Rudolph, Dasher, Blitzen, and the rest don’t come around Potalovo much anymore. The village, located north of the Arctic Circle, was bullied into restyling itself as a reindeer collective in Krushchev’s day, but since then the animals’ pastures have been killed off by acid rain.

Near Vladivostok, a woman complains that, of the salary owed her husband the previous year, one-half of it went ignored altogether and the other was paid in glass: “Some customers,” she explains, “had paid the firm in sheet glass, so it was just passed on to the employees.”

The above are but two of the dispatches and vignettes, so grotesque as to be half-comical, with which Colin Thubron peppers his new travelogue, the latest—and presumably the last—in a series that began in 1983 with Among the Russians (published here as Where Nights Are Longest) and continued in 1994 with...


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