“TIL that tigers can, and will, take revenge on those who have wronged them. They are one of the most vengeful animals on the planet.”

I was browsing reddit one day and came across the headline above. In the Chinese Zodiac, I *am* a tiger, and I consider myself more vengeful than most people, so I was super amused.

Apparently, in the 90s, there was a vengeful man eating tiger lurking around East Russia in Primorye. The comments in the thread, along with the linked article itself, mentioned that there was a book all about what happened, so of course I bought it!

This book was a cool mixture of half documentary, half story, with the narration constantly going into asides to help give more context to the situation.

I expected to learn plenty about tigers, but what I ended up learning even more about was Russia, specifically East Russia which is very different from Moscow and traditional Russian stereotypes. I learned about the history of Primorye, how it came to be Russian instead of Chinese; how the people that lived there had their lives changed from Russian perestroika; how those people dealt with the tigers that lived in the Taiga forests that their towns were in.

 

About Primorye

“Protruding conspicuously from Russia’s vast bulk, Primorye is embedded in China’s eastern flank like a claw or a fang, and it remains a sore spot to this day. The territory is an embodiment of the tension between proximity and possession: the capital, Vladivostok, which is home to more than half a million people, is just a two-day train journey from Beijing. The trip to Moscow, on the other hand, is a week-long…even Australia is closer”

So I’ll admit that I a stereotypical American sometimes and don’t know a ton of geography. I literally had to look up the Russian/Chinese border to see this for myself when I read the above statement. I didn’t know that part of Russia just jutted down along the East and into China. Whaaat?

The book taught me a lot about Russian-Chinese relations in the past. It was really interesting how Russia basically tricked China into a trade for the region; it was even more interesting to learn that in the late 1960s, the two countries had heightened tensions and had military conflicts. My dad was alive during that time, albeit far removed since he was waaaay south in Hong Kong.

“Though it was hailed as a positive development in the West, few Westerners fully grasp the toll perestroika took and continues to take on the country. Among Russians, it has since earned the ignominious nickname “Katastroika.” Proof of this abounds in Sobolonye, a place where civilization as most of us understand it has effectively collapsed.”

But more than that, a huge portion of the book was devoted to the life of people in Primorye, people who lived among the Taiga. It spent a lot of time in asides, telling the stories of people’s lives, both before, during, and after perestroika. I remember reading about perestroika in the history books of school, but tbh, I only kind of glanced through it, since I was here in the US, far away from it. It was shocking to learn about the incredible drop in quality of life for Russians, especially out in the fringes of Primorye.

 

About the Tiger

“As Trush and his team pieced the evidence together, they came to understand that this tiger was not hunting for animals, or even for humans; he was hunting for Markov”

I also very much enjoyed the anthropomorphism of the Tiger’s actions in this book. While the above stuff about the people played out like a documentary, everything about the Tiger played out like a story. Makes sense, since the you can’t talk to a tiger.

The author, given what facts he knew about the tiger, gave backstory and reason to the tiger’s actions. It had been shot, so it was weakened, and couldn’t quite catch the prey it used to and was hungry.

It had been shot by Markov specifically, and evidence at the scene suggested that it had spent days tracking Markov and systematically destroying everything with his scent on it before killing him, so it was vengeful.

The anthropomorphism helped flesh out the story *really* well.

 

Conclusions

The half documentary, half story nature of this book was a nice change of pace for me, both from the non-fiction political books I’d been reading and the sci-fi books that are my bread and butter. I learned a lot about a region of the world that I typically ignore, and about the people that live there.

All in all, totally worth the read!

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