A True Story of Vengeance and Survival

The Tiger: 
A True Story of Vengeance and Survival 
by John Vaillant

A Review by Ron Cacioppe

This book is both a compelling story about a tiger that hunts and kills people to seek revenge and an education about mankind abusing nature and causing its own demise.

It was a last minute decision to read this book.  We were leaving on a week’s holiday and I needed a novel to read.  I was in the Bodhi Tree and about to leave in 5 minutes.  I had plenty of books to take with me but they were about Zen, philosophy and having honest conversations and I wanted a novel, one that would be interesting, informative and entertaining.  This book fulfilled all three.

I found ‘The Tiger’ book on the bottom shelf of the novel section and its cover showed red blood on snow.  The words ‘vengeance’ and ‘survival’ didn’t seem to fit with the Kalbarri by-the-ocean vacation we were starting on but a strange force kept it in my hand when I went to the counter.  I found myself walking to the car with that feeling of adventure (a safe one) and mystery that comes with buying a new book and having time to read it.

The first page got me in.  It described a man going back to his secluded cabin in the Far East of Russian wilderness and he is attacked and killed, along with his hunting dog, by a tiger.  The rest of the book describes the story of this tiger that for some reason decided to stalk and kill this man and another person a week later.  The Tiger Inspection team lead by Yuri Trush has to track and kill this tiger.  The tiger attacks Trush and almost kills him but he is saved by the sharp thinking and shooting of his teammates.

The book is really two stories; The first is a story of how the Tiger Inspection team lead by Trush, tracks down and kills this tiger which attacks humans to wreak vengeance on them.  After examining the body of the tiger it is clear that he has been shot and wounded a number of times by humans and probably by the first man he attacked and killed.  The tiger hadn’t gone mad, it was just seeking revenge on the man who tried to kill to make money.  Man had overstepped its bounds with this animal and it got him to back off - permanently.

The second story in this book describes the magnificence and desolation of the Russian Far East and what has happened and is happening to nature and the humans who have lived there over the last thousands of years.  It is a story of the Russian, Chinese and Cossack history in the region and how the human economic systems of communism and pestroika have caused despair and carnage to humans and the environment alike.   The book captures the power and mystery of the tiger as well as its everyday living habits in a way that you come to know intimately the ‘umweld’, the inner world, of the tiger.

John Vaillant has a captivating writing style.  He brings to life the starkness and beauty of the forest, the bleakness of the cold (forty below zero is common) and the details of a harsh and difficult life for humans in the Russian wilderness (called the tiagra).  He also has a unique ability to describe a situation.  For example, he describes a tiger pouncing on a person as similar to having a piano drop on you from the second floor of a building.  But with a piano, that is the end of this experience, with the tiger it is the beginning.

This book provides the history of a region most Westerners know little about as well as an exciting true story of the relationship between a magnificent animal, the tiger, and a group of men.  Vaillant’s background and discussion of the environment and this true story, provide a powerful case for preservation of tigers and the wilderness they inhabit. Only 3,200 hundred tigers exist in the world today (down from 75.000 in the early 1900’s ) and approximately 450 are still alive in the Primorye, the Far East of Russia. The Chinese have a strong desire for the organs and body of the tiger for medicinal and potency purposes while hunters and poachers in the area need to kill animals in the region just to earn enough to live.  Add in logging, industrialization, Russian bureaucracy and corruption and the growing human population and it is a perfect formula for extinction of the largest of the cat species alive on this planet.

I recommend this book to anyone who likes to read novels based on true events, history of unknown parts of the world and a love of the environment.  This story is educational, sad, beautiful, intriguing and artfully written.

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