Arsenyev in The New Yorker!


My recent translation of Vladimir Arsenyev’s 1921 classic, Across the Ussuri Kray, has been receiving some great press in places like MongaBay, Russian LifeMinnPost, and most recently (and incredibly) in The New Yorker. These placements have helped boost sales: for a while this book was the #1 top seller in the “Russia Travel” and “Mountain” categories on Amazon, and rose to #6 overall in the “Natural History” category, behind only various formats of books by Bill Bryson and Pulitzer Prize winner Elizabeth Kolbert (as of this writing the book has dropped to #82).

I did not translate this book for financial gain–I did it so that more people would know about Vladimir Arsenyev, the southern Russian Far East, and Arsenyev’s dedicated efforts to document the cultural and natural histories of the region. It’s only been a month since Across the Ussuri Kray was published by Indiana University Press, and I must say the response thus far has exceeded my expectations.

I hope I’ve done Arsenyev and the region proud.


Signing copies of “Across the Ussuri Kray” after an Arsenyev presentation at The Museum of Russian Art in Minneapolis. Photograph courtesy Pamela Espeland.




A Quiet Field


The last remnant of Ulun-ga. Photograph © Jonathan C. Slaght

In 2006, while searching the remote Maksimovka River floodplain for Blakiston’s fish owls, I was surprised to stumble upon a vast, grassy clearing cut from the forest. A weathered grey house, nestled among the bright green grasses of spring, stood at the center of this expanse. My local companion explained that this clearing was once filled with houses—the village of Ulun-ga—and the structure before us was its last vestige.

I learned that Ulun-ga had been a community of Old Believers; followers of a branch of Russian Orthodoxy that moved to the remote forests of Primorye from western Russia to practice their religion unimpeded. Scores of Old Believers settled these hills in the first decades of the 20th century; at one point there were at least thirty-five Old Believer settlements in northern Ternei County alone.

What happened to them, and what happened to Ulun-ga? Continue reading

Succumbing to the Storm


Members of Arsenyev’s 1906 expedition to the southern Russian Far East.

As with the fates of many of the intelligentsia whose lives spanned the Russian Revolution, subsequent Civil War, and Soviet purges, the story of Vladimir Arsenyev is one that did not end particularly well. As a beloved explorer and author whose career bridged Imperial and Soviet Russias, it seemed for a time that Arsenyev and his legacy would survive intact. But according to Ivan Egorchev, an Arsenyev scholar, Arsenyev’s early death from a heart attack in 1930 (at the age of 58) might actually have been a blessing. It meant that Arsenyev did not live to witness his wife accused of espionage and executed in 1937, or his daughter spend nearly twenty years in prison or labor camps for “anti-Soviet statements” and other nebulous charges.

Continue reading