Book Review by Ken Perrotte in Richmond, VA, Richmond Times Dispatch
HOPPING ABOARD an airplane for Siberia during the waning days of the Cold War with the former Soviet Union might not fit everyone’s notion of ideal travel.
For some intrepid Americans, though, the uncertainty of venturing into the “Evil Empire” was more than offset by the allure of hunting huge brown bear and moose in lands no westerners had visited.
One outdoors writer invited on the first “exploratory safari” to this wilderness became so enamored with the experience that he quickly set up his own outfitting company to bring clients to “The Land of the Bear.”
Denny Geurink, a Michigander who wrote for many newspapers and served as a field editor for Field and Stream magazine, chronicles a quarter-century of Siberian expeditions. His book, “In the Land of the Bear: Danger and Adventure Hunting Brown Bears in Russia’s Forbidding Siberia,” is packed with the type of stories one might expect about people visiting places isolated from most of the world.
Geurink shares dozens of well-told stories. The book includes hair-raising escapades, such as the time a U.S. astronaut and his guide were stalked by a brown bear, the base camp hearing breathless whispers on the radio about the bear circling the men.
The Russian guides, who lived with big bears, appear generally non-plussed in such situations. In this scenario, they threw rocks at the 8-foot-tall bruin because the bear was deemed too small to shoot.
Beyond the hunting adventure, the book also offers keen insight into the people, culture, cuisine and politics.
It reinforces a truism learned by many people who travel to hunt, even to places where our government and theirs do not see eye-to-eye. Namely, people in the country – those with a hunting and fishing ethos—usually overcome cultural differences and get along. Some become lifelong friends. Even the local KGB fellas weren’t so bad after you hunted with them.
The generosity of the local people is revealed, such as the story of a husband and wife who insisted on sleeping on the floor in another room so their American guests could enjoy the comfort of a bed.
I loved the descriptions of the various meals, some palatable and enjoyable; others, politely choked down. Some surprised Geurink, such as a concoction made from a moose’s sinus cavity. A few, like bear paw soup, prompted a raised hand and, “Nyet.”
Then there is vodka. You may have heard about the Russian affectation for vodka; it’s all true, apparently. Just about any positive development in a hunting camp was cause for a celebratory toast (or three, or five).
I won’t give away more about the book. If traveling to exotic, remote destinations to fish or hunt has ever been your dream, or if you have done it and want to recall the wonder and challenges you experienced, check out Geurink’s book.
In the Land of the Bear is 277 pages long with many black and white photos. Cost is $21.95, plus $4.00 shipping/handling.