Tiger (Valliant)

The Tiger: A True Story of Vengeance and Survival
John Valliant, 2010
Knopf Doubleday
352 pp.
ISBN-13: 9780307389046



Summary
A gripping story of man pitted against nature’s most fearsome and efficient predator.
 
Outside a remote village in Russia’s Far East a man-eating tiger is on the prowl. The tiger isn’t just killing people, it’s murdering them, almost as if it has a vendetta. A team of trackers is dispatched to hunt down the tiger before it strikes again. They know the creature is cunning, injured, and starving, making it even more dangerous. As John Vaillant re-creates these extraordinary events, he gives us an unforgettable and masterful work of narrative nonfiction that combines a riveting portrait of a stark and mysterious region of the world and its people, with the natural history of nature’s most deadly predator. (From the publisher.)



Author Bio
John Vaillant’s first book was the national bestseller The Golden Spruce, which won the Governor General's Literary Award for Non-Fiction, as well as several other awards. He has written for The New Yorker, The Atlantic, Outside, National Geographic and The Walrus, among other publications. He lives in Vancouver, British Columbia, with his wife and children. (From the publisher.)



Book Reviews
Riveting, often chilling.... A remarkable, thoroughly researched, informative chronicle that will appeal to readers interested in the conservation of wildlife.
Providence Journal


Mesmerizing.... A blistering good tale, stocked with fascinating characters, none more compelling than the tiger itself.... The adventure book of the year.
Cleveland Plain Dealer


[A] riveting story.... Vaillant’s book teaches a lesson that humankind desperately needs to remember: When you murder a tiger, you not only kill a strong and beautiful beast, you extinguish a passionate soul.
Washington Post


An extraordinary book, bringing vividly to life this rare and terrifying creature and the men who are setting their lives at stake every day in a barely civilized part of the world. This is a real-life adventure story that is rarely encountered.
Washington Times


A remarkable and thoughtful account of a distant place where man and animal meet with fatal consequences.
Richmond Times Dispatch


If ever a nonfiction author has used the techniques of fiction any better to recount a real-life narrative, it is difficult to imagine who that author would be.... Think of Vaillant as a younger version of John McPhee, but on steroids.
Seattle Times


Brilliant.... A tale of astonishing power and vigor.... Read this fine, true book in the warmth, beside the flicker of the firelight. Read it and be afraid. Be very afraid.
Simon Winchester - Toronto Globe and Mail


Nonfiction as riveting as any detective story.... Vaillant sets the stage for an epic encounter that unfolds dramatically and inexorably, climaxing in a stunning encounter.
Christian Science Monitor


The grisly rampage of a man-eating Amur, or Siberian, tiger and the effort to trap it frame this suspenseful and majestically narrated introduction to a world that few people, even Russians, are familiar with. Northeast of China lies Russia's Primorye province, "the meeting place of four distinct bioregions"–taiga, Mongolian steppes, boreal forests, and Korean tropics-and where the last Amur tigers live in an uneasy truce with an equally diminished human population scarred by decades of brutal Soviet politics and postperestroika poverty. Over millennia of shared history, the indigenous inhabitants had worked out a tenuous peace with the Amur, a formidable hunter that can grow to over 500 pounds and up to nine feet long, but the arrival of European settlers, followed by decades of Soviet disregard for the wilds, disrupted that balance and led to the overhunting of tigers for trophies and for their alleged medicinal qualities. Vaillant (The Golden Spruce) has written a mighty elegy that leads readers into the lair of the tiger and into the heart of the Kremlin to explain how the Amur went from being worshipped to being poached..
Publishers Weekly


