Sara Wheeler

A Passage to Indigirka

Siberia: A History of the People

By

Yale University Press 289pp £25 order from our bookshop

Not long ago I spent time in Chukotka, in the Russian Far East. The regional capital enjoyed numerous features of urban development, such as a dozen sets of traffic lights, many of which worked. But it was isolated – eight time zones from St Petersburg with no roads at all beyond the urban centre – and this in a region bigger than France. A man once sellotaped an advert to a lamppost offering his flat in exchange for a one-way ticket to Moscow.

In her hugely informative new book, Janet M Hartley, a professor of international history at the LSE, analyses and explains how geographical isolation has moulded Siberian society since Russification took root in the 16th century, when sable hunters and ‘freebooting Cossacks’ began to kick up trouble in Sibir, then an independent khanate on the River Irtysh. After Ivan IV took the title ‘Tsar of Siberia’, colonisation hardened into state policy. Hartley is good on the ‘myth about the spirit of the Cossacks and the triumphal progress of Christian Russians against pagans and Muslims in Siberia’ – a myth that still persists, in various forms.

Sign Up to our newsletter

Receive free articles, highlights from the archive, news, details of prizes, and much more.

Follow Literary Review on Twitter

  • Last Tweets

    • 'Half-way through The Conquest of Water I felt as if I had been subjected to the literary equivalent of excessive c… ,
    • 'Volume five, then, but still no end in sight. Sandbrook is clearly enjoying himself so much he can’t bear the seri… ,
    • 'By the end of the book something so weighty, stylish and impressive has been built up that one feels far nearer to… ,
    • 'Her ensuing psychotic episode is described so convincingly ... that the reader will wonder if Dobrakovová did not… ,
    • 'The perspectives complement and contest one another, amounting to a glorious, atmospheric set of ventriloquisms.'… ,
    • RT : I reviewed The Testaments for . I will not be taking any questions at this time. ,
    • 'The Testaments is, first and foremost, a manual of resistance ... a type of resistance that is organised, articula… ,