Since the last Ice Age, the reindeer's extraordinary adaptation to cold has sustained human life over vast tracts of the earth's surface, providing meat, fur, and transport. Images carved into rocks and tattooed on the skin of mummies hint at ancient ideas about the reindeer's magical ability to carry the human soul on flights to the sun. These images pose one of the great mysteries of prehistory: the "reindeer revolution," in which Siberian native peoples tamed and saddled a species they had previously hunted.
Drawing on nearly twenty years of field work among the Eveny in northeast Siberia, Piers Vitebsky shows how Eveny social relations are formed through an intense partnership with these extraordinary animals as they migrate over the swamps, ice sheets, and mountain peaks of what in winter is the coldest inhabited region in the world. He reveals how indigenous ways of knowing involve a symbiotic ecology of mood between humans and reindeer, and he opens up an unprecedented understanding of nomadic movement, place, memory, habit, and innovation.
The Soviets' attempts to settle the nomads in villages undermined their self-reliance and mutual support. In an account both harrowing and funny, Vitebsky shows the Eveny's ambivalence toward productivity plans and medals and their subversion of political meetings designed to control them. The narrative gives a detailed and tender picture of how reindeer can act out or transform a person's destiny and of how prophetic dreaming about reindeer fills a gap left by the failed assurances of the state.
Vitebsky explores the Eveny experience of the cruelty of history through the unfolding and intertwining of their personal lives. The interplay of domestic life and power politics is both intimate and epic, as the reader follows the diverging fate of three charismatic but very different herding families through dangerous political and economic reforms. The book's gallery of unforgettable personalities includes shamans, psychics, wolves, bears, dogs, Communist Party bosses, daredevil aviators, fire and river spirits, and buried ancestors. The Reindeer People is a vivid and moving testimony to a Siberian native people's endurance and humor at the ecological limits of human existence.
"This immersion in the lives of some of the world's toughest and most resilient people is a powerfully lovely book." --Bill McKibben
"Remarkable." The Financial Times of London
"Like all the finest anthropology, this book entertains readers with descriptions of an alien culture, only to imbue them with a deeper sense of common humanity." The Times of London
"A wild and vividly described journey to Siberia." -- New Scientist
"Extraordinary fieldnotes from the remotest fringes of the reindeer economy . . . A Worthy companion to Arctic Dreams and other landmark books." Kirkus Reviews, Starred
"With grace, courage and sensitivity, Vitebsky reveals an extraordinary world, spinning a tale to warm any winter's night." Publishers Weekly, Starred
"Rewarding...Vitebsky is sensitive to every sight and sound in the Siberian wilderness." The New York Times
"A captivating look at a part of the world most people will never see." People Magazine
"It's not hard to be fascinated...[Vitebsky is] a compassionate, perceptive narrator." Christian Science Monitor
"Vitebsky renders both people and landscape vividly...a remarkable book." --Seattle Times Seattle Times/Post-Intelligencer
Recipient of the Victor Turner Prize Honorable Mention
"So intimate, so revealing, and so moving...This book is required reading." --Moscow Times
"The best book of the year...witty and poignant." --Simon Sebag Montefiore, author of Stalin: The Court of the Red Tsar
"The work of an acutely observant and unusually dedicated field-worker at the height of his powers...a masterpiece of anthropological writing." --Jean Briggs, author of Inuit Morality Play
"A warm and lucid tribute to Eveny...gorgeously observed and evocative." --Spectator.
"A personable, knowledgeable, and passionate guide...Vitebsky's generous study elucidates Siberian reindeer culture to a depth never attained before." Booklist, ALA, Starred Review
"Extraordinary fieldnotes from the remotest fringes...A worthy companion to V.K. Arseniev's Dersu the Trapper, Barry Lopez's Arctic Dreams, and other landmark books of the Far North." Kirkus Reviews, Starred
"As richly detailed and compelling as it is instructive." Library Journal