Bookmarks Issue: 

A True Story of Vengeance and Survival

A-TigerJohn Vaillant, a journalist who lives in Vancouver, British Columbia, is also the author of The Golden Spruce: A True Story of Myth, Madness, and Greed (2005), about an act of ecovandalism. Here, he explores the deadly predator-prey relationship.

The Topic: In December 1997, in Russia's frigid boreal forest, Yuri Trush, the leader of an antipoaching squad, investigated a crime--the premeditated murder of an impoverished poacher, Vladimir Markov, by a rare Siberian (Amur) tiger, whose body parts command hefty sums in neighboring China. Vaillant explores what led the tiger, apparently engaged in a feud with poachers, to commit such a violent act. He contextualizes this deadly encounter against a human population diminished by brutal Soviet politics and poverty, and challenged by a beautiful but harsh landscape. People "have found themselves in charge of the tiger's fate," Vaillant concludes. "This is not a burden anyone consciously chose, but it is ours nonetheless. It is an extraordinary power for one species to wield over another, and it represents a test of sorts. The results will be in shortly."
Knopf. 329 pages. $26.95. ISBN: 9780307268938

Christian Science Monitor 4 of 5 Stars
"The Tiger is nature writing of the highest order and more; it's also a meditation on perestroika gone wrong, what it takes to keep a region going, and the relationship between predator and prey. It's nonfiction as riveting as any detective story." Carlo Wolff

San Francisco Chronicle 4 of 5 Stars
"[B]y all means read Vaillant's magnificent book ... [which] offers readers a shiver-inducing portrait of a predator that has been revered--and feared--like no other animal. ... The final pages of Vaillant's book are suspenseful, but also deeply sad." John McMurtrie

Seattle Times 4 of 5 Stars
"If ever the maxim ‘truth is stranger than fiction' applies, it applies to the saga told in The Tiger. ... [I]f 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." Steve Weinberg

Washington Post 4 of 5 Stars
"[T]o those of us who love the embattled cat, The Tiger offers the emotional satisfaction of Quentin Tarantino's film Kill Bill--with the tiger in the role of Uma Thurman's vengeful bride. But the characters in this book, both human and tigrine, are more nuanced." Sy Montgomery

Oregonian 3.5 of 5 Stars
"Vaillant is a contributor to The New Yorker, The Atlantic, Outside and National Geographic, and The Tiger at times reads like a puffed-up magazine piece. ... Despite some missteps, Vaillant crafts a fact-filled environmental police procedural--part nonfiction thriller, part call to conservationist action." John G. Rodwan Jr.

Critical Summary

The Amur tiger, weighing 500 pounds with four-inch claws and now numbering only around 400 in the Russian Far East, is certainly a formidable creature, and Vaillant gives the animal the respect it deserves in this unusual true-crime tale. Critics agreed that The Tiger is nature writing and reporting at its best, mesmerizing and insightful into both the threatened natural and human worlds. "Think of Vaillant as a younger version of John McPhee," wrote the Seattle Times, "but on steroids." The only complaint came from the Oregonian, which accused Vaillant of unnecessary padding. But all reviewers appreciated Vaillant's moral and highly recommended the book: "When you murder a tiger, you not only kill a strong and beautiful beast, you extinguish a passionate soul" (Washington Post).