On its face, this book is about a tiger in Eastern Russia that went on a murderous rampage, and the hunt to find him. Probably not the most interesting plot for a fiction novel, but there's something about knowing this is a true story that makes things a lot more interesting. In addition to this, John Vaillant really delves into the history of the region and the people who inhabit it, making the book about so much more than the Amur Tiger.
Vaillant begins with the story at hand - In 1997, Yuri Trush, a squad leader of Inspection Tiger, is called to investigate a tiger attack. The attack seems to be more gruesome than normal and Trush is responsible for understanding why the attack occurred and determining if this tiger is a danger to others. Vaillant then goes into a detailed history of the eastern Russian region called Primorye and its inhabitants, human and animal. He discusses the effects of Perestroika (Gorbachev's reforms in the late 1980's, which resulted in the opening of Russia's border with China - a key point in this book) and details the conception and evolution of Inspection Tiger. This government unit was created to restore order to the Primorye forests, which are rife with poaching.
As someone who knows very little about Russia (there's tigers in Russia?), I was intrigued with the history and background information Vaillant provides. But the book basically reads like a textbook, so if you're not okay with that, then it's probably not a book for you. I'll admit, it was a battle at times to get to the end, but I'm really glad I stuck with it. The information Vaillant packs into this book is rich and has given me a lot of insight into a country that takes a week to cross by train. Sadly, my knowledge of which probably wouldn't have even filled a notebook page.
Overall, I enjoyed the book, but I'd be hesitant to recommend it to just anyone. But if you're willing to go through this book, you'll walk away a bit smarter and more informed than when you started.
Book cover from google images.
Reviewed by Cathy