Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Lost in the Taiga 1978, a team of Soviet geologists stumbled across a ramshackle cabin deep in the Siberian wilderness.  The cabin was occupied by a family of six, two parents, two sons, two daughters.  The parents had fled from civilization with the eldest children forty-two years earlier, and carved out a precarious existence in the taiga.  The younger children - all well into middle age - had never known any other life. 
The Lykov family were Old Believers, a sect which split from the Russian Orthodox Church in the 17th century over liturgical reforms and the increasing power of the state over the Church.   Their ancestors fled to Siberia and founded the town of Lykova with their coreligionists to escape the tighter controls of European Russia.  After the Bolsheviks began their persecution of religious believers of all kinds, the Lykovs took refuge in the mountains.  And stayed there.
The author, Peskov, was a Soviet journalist who visited the Lykovs and devoted a series of newspaper stories to them, drawn back for repeat visits by his friendship with the family (although by that point they were reduced to two - the father and the younger daughter) and the interest of his readers.  This book is, essentially, a collection of those articles smoothed into a continuous narrative.  Peskov tells their tale very sympathetically, even if he sometimes shrugs at their odd preoccupations.  His affection cannot hide a certain amount of tragedy, however, as the family's rejection of "the world" - this being everyone outside the family - leads inevitably to the last survivor, Agafia, slowly growing older, unable to live with others, alone in a hut in the midst of the frozen wilderness.

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