In the bitter cold, as night claims the forest, a man and his dog make their laborious way home. In only a few hours all that remains of the man is the smear his blood leaves on the white ground and a few tattered bones. The man has been eaten by an Amur (Siberian) tiger. Or rather, not just eaten, as Vaillant tells us in his fascinating examination of visceral fear, history, and ecology, but studied, tracked, and hunted. Arriving to take down the tiger is Yuri Trush, the leader of a squad that is a cross between game wardens and Jack Reacher-style cops. Vaillant uses this core story of atavistic thrill to explore the landscape, ecology, history, and culture of the Primorye province, a remote region of Russia, and home to the tiger. His story frequently leaves Trush and his team to explore the impact of poaching, recount the history of European explorers, and examine the precarious fate of Amur tigers. The book is a treat, full of gripping and lyrical prose, a richly created world, and a sensibility that invites readers to sink into the landscape of the Primorye.
Library Journal



Discussion Questions
1. The Tiger is a riveting book, with the momentum of a thriller and the depth of insight of an extended philosophical meditation. How does Vaillant create suspense throughout the book? What are the major insights he offers about tigers and the larger issues that come into focus through his investigation of the killing of Vladimir Markov?

2. What historical forces have contributed to the desperate conditions facing the people of the Primorye? How understandable/forgivable is their poaching?

3. Vaillant writes: “What is amazing—and also terrifying about tigers—is their facility for what can only be described as abstract thinking. Very quickly, a tiger can assimilate new information...ascribe it to a source, and even a motive, and react accordingly” [p. 136]. In what ways does the tiger that kills Markov engage in abstract thinking?

4. Does Markov deserve the fate that befalls him? Is it fair to say that he brought on his own death by stealing the tiger’s kill or by shooting at the tiger?

5. What kind of man is Yuri Trush? In what ways is he both fierce and thoughtful, authoritarian and at the same time sensitive to the desperation that makes people of the Primorye break the law? How does his experience with the tiger change him?

6. Vaillant attributes the attitude of entitlement of Russian homesteaders, at least in part, to biblical injunctions: “1: Be fruitful and multiply, and replenish the earth. 2: And the fear of you and the dread of you shall be upon every beast of the earth.... 3: Every moving thing that liveth shall be meat for you; even as the green herb have I given you all things” [p. 150]. What are the consequences of this way of viewing our relationship to the earth and other animals?

7. Chapter 18 begins with a epigraph from Moby-Dick. What are the parallels between Trush’s hunt for the tiger and Ahab’s pursuit of the whale and between the behavior of the tiger and that the whale in these stories?

8. After he helps to kill the tiger, native people tell Trush he’s now marked by it, that he now bears, as Vaillant puts it, “some ineffable taint, discernible only to tigers” [p. 290]. When an otherwise tame and placid tiger tries to attack him at a wildlife rehabilitation center, Trush wonders if “some sort of a bio field exists.... Maybe tigers can feel some connection through the cosmos, or have some common language. I don’t know. I can’t explain it” [p. 291]. Is this merely a fanciful conjecture, or could it be true that tigers can sense the presence of someone who has killed one of their kind? If true, how would it change our views of animal consciousness?

9. Vaillant suggests that, like captive tigers, most of us “live how and where we do because, at some point in the recent past, we were forced out of our former habitats and ways of living by more aggressive, if not better adapted, humans. Worth asking here is: Where does this trend ultimately lead? Is there a better way to honor the fact that we survived?” [p. 298]. How might these questions be answered?

10. Vaillant argues that “by mass-producing food, energy, material goods, and ourselves, we have attempted to secede from, and override, the natural order” [p. 304]. What are the consequences of this desire to separate ourselves from nature?

11. What makes tigers both so frightening and so fascinating? What mythic value do they have for humans? In what ways are they an important part of the ecosystem?

12. What does the book as a whole suggest about our relationship to nature, particularly to the animals that share the earth with us?

13. It is a precarious time, not just for the Amur tiger, but for all tigers. Poaching and the destruction of tiger habitat pose major challenges to the survival of the species. What would be the significance of the loss of the tiger? What positive steps have been taken to protect it?

14. What changes in human behavior need to happen in order to preserve the (Amur) tiger and similar species? How likely is it that humans will make such changes?
(Questions issued by publisher.)

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