TRAVEL WRITERS OFTEN have to choose between audiences. Will the story appeal to armchair travelers with merely a passing interest in the subject? Or is the piece designed for readers with a personal investment in the destination? Ian Frazier's road-trip travel memoir Travels in Siberia is written for the latter audience, especially those with a basic knowledge of Russian literature, geography, and history. The book offers no travel practicalities—excepting a small section devoted to the conditions of Russian public toilets, Frazier does not editorialize. His prose is informal, clean, and inviting, and even in the occasional Russian history lessons en route, the writing never loses the sway of a familiar voice.
However inviting, though, it will take nonRussophiles—or those who have never traveled to Russia—a bit longer to appreciate "the incomplete grandiosity of Russia." Travels in Siberia suggests a "you had to be there" quality about Siberia and Russia in general, enticing a reader to find out for one's self.
Despite my Russophilia and several visits to Siberia, I found the book overlong. Frazier's voice is never talky, but there is only so much one can digest in one sitting. With no chapter titles and no map to follow, the linear read should be taken in small doses. Even on long train rides across fascinating scenery (a stark Siberian wasteland, for instance), eventually a long break comes as necessary relief.