the majority of the book simply covers information about places , people, history. Not a story about vengeance and survival.
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andief
5.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
There are no words to describe this book
Reviewed in the United Kingdom on February 28, 2016
Amazing, gripping, incredible.. I have read so many books in my 53 years on earth but this one was the best I ever read. It was almost impossible to put it away and yet sometimes I had to stop reading and digest what I just read. Never have I learnt so much about Russia,...See more
Amazing, gripping, incredible.. I have read so many books in my 53 years on earth but this one was the best I ever read. It was almost impossible to put it away and yet sometimes I had to stop reading and digest what I just read. Never have I learnt so much about Russia, its people, nature and politics. All spun around a true story about a tiger. You were invited to be your own investigator and detective while absorbing so may facts and puzzle pieces. I love tigers with all my heart but now I can see both sides of the problem and I will be forever grateful for this insight. Despite the fact that I own a kindle version, I decided to treat myself with a hardcopy as well.
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