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#1 The Tiger by John Vaillant – CBR-III

01/03/2011

“Hanging in the trees, as if caught there is a sickle of a moon. Its wan light scatters shadows on the snow below, only obscuring further the forest that this man negotiates now as much as by feel as by sight. He is on foot and on his own save for a single dog, which runs ahead, eager to be heading home at last…They are hunting partners and the  man understands: someone is there by the cabin. The hackles on the dog’s back and on his own neck rise together.

Together they hear a rumble in the dark that seems to come from everywhere at once.”

Thus begins The Tiger: A True Story of Vengeance and Survival, by John Vaillant, an account of  a man-eating Amur tiger terrorizing a remote village in Russia’s Far East in late 1997.   We’ve all heard the term “man-eating” tiger, but I always considered that an exaggeration. Mostly I’d heard tales of people being mauled or bitten, but this tiger just destroyed its prey and consumed it. What remains of the man killed in the beginning, Vladimir Markov, barely fills the coffin, and the idea of him wearing the new suit his wife proudly purchased as his burial shroud is sadly preposterous.  Markov’s tale is the setting for stories of  in the lives of the residents in the Primorye territory.

The other man who Vaillant uses to frame the  is Yuri Trush, squad leader of an Inspection Tiger unit, sent to investigate the tiger attack.  A huge man and former foreman at a coal mine, he has led this unit for three years. He takes a group of trackers, armed with a lot of knowledge but limited weaponry, into the forest to track and destroy the tiger before it kills again. The story of  their forest journey and the unreal ending is compelling enough to make you want to continue through the book, but Vaillant also eloquently leads us through the history of the region, Russian struggles with China, the effects of Perestroika, not to mention a thorough examination of tigers themselves.

“As long as I’ve worked here, I’ve never seen a tiger as big as that one.”

The huge tiger prowling the countryside not only had the size and strength, but also the intelligence and skill to be a relentless hunting machine. There is such a narrow window of existence for the villagers in this brutally poor area, and the introduction of such a killer leaves a despairing terror in their hearts. Trush and his men must seek out the tiger to avoid further loss of life, either theirs or the villagers.  What happens in the end? Of course I won’t tell you, you must read it for yourself. I will say that if I’d seen a movie with this ending, I don’t know if I would be able to believe it.

“There are many people who don’t believe this actually happened. They think it’s some phantasm of my imagination. But it was real. There are the facts.” — Yuri Trush

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