Sunday 8 September 2019

Book club highlights on a cool, fall-ish morning...

I have definitely felt the change in the season this week, with cool mornings and evenings and a lack of humidity in the air.  It’s been awesome, my favourite time of year, but of course, it's always a bit bittersweet, too. It’s both a beginning and an end, the start of a new school year and the end of summer holidays… *sigh*... I’m glad to have a hot cup of chai tea and a delicious Date Bar to help me through this time of emotional conflict.  
My Volunteer Book Club met yesterday to discuss The Tiger:  a true story of vengeance and survival by Canadian author John Vaillant.  I knew nothing about this book except that my good friend gave it to his father for Christmas a few years ago, and since my friend is such an avid reader (he reads even more than I do!), I thought it would be a good book to choose as my non-fiction selection for our book list.  This book tells the true story of the December 1997 hunt for one of the few remaining Siberian tigers near a remote village in Russia’s Far East. This tiger has gone against his nature and become a man-eater, and he must be hunted and killed before he kills again. Now I’m not a fan of hunting, and I thought this might be too disturbing to read, but Vaillant does a wonderful job of painting a full, clear picture of the situation the men on the hunting team faced as they tracked this menacing tiger.  And the book deals with so much more than just the story of the hunt, which probably takes up less than a third of the book. It provides so much information about Russian history, political changes and how they affected the people, Russia’s relationship with China, Korea and Japan, and the relationship between man, animals and the environment. It explores the psychology of people and animals, and provides historical context for current conditions. I thought it might be too detailed and rambling for my group, and was sort of dreading the reactions I was going to receive for choosing this book, but to my surprise, everyone loved the book.  They didn’t just like it, they raved about it! One member said that she was talking about it to complete strangers, that’s how much she enjoyed it. These are just some of the things we said at the meeting: This book had everything in it - Russian history, the history of tigers and their strategies for hunting, the fact that, in Russia, there seems to be no “middle class”, only absurd wealth and abject poverty, politics, ethics, anthropology, anecdotes, and animal/human interaction; Vaillant was fair, and he put everything in the book into context by providing detailed background information about people and situations; his writing was exceptional.  Someone said that it was almost as if, for these Russians in this remote area, the feelings toward and treatment of the tiger was a personification of a mythical creature. One member thought, “Oh no, it’s non-fiction; I’ll just read the first three chapters and then fake the rest” but then, like me, she was totally riveted and read every word, including the footnotes. Another member found a film mentioned in the book, “The Sheltering Desert”, online and watched it. Others are planning to read some of the books Vaillant mentions or quotes. I'm going to start using the German word umwelt to refer to my personal space and experience, my personal "bubble" (as opposed to the Umgebung or "objective environment"). I think it was one of the most successful meetings we’ve ever had, and I would highly recommend this book to all readers, even those who don’t normally read non-fiction.  
That’s all for today.  Get outside and enjoy the fall-like day. Bye for now…

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