In April, I joined fellow blogger, Emma from Words And Peace, in reading a work of contemporary French fiction, L’Archipel d’une autre vie, by Andreï Makine. We invited people to read along with us in French or English and set up a schedule to read one-quarter of the book every two weeks. The story unfolds on the far eastern edge of what is now Russia. Makine’s writing is to be admired. He’s a brilliant storyteller who among other things has opened my eyes to this extremely remote part of the world. In this final post about the book, I give a quick review and share some stunning photos of the Shantar Islands, the breathtaking archipelago from which the book derives its title.
You can find our last round of questions and answers here at Words and Peace.
I’m very grateful to Emma for having suggested a book that I doubt I would have discovered on my own. The Archipelago of Another Life is a short work of historical fiction that has many rich layers. The story revolves around a suspenseful manhunt that takes place at the eastern edge of the Siberian wilderness. Makine, however, presents us with backstories for each of the pursuers, skillfully juxtaposing a psychological search for identity.
Makine also gives the reader ample insight into the hardships of life under the Soviet system. His narrative makes clear the near impossibility of escape from this authoritative and merciless regime. All of these elements are seamlessly woven together against the backdrop of the Russian taiga. Makine integrates scenes of nature at every turn—its beauty, its perilousness, its ability to appease.
I’ve found it to be a wonderfully crafted book and have appreciated the commentary of Andrew Blackman, a writer and blogger who has joined the Read-Along.
The Shantar Islands
The archipelago referenced in the book’s title refers to the Shantar Islands, located off the eastern coast of Russia in the Sea of Okhotsk. It’s a beautiful and magical setting, perfect for a romanticized existence far from the evils of men. In 2013, Russian scientists and conservationists, with support from the World Wildlife Fund, turned the region into a national park.
As you can see from the park’s boundaries, marked above in violet, the park not only protects the landmass of the Shantars, but also the surrounding marine waters. The area is home to many species of mammal including brown bear, caribou, red fox, sable, and river otter. Over 240 species of birds live on or migrate through the Shantars, many of which are endangered. The park has also established a protected sanctuary for an entire salmon ecosystem.
Below are some amazing photos that capture the beauty of the Shantars. In Makine’s book, he notes that a compass does not function in these islands. There’s something bizarre about the magnetic properties of the place that cause a compass needle to perpetually spin. I tried to find confirmation of this phenomenon online but came up empty-handed. In fact, it’s hard to find much about the Shantars online in either English or French. It truly remains a remote and little-known corner of our planet.
Most of these images have come from the websites of tour operators that I’ve listed below. They offer some spectacular-looking journeys.
Earlier Posts from this Read-Along
- Read-Along, The Archipelago of Another Life, Bestselling French Fiction
- Read-Along, The Archipelago of Another Life, Chapters 1 and 2
- Read-Along, The Archipelago of Another Life, Part II
- Read-Along, The Archipelago of Another Life, Part III
- Wikipedia, Shantar Islands National Park
- Russia Discovery, Whale Bay, Auto expedition to the Shantar Islands
- shantar-islands.com, Shantary—Islands for the Edge of the Earth
- 10 Adventures, Expedition to the Shantar Islands
- Wild Salmon Center, An Island Refuge Forever
- WWF, “Shantar Islands” National Park Established in the Russian Far East