4 stars. The story of one of the most fearsome predators on earth turned mankiller and the hunt to stop him is deftly interwoven with the wild history and hardscrabble denizens of the Siberian frontier in The Tiger: A True Story of Vengeance and Survival. John Vaillant skilfully sets the scene of December 1997 in the Bikin River area of Siberian taiga, gives an ecological history of the tiger, and highlights the personalities of the main players of his narrative nonfiction recounting.
If there’s one big takeaway from this book, here it is: tigers are ferocious beasts, capable of survival in an unforgiving environment, possessed of claws, fangs, and strength to inflict grievous harm, and the intelligence to be a formidable hunter. These frightening predators are truly marvels. I truly enjoyed Vaillant’s description of their potency–much as I’d hate to meet a hungry one in the wilds of the Amur River valley! He discusses their psychological and cultural impact, from the anthropomorphism and reverence of natives of the area to the demand on the Chinese black market as a potency treatment.
The hunt itself–which really only comprises a quarter or so of the text–is gripping, with a final showdown worthy of a survival movie. The lead hunter, Inspection Tiger conservationist/poaching enforcer Yuri Trush, is the central figure of the hunt. One of the most fascinating things in the book is that after the hunt was over, he is considered as “marked” by the tiger to the point that many denizens of Sobolonye will not sleep in the same house with him.
The Tiger is a book that is a true pleasure to read, with a dramatic central narrative and fascinating, educational asides about environment, man and nature, Soviet and Russian history, and predator/prey relations.