Imagine a killer who is driven, intelligent, amoral and doesn’t understand what it means to face consequences. A killer who is the hunter and the hunted, who lives in the moment and by its own set of rules. This killer answers to no one.
This is The Tiger, A True Story of Vengeance and Survival, (John Vaillant, 2010). The Amur tiger of Russia’s Primorye territory - the vast, frozen, eastern end of an already vast country. It is the story of the mind of a tiger who remembers its enemies and hunts them down with unrelenting precision until it has its vengeance.
It may sound like a B movie filled with a horrible monster, but it is a true story that took place in 1997. Residents of an isolated village and the surrounding area are trying to survive after perestroika, turning to any way they can to make enough money to live. One of the most lucrative means is poaching, and poaching a tiger can bring a huge reward on the black market. Just make sure, if you go after a tiger that you kill him, because tigers never forget.
Vaillant creates a vivid and compelling world. You feel the numbing cold, the poverty and desolation, most importantly, the fear. He is incredibly skilled at giving the tiger’s point of view along with the hunter and the hunted. You understand why the tiger must kill and why it must be killed.
However, this is much more than a story of people and tigers. It’s about our relationships as living things, and how we have destroyed the environment by cutting down forests and killing off entire species through greed and fear. You will learn the history and politics of the area, the history and politics of tigers and their relationship to the environment as a predator and as a victim.
Vaillant is a powerful writer, and can leave you breathless in a way that forces you to set the book down and walk away because it is simply too intense. Somehow, you’ll go back. You’ll want to know more no matter how painful. In the end, you will mourn for the tiger, for the victims, and most of all, for our world. Vaillant does offer hope, but so much damage has been done. That is the difference between us (greed) and the tiger (survival).
An absolute “must read.”
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