The Tiger, by John Vaillant had been on my list of books to read for a while, but because of travel and work, I hadn’t got to it yet. I have now read it. It didn’t take me very long, which is a good sign. This is non-fiction, but Vaillant is fairly good at creating an interesting narrative out of a true story. In Far East Russia, an Amur (Siberian) tiger has been shot at and wounded by a logger and poacher. The tiger stalks him, kills him and eats him. This sends the Primorye region into turmoil, because in spite of the bitter cold, its inhabitants have to go into the Taiga to make a living. There are a number of tigers living there, but they normally don’t attack people. This tiger, however, proved it can be different. Because he was wounded (and indeed many times) he found it hard to hunt, and was starving as a result. After killing and eating his first man, he turned to others and killed a second person from the same village as the first one. This is not new – many similar stories have happened and still happen in India. A search mission was instigated, and the tiger killed. This is all that happens in the book (and not just quite enough for my liking), but Vaillant excels at describing the region, its people, and their drastic living conditions. He also distils very interesting information about Amur tigers, which is why I found the book fascinating. Having said that, after reading the story you don’t really want to go there – if you forget about the beauty of the Taiga, the living conditions and the poverty of the people are just staggering. I have always been fascinated by this part of the world and this is one of the reasons why I picked up this book. I’m less sure now, but come to think of it, I’d still go at the drop of a hat. I know the other side of the border, Chinese Manchuria, and as too often happens in China, not much of the original natural environment remains (and forget about tigers or any kind of animal!). Russia is a different story. Vaillant’s descriptions of the living conditions and unemployment remind me of a few stays I had to make in Moscow in the years 1989-1990. These were tough times, and I do not have great memories of the place. I just couldn’t find anything decent to eat or drink. Quite an experience, but not one I was looking forward to at the time. I understand things are different today. If you are interested in discovering Far East Russia (North West of Vladivostok) and want to know more about the fascinating Amur tiger, then this book is for you. Amur tigers (like most tigers) are heavily poached and their numbers are ever decreasing – this is partly due to the interest and beliefs of the Chinese in regard to the potency of Tiger organs, meat, paws, claws etc. They are ready to pay a fortune for them. This is bad news for the tiger, just as shark fin soup is bad news for sharks. I won’t delve more into the lack of environment protection in China – we’re all aware of it – but as far as tigers are concerned, The Tiger is a great book.
Here’s a link where Vaillant talks about his book:
I was a little disappointed with “Chinese Characters”, a book by Han Jiantang, who is Professor of Chinese at Tianjin Normal University. The book is full of information about Chinese characters, but unfortunately, it is a little hard to digest at times. The presentation and structure of the text could be improved and the English translation is not always the best. It’s a shame because I was really looking forward to reading it. Having said that, if you don’t mind spending a bit of time searching for what you are looking for, the book is full of interesting information.
The Girl in the Picture tells the true story of Kim Phuc, the nine year old Vietnamese girl who runs naked on a road after a Napalm attack on her village during the Vietnam War. This photo, taken by Nick Ut, is probably the most famous photo of the Vietnam War, one that had a great influence in making the public aware of the atrocities of the war, and in helping – in some way – to end it. This is a fascinating story, very sad at times, scary, depressing but also full of hope. Denise Chong has done a lot of research and she starts her book with a detailed story of the life of Kim’s family before the event. This in itself is very interesting and you learn a lot about the way of life of Vietnamese people in the country. Kim’s life will be changed by the attack forever: she will suffer from deep burns all over her body but will miraculously recover; she will be used against her will by the Vietnamese Government as propaganda material; she will travel a lot, ending up studying in Cuba for several years before taking refuge in Canada where she currently resides; she now works as ambassador for peace at UNESCO. You will be touched by her story, but also by the plight of the Vietnamese people. Chong does a good job with detailed descriptions, clear explanations, and well-researched facts, making this book a very interesting read.