Archive for Siberia

Байкало-Амурская магистраль/БАМ

Posted in Statistics with tags , , , , , , , , , on April 15, 2018 by xi'an

While in Chamonix last month I dropped by the Guérin editions bookstore, always full of tantalising books on climbing and mountaineering, travelling and travellers. I managed to escape with only two small books, one on a young climber stuck for 100 hours at the top of Aiguilles Vertes [not far from my last ice-climb!] and the other one a railway trip along the Baïkal-Amour Mainline (BAM), which goes from the Baïkal Lake to Sovietskaïa Gavan, north of the Trans-Siberian line. The book is not the ultimate travel book as most of the pages are about historical features surrounding this line, first and foremost the constant reminder that Gulag prisoners were relentlessly exploited to build this line, which follows a macabre route along Siberian camps. The trip finishes not at the end of the BAM line or in Vladivostok, but on Sakhaline Island, which was a penitential colony from the mid-1800’s, as covered by Anton Tchekov in a statistical study and a short story, The Murder… (Comments about characters crossed throughout the trip are rarely to the benefit of these characters.) While I do not make this travel book or the places it crosses sound particularly exciting, it still carries with it the inducing whiff of faraway places, which makes me wish I could see Lake Baïkal or Vladivostok one day in the future, if not travel the entire line. And it also brought back memories of Corto Maltese in Siberia, which remains one of my favourites…

the nihilist girl [book review]

Posted in Books, Kids with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on October 7, 2017 by xi'an

When stopping by an enticing bookstore on Rue Saint-Jacques, in front of La Sorbonne, last July, I came across a book by the mathematician Sofia Kovaleskaya called the nihilist girl. Having never heard of non-mathematical books written by this Russian mathematician whose poster stood in my high school classroom, I bought it (along with other summer reads). And then discovered that besides being a woman of many “firsts”, from getting a PhD at Heidelberg (under Weirstraß) to getting a professor position in Stockholm, to being nominated to a Chair in the Russian Academy of Sciences, she also took an active part in the Commune de Paris, along with many emigrated Russian revolutionaries (or nihilists). Which explains for this book about a nihilist girl leaving everything to follow a revolutionary deported to Siberia. While not autobiographical (Sweden is not Siberia!), the novel contains many aspects inspired from the (amazing if desperately short) life of Sofia Kovaleskaya herself. A most interesting coincidence is that Sofia’s sister, Anna, was engaged for a while to Fyodor Dostoyevsky, whose novel The Demons takes the opposite view on nihilists. (As a feminist and anarchist, Anna took a significant part in the Commune de Paris, to the point of having to flee to Switzerland to escape deportation to New Caledonia, while her husband was sentenced to death.) The book itself is not particularly enjoyable, as being quite naïve in its plot and construction. It is nonetheless a great testimony of the situation of Russia in the 19th Century and of the move of the upper-class liberals towards revolutionary ideals, while the exploited peasant class they wanted to free showed no inclination to join them. I think Dostoyevsky expresses much more clearly this most ambiguous posturing of the cultivated classes at the time, yearning for more freedom and fairness for all, but fearing the Tsarist police, unable to connect with the peasantry, and above all getting a living from revenues produced by their farmlands.