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Dersu the Trapper


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Arseniev, a Russian geographer, ethnographer and geologist who surveyed the Taiga, the vast forest region of eastern Siberia, on three separate occasions between 1902 and 1907, knew the real Dersu Azala for some 19 months. The Dersu that appears here, is actually a composite character, combining the real Dersu with myths about the primitive lifestyle and heroic deeds of "noble savages" in the manner of James Fenimore Cooper's Leatherstocking Tales. All three expeditions described in this memoir entailed life-threatening danger from blizzards, rainstorms, lack of food, wild animals or hostile natives‘and all ended with Dersu's instinctive knowledge saving the day. In a stock ending to the meeting of civilized and savage, Arseniev persuaded Dersu to come with him, but his friend could not adapt to restrictions of life indoors, preferring the rigors of is old nomadic existence to the spurious comforts of city life. Burdened by an awkward, outdated translation, this somewhat repetitive memoir still sustains interest as it recounts the adventures of two exceptional friends. Film buffs will also recognize it as the basis for Kurosawa's 1975 Oscar-winning movie, Dersu Azala. (Apr.)

"Dersu the Trapper is so good a book that one wonders who Arseniev is and why this book has not been translated from the Russian before... [It] is a classic that will keep both Arseniev and Dersu alive in our hearts." -- Yale Review "Arseniev...the great explorer of Eastern Siberia...opens up a world of which we have hitherto had very little information. Thanks to his descriptions we obtain a vivid conception of the natural conditions and the inhabitants of this distant forest country." -- Fritjof Nansen

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