BOOK: "River of No Reprieve" by Jeffrey Tayler (Houghton Mifflin, $24)
TARGET AUDIENCE: People who think "away from it all" means Ocean City.
Tayler on Siberia's Lena River: "Its shores have known no chronicler, its villages no hallower in verse, its deeds and deaths no novelist." Well, until now. Tayler ("Angry Wind"; "Glory in a Camel's Eye") travels the Lena, northward from Russia's Lake Baikal region, 2,400 miles through forests and tundra, across the Arctic Circle to the Arctic Ocean. And often at great peril, in a 17-foot inflatable raft, accompanied only by his wilderness-wise but misanthropic guide, Vadim.
Tayler does so many things well here. There's the compelling man-vs.-nature angle, of course, but even in this most isolated land are stories of people -- the gulag prisoners from various political persecutions of the past, the beautiful women and vodka-marinated men of today's Siberia. To Vadim's annoyance, Tayler stops at each village to talk, noting the "pride Russians often take in showing foreigners that no one, but no one, could live worse than they." As Tayler shows, they make a good case. -- Jerry V. Haines